Universities’ decision to deny admission to foreign-educated students overturned

February 03, 2023

The Sindh High Court has set aside the decision of Karachi’s Dow University of Medical & Health Sciences and Larkana’s Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Medical University with regard...

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The Sindh High Court (SHC) has set aside the decision of Karachi’s Dow University of Medical & Health Sciences (DUMHS) and Larkana’s Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Medical University (SMBBMU) with regard to the denial of admission to Pakistani students on general merit on the grounds of having two-year foreign higher secondary education.

Petitioners Nawal and Hiba Rehan had approached the court against the denial of open merit medical admissions to them by the DUMHS and the SMBBMU despite having valid domicile and permanent resident certificates (PRCs).

The petitioners’ counsel said that for the year 2021-22, the health department had essentially classified prospective Pakistani applicants who had acquired two years of education from outside the country and attained their higher secondary school or equivalent certificate from abroad as overseas Pakistanis, and restricted their eligibility to the seats reserved for that category.

He said the petitioners are citizens of Pakistan by birth and permanent residents of Karachi holding requisite domicile certificates and PRCs, and they are eligible to apply for admission to MBBS programmes at public sector colleges against general merit seats.

He added that the petitioners had passed the Medical & Dental College Admission Test, but their admission forms were not entertained on the grounds that they had fallen afoul of the portion of eligible criteria because they had studied abroad over the past two years and received the equivalent higher secondary education in Saudi Arabia.

The counsel said that an invidious distinction had been drawn between the petitioners and other candidates who were Pakistani citizens, similarly domiciled in Sindh and possessing the requisite PRCs, so as to render them ineligible on the touchstone of a mere foreign educational qualification.

The provincial law officer did not make any serious endeavour to present a proper rationale for the impugned classification, and instead left it up to the counsel for the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) and the respective educational institutions to defend their position against the petitioners’ contentions.

The PMC’s counsel said that the impugned categorisation offended the definition of a Pakistani student under the PMC Medical & Dental Undergraduate Education (Admission, Curriculum and Conduct) Regulations, 2021, which embraced overseas Pakistani within the meaning of that term.

He said that no distinction could be made as per the prevailing regulations of the PMC between overseas Pakistanis and local students for the purpose of the fee chargeable, which was to be uniform in either case.

The counsel for the DUMHS and the SMBBMU defended the impugned classification and said that the petitioners’ applications were declined on the basis of the last two years of education abroad.

Replying to a court query about the rationale for such classification, they said that local students who had received their education in Pakistan through the public sector school system would not be able to compete against overseas Pakistanis and would thus be marginalised.

After hearing the arguments, an SHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M Sheikh and Justice Yousuf Ali Sayeed said that the contention raised by the universities’ counsel for justifying the impugned classification is tantamount to a damning indictment of the overall state of education in the country.

The bench said that while a distinction may perhaps be drawn for purposes of admission between local Pakistanis and persons who are overseas Pakistanis, the latter genre cannot be broadened through the impugned classification merely on the basis of two years of foreign education so as to encompass persons who are Pakistani citizens and otherwise possess the qualifications, and thus preclude them from applying for general merit seats.

The court said that the impugned classification is unreasonable and cannot be introduced in the prospectus as a device to put an otherwise eligible Pakistani citizen beyond the pale of consideration.

The bench said that while a provision may similarly be made by reserving certain seats for persons with disabilities or hailing from a particular area, that would not mean that a Pakistani citizen who otherwise qualifies under either category can be barred from applying on general merit and be restricted to applying only for a reserved seat.

The court directed the authorities concerned to process the applications of the petitioners for admission under the category of general merit, subject to their otherwise meeting the applicable criteria, and accommodate them against any suitable vacant seats if it be determined that they or any of them, as the case may be, qualify for a seat in terms of placement in the overall merit list.

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