Probe of UKZN crisis

2014-03-29 00:00

THE Department of Higher Education and Training is to request an investigation into the crisis situation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s medical school.

This follows yesterday’s Witness front page story detailing the freezing of posts at the medical school following lack of funding by the provincial Department of Health which could see degree programmes lose their accreditation.

The medical school previously had an arrangement with the Department of Health (DoH) known as the “Joint Medical Establishment” which saw the department finance the salaries of many of the school’s teaching staff. This relationship broke down seven years ago and attempts to resurrect it have been unsuccessful.

As a consequence, the DoH has not funded posts at the UKZN medical school and many posts which have become vacant — including heads of department — are now frozen and unfilled, which has impacted on teaching standards.

“An investigation into this matter will be requested upon which appropriate action will be taken in consultation with the university, the Council for Higher Education and the Health Professionals Council of SA (HPCSA),” said Manana Makhanya, spokesperson from the University Branch of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) headed by Deputy Director-General, Dianne Parker.

Makanhya said the DHET was not aware of the situation at the UKZN medical school, nor had the DHET been approached by the UKZN medical school for funding for posts.

While the DHET does not fund such posts, Makhanya said it does make funding available through subsidies and “through earmarked clinical training grants to an institution that has the discretion to use the funds for purposes it deems fit. With clinical training grants, joint appointments are enabled”.

The staffing issue at the medical school has placed the accreditation of degree programmes by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) in jeopardy and academics at the school are concerned that when the HPCSA undertakes a routine accreditation review in August this could lead to a withdrawal of accreditation. If that was to happen it could lead to the closure of the school.

However, Makhanya denied the medical school was at the brink of closure. “There are currently large numbers of students registered in the school and they need to be serviced.

“There is a dire shortage of medical doctors and other health professionals. The existence of the school is not threatened, although the issue of quality seems to be compromised.”

Makhanya said that while the HPCSA accredits the programme for professional recognition the “Council on Higher Education (CHE) accredits the programme as per the Higher Education Act, where standards and programme criteria to offer the programme needs to be met”.

“The DHET sees the CHE as the statutory body that accredits higher education programmes. The DHET will alert the Council on Higher Education on the issue.”

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