Human resource policies of Medical Schools: briefing

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17 March 1999
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


17 March 1999

Documents handed out:
University of Cape Town
University of Natal

Chairperson: Dr S A Nkomo

This meeting was a continuation of briefings from the deans of all medical faculties at South African universities with presentations from Unitra, Cape Town and Natal University. Comparisons between Natal and UCT on the one hand, and Unitra on the other, indicated that although most universities share similar constraints regarding the supply of suitable personnel and students, in terms of gender and racial balance, it became clear that there is still a discrepancy in the availability of financial resources between historically White and Black universities. Many questions were put to the deans by committee members. Due to time constraints answers were not provided to all questions, but written responses will be delivered to the committee.


The Chairperson welcomed everyone present and asked Professor Singh from the University of Natal to make a briefing.

University of Natal
Professor Singh gave his presentation.

Dr Jassat: You mentioned that the working conditions of your main academic hospital, are poor and unattractive to students and doctors. Is the opening of a new academic hospital not likely to contribute to intake increases?
Secondly, you mentioned that part of your aim is to uplift historically disadvantaged students, which in your case are mostly Zulu speaking. Are you doing anything to help these students in terms of language aids to help them in understanding the content better?.

Prof. Singh: We cannot be absolutely certain about the causes of low enrolment. One can speculate that the poor working conditions in our academic hospital are not helping the situation and, possibly, the opening of a new academic hospital, which is expected to happen soon, should help in improving the situation. With regard to language, we have introduced Zulu courses for our medical students. We hope that our student doctors will be able to accept medical history from patients without the need for interpretation.

Ms Njobe(ANC): With regard to your financial aid system, I noted that figures indicate a large intake of Indians as compared to Africans. Could you clarify if the intake of disadvantaged students is increasing, and how does this relate to your attrition rate?

Professor Singh: It is difficult to make appropriate estimates of the impact of financial problems to the attrition rate. We try to help needy students but I’m not able to answer this question at this stage.

Chairperson: Yesterday we asked the following questions of the deans that were presenting and I am going to put them to you:
What is the view of Natal University on the question of the co-ordination of admissions policy?
Secondly, On the question of those students who went to the Dominican Republic, it was made clear yesterday that your university refused to accept these students when they returned. Can you clarify reasons for Natal not accepting these students?

Another question:
Ms Baloyi: You indicated in your address that you do not monitor the activities of the students and interns with regard to community service. I would like you to clarify this to us.

Professor Singh: We do not monitor these students including our interns. We still have to look into that aspect. On the question of the Dominican students we felt that these students were trying to buy their way into the medical profession. There are more suitable ways of getting into the medical profession than to go outside the country in order to come back and over-ride minimum requirements for admission. In addition, upon evaluating them against our admissions criteria we found that we could not accept them.

Chairperson: I studied at Natal and you also studied there, so did Professor Mazwai. We know of the talk about high standards. One may not exclude the possibility that its aim is to exclude those who were disadvantaged. In the past people got excluded and when they went to international universities of world standard they did more than well. I want to ask you to clarify these requirements and this question of people who were excluded but found that they did well at top international universities abroad. Are these standards not the cause for low enrolment by disadvantaged students?

Professor Singh: I can say that we have external examiners who make their evaluation in our courses. We do look at the backgrounds of students. We evaluate students on their merits and we ask our external examiners for their opinion on individual cases. What we do not do is allow a person from a disadvantaged background who performs badly to pass simply because they come from that background. The performance and the background is evaluated on such relative merits.

Dr S Hendricks: In your definition of disadvantaged students you include only Blacks and Coloureds while excluding Indians. In your quest to uplift the disadvantaged, can you clarify why your intake of Indians is so high?
Secondly, as we know that most bursaries sponsor only high-performing students, what processes are in place to help those students who are not high performers but still have potential?

Professor Singh: It is true that if students fail many bursary organisations remove their sponsorship. Some bursaries have these stipulations in their packages. This is a difficult situation. There are bursaries which do not have these requirements and we use them to finance those students whose bursaries have lapsed as a result of these difficulties.

Ms Baloyi (ANC): There are uncertainties regarding your procedures for admitting students. It is sad that you did not include your criteria in your document. I would be pleased if you could send it to the chairperson afterwards.

Ms Vilakazi (IFP): I know of ten students from the University of Zululand who applied to the University of Natal who were sidelined. In fact their applications were not even acknowledged or replied to. It appeared to be an effort on the part of University of Natal to discourage black students from getting into the medical profession. We find this disturbing and it is hard to understand the intention of the University of Natal.

Professor Singh: I think we should follow up on this issue. It must be taken up to see how this happened. If it really took place, then it deserves attention. I must say from what I know that this is not our policy. The university is doing its best to reply to everyone. We should note that there are deadlines and it is hard to tell if these applications were sent before the end of June which is the closing date. We can also recall that there are postage problems in some areas. It is actually difficult to say exactly what happened to these application forms.

University of Transkei
Professor Mazwai made his presentation

Ms Njobe(ANC): You mentioned that you do not have accreditation for post graduate studies and that you send your students to other universities for post-graduate studies. What are you doing to solve this problem in the long run? Secondly, how do you evaluate your graduates in comparison to those of other universities?

In your handout you stated that there are Cuban lecturers teaching in your faculty. How are they performing?

(Due to time constraints, questions could not be answered. Answers to be made in writing. These will be posted here at a later stage)

University of Cape Town
Presentations made by Professor Padayachee (Dean), Dr N Matsiliza (Assistant Dean) and Professor Dan Ncayiyana (Deputy Vice Chancellor).

Ms Vilakazi: When dealing with UCT I felt that they have similar problems to those of Natal university. These problems are related to communication and financial aid for disadvantaged students.

Ms Njobe(ANC): Listening to the deans explain that the weakness of school education in this country is a big problem for the limitation in the number of students eligible for medical school. This is a serious problem but it does not say much about the capacity of the student. I would like to know if universities are doing anything about this problem. I also wonder whether improving the standard of teachers produced by universities would not upgrade school education.

Ms Baloyi (ANC): I would like to know why is maths is still a requirement for entrance into your faculty? Secondly, you mentioned that you have programmes which involve liaison with schools. How successful is this programme?

Because of time constraints, these questions could not be answered. Answers to be made in writing. These will be posted here at a later stage.


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