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Parliament wants intervention over SA medical students in Cuba and Russia

A multiparty delegation from Parliament is currently in Cuba and has unanimously agreed that intervention is required to address the concerns of SA medical students studying in Cuba and Russia. News24 says this is according to parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo, who said the delegation met representatives of the students in Havana in response to a statement from the chair 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 report says 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.

"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," Mothapo said. "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. The report says 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 attaché 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," the statement said.

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 report says, the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training is on a study tour to Russia and has 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. The report says members said they were 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."

[link url=""]News24 report[/link]

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