As the union government steps up efforts to assist students evacuated from Ukraine to pursue their studies, their peers who left China after the pandemic broke out are posing a different set of problems for the authorities.
The Central government had acted swiftly to evacuate Indians stranded in Ukraine, and many state governments have agreed to admit medical students to colleges here.
Nearly 20,000 students are stuck in India after China imposed travel restrictions in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Unlike Ukraine, where universities are shut as the war rages on, some medical colleges in China are continuing with online courses in which Indian students have enrolled.
But China has continued its ban on foreign students for two years, triggering a spate of representations to the union government by the students. Some have even approached the courts.
External Affairs Minister Jaishankar sought clarity on the issue of the return of these students to complete their studies from his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
Three government bodies that control graduation and post-graduation education in the country – National Medical Commission, the University Grants Commission and the All India Council of Technical Education – have warned those seeking fresh admissions in Chinese colleges to be cautious.
Prospective applicants have been told last week Chinese online degrees are not recognised in India.
Agitated students have approached members of parliament, who have shot off questions to the ministries of health, education and external affairs.
Like the Ukrainian evacuation, the government had moved fast to evacuate the thousands of students and other nationals stranded in different Chinese cities by operating special Air India flights in the summer of 2020, which later became the model for evacuation of stranded Indians from over 45 countries in the Vande Bharat mission.
While countries including the US, the UK and Singapore made relaxations for Indian students to return to their universities, China was reluctant to allow this under its 'zero tolerance policy', by which entire cities would be locked down even if there were only a few COVID-19 cases.
Frosty ties between the two countries over Galwan and other border incidents also meant that a diplomatic solution was out of reach.
Some Chinese universities persuaded partner universities in other countries to accept their students. Some Indian students chose to drop out of Chinese universities and took up nursing and other allied courses in India.
A third-year medical student in China had to join the medical course afresh in Armenia.
The National Medical Commission allowed final year students from foreign universities including China, to do an internship in India. But once the internship was completed and they passed the qualifying examination conducted for graduates of foreign universities, they faced a new problem.
A doctor has to be recognised by a state medical council to practise in a particular state, but many state medical councils raised objections refusing to give recognition.
The state councils pointed out that rules can't be relaxed for graduates of foreign universities who have studied even a part of their course online or have done internship outside the purview of their universities, as it would lead to objections from graduates of Indian universities, who were bereft of such benefits.
The councils pointed out that conditions for obtaining licence to work as a doctor cannot be relaxed without changing the legal framework.
This means there had to be multiple levels of agreements between central ministries and state governments to accommodate these students by effecting changes to rules.
A quicker solution would only be possible if the government succeeds in persuading the Chinese authorities to permit Indian students to return to the universities and colleges for physical classes and internships.