Former Gitwe medical students face fresh challenges at UR

University of Rwanda’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences set to receive more students. / Emmanuel Kwizera

Suspensions, catch-up, and lost tuition have hounded Medical students from the University of Gitwe all the way to the University of Rwanda.

In 2013, the Ministries of Health and Education approved the opening of the School of Medicine at the University of Gitwe (UG). During that year, the first cohort was admitted.

But on March 16th, 2017, the same ministry suspended the school for not meeting standards.

“They called us this morning and informed us about the decision [suspension] and gave us circulars to take to our parents, we are heading home,” Bienveillante Ishimwe, a then-second-year student of Medicine and Surgery, told The New Times in 2017.

The decision left 1,500 students under three undergraduate courses; Medicine and Surgery, Science in Medical Laboratory and Technology, and Nursing stranded for almost a year.

The university was allowed to reopen for the 2018 academic year with a three-month catch-up programme but was closed in January 2019 by the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC).

After wasting six months, 373 students were transferred in July to the University of Rwanda - College of Medicine and Health Science (UR-CMHS) to study another catch-up programme.

Now, the students complain that there are “repeating” and “hyper-expensively paying for” modules they already covered, instead of studying new ones. They even accuse one official of ignoring their problems.

“We are paying Rwf17,000 per credit while a usual student pays Rwf12,500,” said Amiel Nzayisenga, the students' representative.

What the university has to say

During an interview with The New Times, John Mugarura, Director of teaching and learning enhancement said that there are courses that the students had not studied or fully covered.

The academic gap is also confirmed by a notice entitled “A summarized view of the status of medical students from [UG] to be considered for integration and admission into UR-CMHS School of Medicine and Pharmacy” released on May 10th, 2019.

The notice highlights gaps in what the students had studied before. It also says after assessing individual students’ academic backgrounds, 25 students were found “not admissible” into CMHS’ Bachelor of Medicine.

Concerning the difference in pricing, both Mugarura and Jean Claude Byiringiro, Dean of School of Medicine and Pharmacy said they did not have much information about it, but supposed it should not be the case since there is a defined strategy to be followed. We contacted the college’s finance department unsuccessfully.

They have to sit a filtering exam

According to the aforementioned notice, 3 consecutive cohorts, namely those from 2013 will find themselves all in year 4 once they complete their catch-up by April 2020 according to Byiringiro. 

The great paradox in this is that students who were in year 4 in 2017 will start year 4 in 2020. And those students will be in the same class as those who started three years later.

Hence, a large cluster of students in the same class is inevitable.

However, to progress to year four, the students will have to sit a special “comprehensive exam.”

Byiringiro explained the exam intends to assess the capacity of students “who are from a recently closed program because it did not meet the standards”. Thus, “we ought to question their knowledge and skills,” he added.

To this point, the students believe that the exam is an obstacle put in place in order to squeeze their big numbers. They claim that there is a usual Council exam designed to test their ability, adding that, students who come from other local or foreign universities don’t take any exam.

Some students had to drop out

Nzayisenga testified that he knows at least seven students who dropped out because they run out of money. A two-page letter addressed to all Rwandans and media posted on Kayitesi Kami Bernardine’s tweeter on Sunday, November 3rd reads that the students have been greatly impoverished. 

It further adds that they are not even recognized as UR students for they were refused government study loans because they were labelled “not eligible.”

Until the time of publication, Dr Eugene Mutimura, Minister of Education has not answered The New Times’ calls after he promised to call back.

Dr.Theoneste Ndikubwimana, Head of Department in charge of quality education and standards at Higher Education Council (HEC) said he did not have any comments to share since he was outside the country.

Is Twitter going to do another good job?

Recently, Twitter has served as Rwanda’s safety net. Last week, 370 med graduands were likely to miss out graduation until Christophe Ngendahayo, one of the affected students raised the issue on his Twitter handle addressing the Minister of Health. In less than 24 hours, Dr. Diane Gashumba would gather a meeting which ended with the students back on the list.

In September, a then dormant assault case was “followed up” after President Kagame replied to the victim’s tweet on which he was tagged.

Now, the two-page letter, comments on twitter and students are asking: Do all problems need a presidential tweet to be solved?

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