Debacle over Chinese medical ‘qualifications’ of SA students

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The Free State government, which funded 44 medical students to train  in China, tried to work around the Health Professions Council of SA refusal to recognise their qualifications by moving them to Russia. But now Russia is insisting that the students start their training from scratch, reports  City Press.

The report says these revelations are contained in a damning report, which was compiled by the parliamentary committee on higher education in December last year. The committee had been on a study tour in September.

According to City Press, the report said a group of medical students from Mpumalanga, who had been sent to study in Russia, had written to the committee saying they were inadequately supported by their province. A source said that the Mpumalanga students also had issues linked to HPCSA registration. The committee’s report said its delegation had met a team from Free State – led by the head of the Health Department, David Motau – in Russia.

Motau is quoted in City Press as telling the committee that the students in China had been transferred after that country had refused to provide internships to them to complete their training and register as health professionals. “The situation was compounded by the HPCSA which indicated that it would not register these students as doctors because the Chinese medical professionals’ programme was not compatible with the HPCSA’s requirements,” the report said. It said 26 students chose to remain in China but that “it will be a long journey for them to become doctors given the HPCSA’s regulations”.

City Press reports that Motau also told the committee that Russian universities had not agreed to admit the students at second- or third-year level, insisting on them starting first year again. The report said the main concern of the Russian government was language. In terms of its policy, international students were required to undergo one year of training in Russian before they could proceed to first year. “The Free State government was alarmed and shocked by this development and resolved to send a delegation (led by Motau) to negotiate for these students to be enrolled at second- or third-year level,” the report said.

Motau told the committee that Free State was paying for tuition, accommodation and stipends for the affected students. With respect to tuition, Free State paid $10,000 (about R141,000), $3,000 (about R42,000) for accommodation and a monthly stipend of €500 (about R8,000). The report said it was the committee’s view “that the Free State government did not undertake due diligence” before sending students to study in China.

City Press reports with regard to Mpumalanga, the committee said it would write to Premier Refilwe Mtsweni about the students’ concerns. Committee chair Cornelia September said it was engaging several stakeholders on the matter. “Decisions on further action will depend on the result of discussions at the meetings. We do not want to pre-empt the discussions and outcomes of the meetings now. However, proper steps will be taken where necessary,” she said.

City Press reports that Tiisetso Makhele, spokesperson for Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela, denied the HPCSA had refused to register the students. “In 2017 the Free State government became aware that students doing medicine in China might experience challenges on completion of their studies, particularly when writing board examinations.

The province immediately began a process of engaging HPCSA for registration of these students, as any student studying medicine, in or outside the country, needed to register with the professional body as a student. The outcome led to some students being transferred to Russian universities, and some opting to remain in China,” said Makhele.

According to City Press, HPCSA spokesperson Priscilla Sekhonyana said her organisation was unaware that any student had been refused registration. Sekhonyana said the HPCSA accepted compliant applications from citizens who had studied medicine abroad. “Should they meet the requirements to write the board examination, they will be awarded the opportunity to do so,” she said.

City Press report

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