Wits medical students cry racism over failure rate

Wits should create anti-discriminatory panel, inquiry advises

03 December 2017 - 00:03 By PREGA GOVENDER

A staggering 90 out of the 95 final-year medical students at the University of the Witwatersrand who failed one or more of their seven compulsory modules this year were black African.
This is according to final-year student Mtwakazi Bula, who said the statistics were gleaned from the health sciences faculty and from results posted on the so-called Sakai website - an official university website.
Bula, a founding member of the Black Health Professionals Association, said the other five students who failed were two whites and three Indians.
Students who fail one of the seven clinical programmes will have to repeat it in the first three months of the next year before taking up their internship; those who fail two or more courses have to repeat the whole year.
These figures comes amid allegations that the university passed a white student who failed a six-week integrated primary care course but not 27 black students in the same predicament.
Yesterday, Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib denied the white student had received special treatment, saying she had achieved the second-highest mark, but an "administrative error" meant her mark had been incorrectly transcribed. "She was not given a privilege. She passed; they [the others] failed," he told the Sunday Times.This week a group of final-year medical students posed next to a banner which read "Wits med school is racist" while the class of 2017 were having their annual photo taken.
The Sunday Times has seen a 12-page summary of a probe conducted by a commission of inquiry into the governance of Wits's medical programme. It found that "there are deep perceptions that the institutional climate caters for the more advantaged and not for the disadvantaged".
The report, dated October, stated: "Given the racial nature of disadvantage and privilege in South Africa, this has resulted in a racialisation of the current student concerns that need to be urgently addressed.
"There was also a sense the programme is not attuned sufficiently to the realities of student life and the external demands and constraints placed on many students."
The report recommended that the faculty attend to "the gravity of the perceptions of discrimination" by recognising that these were not simply societal "spillages" into the institutional space but part of the historical evolution of the university.
It also recommended the establishment of an antidiscriminatory panel to address complaints from staff and students.
Bula alleged the white student's script was marked in pencil while all other students' scripts were computer-marked.
"Wits is claiming they do not want to compromise on the quality of their graduates, but it seems that contravening their own policies for white, privileged students is exactly what they have been doing."She said that when black students walked into the wards at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital to continue their clinical training after #FeesMustFall protests, a professor remarked: "Oh, are you guys back from burning the streets?"
Another student, aged 25, said black students had been penalised in their ward marks for not attending clinical sessions at the hospital, despite the university being officially closed due to the campaign.
She said a professor asked two white students to award themselves a mark of nine for good attendance while six black students, including herself, received a mark of seven.
Commenting on the figure of 90 black students who failed, Habib said he was not sure if it was correct. "If that is true, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with the exam. There are programmes in place to ensure people pass. The question is, why isn't it yielding better results?
"What we can't say is [that] because we're black, we must be passed. What we should be saying is we need the support programmes, and clearly if the support programmes are not working then we need to put better support programmes in place."
He said that in the university system as a whole, the proportion of white and Indian students who passed was higher than the proportion of African students.
"If the figure for the final-year African students is correct, it is in line with what is happening in the outcomes of the higher education system as a whole."
Professor Martin Veller, dean of the faculty of health sciences, said: "A study is being performed ... to evaluate the faculty's admission criteria and compare these with student throughput rates. Preliminary information derived from the 2011 MBBCh intake demonstrates that the factors that best predict completion of study within minimum time are the National Benchmark domains of academic and quantitative literacy. In this cohort, race does not predict outcome."

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.