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Progressive surge in pharma admissions

There seems to be a decisive shift from engineering - Pharma seats on offer in India have seen a rise close to 15-10 percent in last 3 years

Story: Dr. | Manasvi | 27th September 2018, 03:20 Hrs

Pharmacy education in the country now seems to be in fashion. Out of the 500 odd newly approved colleges by AICTE this year an overwhelming proportion of almost 78 percent of colleges offered courses in Pharmacy. In neighbouring Maharsatra the AICTE granted permission to set up 46 new technical colleges in academic year 2018-19 from which 42 were pharmacy colleges. The other bigger states like Tamil Nadu and Telangana have seen the sharpest rise in number of pharmacy institutes while Gujarat recorded a meteoric rise in admissions for Pharmacy courses in past couple of years.

The other good news is about the number of seats in offing and rise in Pharma institutions. Pharma seats on offer in India have seen a rise close to 15-10 percent in last 3 years. There seems to be a decisive shift from engineering towards Pharma and with the number of engineering colleges drastically declining, with currently 1,600 plus Pharmacy institutes across the country having doubled in last 10 years or so. The increase is thus very progressive. Similarly over the last three years most of the 200 colleges that shut down taught engineering and out of which not more than 21 taught pharmacy. Maharashtra currently has highest number of pharmacy colleges and is followed by Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

The above data speaks of an unusual demand for pharmacy seats in the recent years and that to at a time when other technical courses like engineering, management and computer application are witnessing a dip in enrolment. Similarly it is observed that more number of students now prefers to choose pharmacy compared to their seniors who preferred engineering. Significant reason is attributed to the interplay of market forces.

 According to World Health Organisation (WHO) over 60 percent of all deaths in India are due to lifestyle-related diseases. This sharp increase in lifestyle-related diseases and the rapidly ageing population have constituted a huge demand in the healthcare sector as such. The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) survey during the period 2004 to 2014 and published on June 30th 2015 lists that the morbidities cost per illness episode drastically increased in the last decade in India. The proportion of ailing persons was 104 per 1000 with 13 points increase during the last ten years, that the outpatient expenditure increased over 100 percent and the inpatient care expenditure by almost 300 percent, during the same periods. As per the National Health Profile 2018 figures India’s per capita expenditure on health has increased from Rs. 621 from 2009-10 to Rs. 1112 in 2015-16. This very growth in per capita spending on health care in India is driving up the Pharma sector. Production and marketing of medicines thus become more competitive generating more jobs. There has been a 25 percent rise in recruitment in corporate hospitals in the last two years jobs in corporate hospitals and as more sectors are getting into hiring pharmacy graduates, the trend is translating into students shifting from engineering to Pharma. This rising demand has created a huge spike in requests for approval to open new pharmacy colleges.

The other important factor leading students to join Pharma courses is that they see further potential for growth of this sector. India’s current health spending is a measly 3.9% of our GDP. Of this public spending is just 1.15% which the government aims to raise to 2.5% by 2025. At such pathetic levels of expenditure we figure among the ten lowest spenders in health. This dismal picture is going to change for better with the ambitious plan of the government to cover 10 crore poor families in the country under the Ayushman Bharat scheme.

Today pharmacy program has emerged as an alternative to medicine as the latter has a limited intake and the cost of which is increasingly becoming unaffordable to a large section of the population. The change in syllabi for Bachelors and Masters in Pharma has also contributed towards increasing the attractiveness of this program. 

This has successfully translated into pharmacy graduates finding jobs in insurance companies, medical transcription and clinical data entry and processing among others. The recent increasing demand for Pharmacy and trend of growing Pharma colleges however have led to a question whether such surge will be sustainable in the long-run and whether the responsibility of maintaining quality will be shouldered well?

The AICTE having burnt its fingers by permitting surplus engineering institutions have now initiated pre-emptive measures. In recently held ‘Stakeholders Workshop for Discussion on Approval Process 2018-19’, the AICTE sounded that it is likely to introduce moratorium for starting new institutions for pharmacy education from the academic year 2019-20 onwards. It is suggested that to freeze the grant of fresh proposals for colleges for at least five years. During this period the technical education regulator has taken on itself to assess the functioning of the existing colleges, the demand of pharmacy graduates in the country and their employment opportunities. To cut down the bureaucracy the AICTE has also rightly decided that from the current year, no restrictions will be introduced in any area except joint inspection by AICTE and the Pharmacy Council.

It is welcoming to see that the AICTE and the Pharmacy Council have learnt the right lessons from the epi-crisis of engineering education in the country. Further success of the renewed vigour in Pharma education will depend on the ability of both these bodies in not bogging down to political pressures in sanctioning more colleges, for Pharma colleges are perceived to be cash cows at present. As of now it seems that the surge is sustainable given the high potential for growth in health care however a higher dose in any case will turn disastrous, be it preventive or curative.

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