They studied medicine for three years in China – only to find that their qualifications were incompatible with what is required in South Africa.
The Free State government, which is funding their studies, resolved to send the 44 medical students to Russia to complete their studies, hoping they would finally be registered by the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA). This was after the council rejected the qualification from China, saying it was not compatible.
But authorities in Russia wanted them to start their studies from scratch.
These revelations are contained in a damning report, seen by City Press, which was compiled by the parliamentary committee on higher education in December last year. The committee had been on a study tour in September.
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 told City Press 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 told 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”.
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.
It 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.
With regard to Mpumalanga, the committee said it would write to Premier Refilwe Mtsweni about the students’ concerns.
Committee chairperson 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.
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.
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.