Med school rejects student over race

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UKZN Howard Campus INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS File photo: Gcina Ndwalane

Durban - In what has been described as “discrimination of the worst kind”, the University of KwaZulu-Natal has backtracked on its offer of a coveted spot at its medical school to an applicant – after learning that she was Indian.

The would-be student’s elation at receiving an SMS from the university, confirming its “firm offer”, quickly turned to hurt and anger when she received a subsequent SMS, this time informing her the offer had been withdrawn.

The only thing that transpired in the period between those two SMSes was a call she received, asking what her race was.

The applicant’s father, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his daughter from being victimised, told the Daily News he believed the university initially assumed – by looking at the surname – that she was African.

He said his concern was not with the quota system used by UKZN, but rather the way the process was dealt with, and the lack of apology.

“We don’t subscribe to a racist outlook so when forms stipulate race my family always leaves that out,” he explained.

The application was sent to the Central Applications Office (CAO), the agency that accepts applications on behalf of various institutions, early last year with medicine being the applicant’s first choice, followed by pharmacy and environmental sciences.

“The CAO didn’t question her racial designation,” the father said.

“She was accepted into environmental sciences which she accepted, but then she got accepted into pharmacy so she declined the first offer to accept.”

However, on January 7, the applicant received an SMS from the CAO stating she had received a “firm offer” to study medicine at UKZN.

The SMS told her she had a firm offer for a medical and surgery degree. Two days later, she received an SMS confirmation from UKZN which read: “UKZN: Result of application for MBCHB (6 Year) for student X: Firm Offer.”

“After receiving the SMS she got a call from the university asking what race she was.

“She was caught off guard and replied ‘Indian’,” her father said.

Moments later, the applicant received another SMS from UKZN saying the offer for her to study medicine had been “withdrawn”.

The SMS read: “UKZN: Result of application for MBCHB (6 Year) for student X: Offer Withdrawn.”

The father said he contacted the university and was told that because of his daughter’s “non-disclosure of her racial identity”, her application had been withdrawn.

“Every application is sent with a copy of the ID so the university could have checked the ID or contacted her when they received the application to check her race before sending an offer.

“How do they process an application on the basis of an assumption?

“This is compounded further by the fact that no apology was given for the mistake.”

He said his daughter was initially upset with the withdrawal but had opted to study pharmacy and pursue medicine later.

University spokesman, Lesiba Seshoka, said a letter of apology to the girl’s father had been personally handed to him on January 9.

However, the father denies this, saying he did not visit the medical school that day and had only telephonic contact with the university.

Seshoka also said the error regarding the student’s race was made at the CAO, not the university. No clarification was given as to why the error was only picked up after the SMS notification was sent out.

The CAO was first contacted for comment on Monday with repeated attempts made on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Daily News was instructed that the query had been sent to the chief executive. No response had been received at the time of publication.

Explaining the quota system, Seshoka said UKZN’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine received more than 8 300 applications for the 210 places for first year entrance to the MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine) degree programme.

“Over the years there has been an increase in the high quality of applicants.

“Of the total intake, places are reserved for students from Quintile 1 and 2 schools.

“The quota system for the first year MBChB degree programme as defined by the College of Health of Health Sciences is as follows: 69% Black African, 19% Indian, 9% Coloured, 2% White and 1% Other.”

However, Professor Kobus Maree, education analyst with the faculty of education at the University of Pretoria, said the applicant’s parents should take the matter further.

“There is no way the university can back away from a written contractual obligation. If the legal people latch on to this, she would be reinstated.

“This is discrimination of the worst kind and this young girl’s basic rights have been infringed upon. It’s heartbreaking to think about. This sort of thing should never happen in a civilised country like this. It is really unfortunate.”

Maree said if universities had quotas, they should ensure all checks were done properly.

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