Education/24 November 2021, 10:04am /Molefi Sompane
Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela: image supplied
Bloemfontein: While the Free State Provincial Government claims to be committed to help needy students obtain higher education, while also addressing the lack of scarce skills in the province, the most needed medical skills may still continue to be lacking after the premier Sisi Ntombela ordered her executive council to suspend awarding of bursaries for the coming 2022 academic year.
This means, those wishing to study medicine and nursing won’t be able to have their wishes come true although Free State is still in dire need of the scarce skills.
This has angered the public, Unions, students formations and civil society who called for Ntombela to be removed.
Sello Lehare told The Insider: “We do not have doctors and nurses now the premier stops the awarding bursaries that may help in training of further doctors or nurses. This clearly shows that we are led by wrong people.”
Masello Motaung is a grade 12 teacher, she says the letter is communicated at the wrong time.
“Why the premier dicided to announce this now? This may affect our learners and it could also cause many to fail.”
This happens at a time when the human science research council claim that the country has little medical officers.
“In 2006 a total of 33 220 medical practitioners were registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), although the actual number of practising doctors is lower than the total number registered because the register includes those that might have retired, are out of the country or are just inactive.
The most commonly used measure employed to ascertain whether a country has enough doctors, is doctors per 10 000 population.
With regard to our immediate neighbouring countries, South Africa is substantially better supplied with doctors (Table 1), but grossly undersupplied when compared to many developed countries, and even in relation to middle-income countries. South Africa ranks only slightly above those countries classified as low-income.
To illustrate further disparities in distribution within our country, we analysed the distribution and supply of registered doctors between provinces (Table 2). For instance, in the Western Cape and Gauteng, there are 14.7 and 12.6 physicians per 10 000 people respectively, ranking with middle-income countries, in contrast with the stark reality of Limpopo which has only 1.8 doctors per 10 000, placing this province only slightly above the average for sub-Saharan Africa.”
Free State currently has over 580 students across the globe in government support, this could also mean they can also suffer to continue studiying, Former University of Free State Student Representative Council (SRC) President Katleho Lechoo says,
“We asked to meet with the premier in February when the government failed to help us and we sent a very strong message to the Premier then that we need bursaries paid and now if they fail to provide bursaries to even new students what will happen? They forever claim Free State having scarce in medical practitioners but they are failing to invest in training of them.”
Another medical student Teboho Ramphalla also believe that government should not suspend the bursaries:
“You’d recall that if government fails to take responsibility of educating its youth the private sector would take the opportunity and as a medical officer i’d also see no reason to work for public but rather work for private sector.”
Congress of South African Students (COSAS) also lambasted Ntombela, “This is exactly what happens when we are led by old people who don’t comprehend the impotant role tha education and its funding play in the development of any province.”
In the leaked letter Premier Sisi Ntombela orders the suspension of awarding of bursaries although free state government pledged to make funding available for Free State students studying any of the scarce skill professions at higher education institutions throughout the country.
“The letter reads:
“kindly be advised that I hereby directed that no new bursaries should be awarded to any person who is supposed to commence with studies in the 2022 academic year. This directive is due to the enormous pressure currently experienced by the fiscus and the obligation to make everyeffort to reduce the wage bill of the public service.”
According to the letter the order includes the bursaries for the Top 100 matriculants who mostly government undertakes their tuition, accomodation and stationer fees.
According to the Government Website “Funding is made available every year It will fund tuition fees, accommodation and stationery needs for students who meet the necessary requirements.”
Meanwhile, Econex Report of 2015 showed how the large number of SA students have been sent to Cuba to study medicine. “The government has invested in new public facilities, e.g. through upgrading a selection of major tertiary hospitals. Partnerships between universities and private hospitals have proven successful in adding to training capacity.”
Early this year Free State government bursary holders across the world cried foul after their fees were not paid by the troubled government. This caused many frustrated that they won’t be able to register for the 2021 academic year while others could see their future blurry.
The Democratic Alliance in the Free State has since lambasted the government. In its Statement DA says:
“Students who obtained distinctions are now being suspended from Universities and unable to complete their academic year. When they contact the Department of Education on this matter they shift the blame and says it is “out of our hands”. Many of these students received their bursaries from the Department of Education as “Matric Top Achievers”.
The Free State Department of Education is under provincial administration and at the end of each financial year the Department runs out of cash, leaving it unable to honour, amongst other critical payments, their bursary agreements. What is worrying is that it is now only the middle of the financial year and already problems with payments occur.
The blatant disregard of letters, pleas and questions to the MEC of Education is a clear indication that he has no political will to make sure that our youth receive the education they deserve. He is at this stage our students’ worst enemy. Higher education is a very important investment in our youth. The DA will escalate this matter to the National Department of Education.”
Meanwhile in a statement Premier Ntombela has admitted that indeed she issued the letter making rounds in the various social media platforms.
“The Premier of the Free State Province, Hon. Sefora Ntombela has noted with great concern the letter making rounds in the various social media platforms.
The FSPG is on record that all current bursary holders, both local and international students, will continue to receive support in accordance with the agreement entered into with the provincial government until the completion of their studies, subject to the conditions contained in their contracts with the provincial government.
However, the provincial government will not be awarding any new bursaries to students wishing to study outside the borders of the Republic of South Africa.
To be eligible for any new bursary from the provincial government for the 2022 academic year, one must be accepted to study in one of the officially recognized and registered institutions of higher learning in the country.” Said Ntombela