Durban - The University of KwaZulu-Natal said on Thursday that it would honour – as a matter of “principle and justice” – its initial offer of a place at its medical school to an applicant who was later rejected when it discovered she was Indian.
But the about-turn, which came after university bosses met Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who had read about the would-be student’s plight in the Daily News, has left the student confused.
On Thursday morning her father said she was still undecided whether she would take up the offer. She has until today to make her decision. Her father said he would not be ambushed by the tight deadline.
“It’s not an easy decision. She has already mentally prepared herself to study pharmacy. It has to be her decision to change. For now, it does not look like she will take up the offer. But she has not fully made up her mind.”
He said they would inform the university of their final decision.
The father said he was convinced the bungle was as a result of “corrupt practices” when allocating places at the medical school.
“This is not an Indian cause. It is a cause for justice. These kinds of decisions affect people and their lives. I hope by going public, another student will not suffer our fate and the corruption will be rooted out.”
He said he was also not satisfied with the university’s explanation about why his daughter was rejected.
“All we got was a short phone call and an e-mail informing us of the decision. I believe we should have been called in and addressed face to face. This incident impacted on my daughter psychologically.”
The front page story on UKZN’s on-off offer sparked outrage among readers, and an education expert also said the university might have had legal challenges for revoking a binding offer.
The first-year student has been studying pharmacy at UKZN after receiving an SMS from the university in January withdrawing its “firm offer” for medicine when it was established she was Indian and not “African” as was mistakenly put on the application form, apparently by a clerk.
The applicant, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, did not fill in the “population group” field on the form, which was sent to the Central Applications Office (CAO).
However, the form sent to the university had “African” as her race. The student’s father believes the error was made by assuming race based on their surname.
UKZN’s vice-chancellor and principal, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, said in a statement to the Daily News yesterday that a decision had been taken to reinstate the student.
“At the executive management meeting held this morning it was decided that, as a matter of principle and justice, the student who was inadvertently refused admission allegedly on her race be accepted into the first year MBChB degree programme,” he said.
“Executive management sincerely regrets the incident which understandably has caused the student and her family immense disappointment and indeed distress.”
Dhlomo commended the move in a statement issued by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health on Thursday. It said he had met Makgoba “and the issue was resolved”.
“The girl will now be registered,” the statement said. The MEC said the gesture was in accordance with the prescripts of the Freedom Charter, which says that the “doors of learning and culture shall be open to all”.
Makgoba said the decision not to accept the student was based on the incorrect information provided by the CAO.
“Consideration should have been given to the fact that the student had already been accepted for the MBChB degree programme.
“Administrative errors, albeit from the Central Applications Office, should have been dealt with and the student should not have been prejudiced by such errors,” he said.
Makgoba reminded administrative staff and the CAO that students were the “most important stakeholder” and all attempts must be made to examine “sensitive issues” before action was taken.
The CAO’s chief executive, George van der Ross, said the student was sent an acknowledgement letter in March confirming receipt of her application, upon which the race had been assigned, presumably by the office.
“On her acknowledgement letter her population group is recorded as ‘African’ and she is asked to inform us, amongst others, whether this is correct,” he said.
However, Van der Ross said the applicant had not indicated the error in communication with the CAO.
“We do everything in our power to keep applicants informed of the content of their application; we give them ample opportunity to correct any errors,” he said.
The student’s father, however, said no acknowledgement letter was received.
Talking to the Daily News last night after being informed of the university’s decision, the student said she was now confused and “really upset”, as she felt the about-turn was as a result of the news story.
“I’m not sure what decision I will make. It’s not based on my results, so I’m confused,” she said.
Her initial reaction on receiving the withdrawal notice last month was of disappointment because medicine had been her first choice. However, she said pharmacy was her second option and the past two weeks had been “good so far”.
She said she was leaving lectures yesterday afternoon when she received a call from the university.
“The woman said I had been offered a place at medical school, she never said why. I asked if I had to come in and she said no, but that I must make a decision by (today) because that was the cut-off,” she said.
An SMS confirmation was sent to the student immediately after the phone call.
“There was no apology. After everything they’ve put us all through it’s ridiculous that they give me one day to decide,” she said.