Sat, 06 Jun 2020

Parliament is concerned about South African medical students in Cuba and Russia.

A multiparty delegation from Parliament is currently in Cuba and has "unanimously agreed that an intervention is required to address the concerns [raised] by South African medical students studying in Cuba", according to a statement released on Friday by parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo.

The delegation met representatives of the students in Havana on Thursday.

This follows a statement from the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, Connie September, in which she said the committee had been alerted to serious challenges South African students encountered in Russia, specifically the circumstances of 53 medical students from Mpumalanga at Astrakhan State Medical University.

The medical students in Cuba are beneficiaries of the Nelson Mandela/Fidel Castro Medical Collaboration programme in Cuba.

There are currently 1 951 South African students studying in Cuba. To date, 651 students have graduated as medical doctors and about 712 are completing their sixth and final years in South Africa.

Lack of standardisation

"At their meeting with the official parliamentary delegation, students expressed their gratitude at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study medicine free of charge at some of the world's best medical universities in Cuba," reads Mothapo's statement.

"However, they also spoke of difficulties and made an impassioned plea for the parliamentary delegation to intervene. Difficulties which the students raised included transport, inadequate stipends and differing levels of support by different provinces in South Africa."

The students told the delegation that the lack of standardisation in the extent to which provinces supported students was a potential source of division among them.

Although the agreement was signed at a national level, the provinces are responsible for funding the students. This means that the standard of support is inconsistent and varies, depending on the province from which they come.

While students are required, in terms of regulations, to complete their final year at South African universities space was often unavailable. They also called for increased capacity in the office of the Health Attache in Cuba, to enable improved service, such as psychological support, for the students.

The delegation agreed that Parliament must deal with these matters and keep the students in Cuba updated.

The MPs committed to ensuring that the students' challenges, which they said were not insurmountable, are addressed through parliamentary oversight.

"Ensuring that the programme is managed at a national level, with minimum uniform norms and standards, would go a long way ensuring equal support for students," reads the statement.

Students reliant on Wikipedia, YouTube

The delegation stressed that greater support for sixth-year students, who often have to fend for themselves in their struggle to secure space at South African universities, was necessary.

Meanwhile, the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training is on a study tour to Russia and on Thursday visited the Lomonosov Moscow State University to find out more about issues such as university governance, management, funding and student financial assistance.

The committee was alerted of challenges South African students encountered in Russia, but also a situation involving about 53 medical students from Mpumalanga at Astrakhan State Medical University. The committee was unable to visit the university.

City Press reported in June that the students had to rely on Wikipedia and YouTube for their studies.

Members are very disturbed that the embassy in Russia was not informed about the Astrakhan State Medical University programme but has to deal with the matter now.

The committee will write to the MEC for education in Mpumalanga, and other relevant parties to explain the challenges of the students.

"If that fails, we will ask them to come to Parliament. The committee understands the plight of the students and will get to the bottom of it."

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