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.
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 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,” reads the statement.