UKZN med school ‘fixes’ race botch up

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Durban - The University of KwaZulu-Natal has offered to reinstate another student at its medical school after a second botch-up with the application process.

In both cases, the students had been given firm offers to study medicine but these were later withdrawn.

The university wrongly believed they were African when they were, in, fact Indian.

An aspirant doctor was told yesterday she would be reinstated, after receiving an SMS last month advising that an offer of a place at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine had been withdrawn.

While the student in the first case turned down the offer of reinstatement because she has already settled into her pharmacy studies and did not appreciate the 24-hour deadline given to make up her mind, the second student has grasped the opportunity.

The 18-year-old woman, who requested anonymity, said she had submitted her application to the Central Applications Office (CAO) in June, with medicine as her first choice.

“My passion is to study obstetrics and gynaecology and to make a difference in my country,” she said.

She received an SMS from the CAO making a firm offer to study pharmacy, but it was the SMS received on January 7 – the day matric results were released – that she was looking forward to.

The SMS, sent by UKZN, was a firm offer for the Bachelor of Medicine programme.

It was followed two days later by another SMS from the CAO confirming the offer.

‘In shock’

The student, accompanied by her mother, went to the medical school and was given a signed letter confirming the offer to study medicine.

They completed the necessary documentation, including consent and identity forms, and had the fee deposit for pharmacy transferred to the medical school.

However, a week later, on January 13, she received an SMS from the university saying the offer had been withdrawn.

“I was in shock. I thought that maybe it was a mistake because it had only been an SMS, no phone call,” she said.

Her mother contacted the medical school immediately.

“I was told the CAO had made a mistake and placed her as an African despite my daughter having ticked ‘Indian’ on the application form,” the mother said. “It’s also clear in her ID photo and by her name that she is Indian.”

The two returned to the medical school and requested a written copy of the withdrawal notice, including the reason, which was supplied a few weeks later.

The letter reads: “The offer was made on the information we received from CAO which indicated that you were from the Black African group rather than the Indian group.

“As per our selection policy you were given an offer which met the average weighted percentage for African students, instead of that for Indian students who have a much higher average weighted percentage.

“If places become available due to offers being declined and we reach your percentage we will make you an offer.”

The student said she was informed that the Indian “weighted percentage” was 94 percent whereas hers was 91 percent. She said she was initially traumatised by the mistake but was grateful now that the university had decided to reinstate her.

“I am unreservedly thankful to the university for affording me this golden opportunity to aspire to my dreams,” she said.

UKZN spokesman, Lesiba Seshoka, said the student’s race was “incorrectly captured” by the CAO and submitted to the university.

“We investigated the matter and met with (the student) and her mother. She has graciously accepted a place in the MBChB degree programme.”

Seshoka confirmed they would be consulting the CAO to prevent future errors.

George van der Ross, chief executive of the CAO, said an e-mail had been sent to the student containing an “acknowledgement letter”, which confirmed the information captured in the system.

He did not clarify how the error was made but said she had responded to the e-mail.

“She responds to the acknowledgement letter and corrects the financial aid information but does not correct the population group. I don’t know why she would make corrections selectively,” he said.

“We involve applicants as much as possible in the application process by giving them feedback and asking that they correct any mistakes that may have crept in. If they do this selectively or not at all then we are left to assume that the information we asked them to verify is correct.”

However, the student said she had not received any e-mail from the CAO.

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