The University of Zululand has been accused of, over the past three years, graduating student nurses who have gone on to work in the public healthcare system despite not meeting the minimum requirements to qualify as nurses.
The instruction to fabricate the marks, allegedly given by head of department Professor Thokozani Mhlongo, was in response to the South African Nursing Council’s (SANC) concerns that the failure by the nursing department at the institution to provide comprehensive data on nursing candidates was delaying the registration process.
Another source, corroborating the allegations, said between three to four people, including the head of department, knew about the scandal. “What transpired is that the data submitted to SANC required the breakdown of all the modules, these were not available, so we went ahead and fabricated the marks.”
“For the past three years the university’s examination committee did not have this information. Where these were provided, they were no marks allocated to individual modules, but submitted in a composite manner. The question is whether SANC failed to pick up this discrepancy,” The Citizen was told.
The whistleblower said the matter reached a boiling when SANC retrospectively requested the 2014/2015/2016 batch of portfolio of evidence with the marks allocation. It is claimed this is when lecturers were forced to take the only module examined and devised a mathematical formula “to avoid it looking like that one mark was split between different modules”.
Another area of concern, according to sources who insisted on absolute anonymity due to a pattern of vice-chancellor Prof Xoliswa Mtose allegedly victimising whistleblowers in the past, is that students who qualified from Unizulu should simply not be allowed to practise as professional nurses.
They cited non-submission of practical examination marks, some students studying more than 10 years for a four-year degree programme in contravention of SANC regulations, and that “the calibre of graduates” being substandard.
“They are going to work with patients, and in most instance in rural areas where public sector doctors are not available. Yet they have nursing students who have never been through problem-solving, mini-demonstration and roleplaying modules, but a portfolio submitted to SANC deemed them competent,” sources said.
So chronic is the decline in academic standards that it is alleged that earlier this year during a visit by Council on Higher Education’s (CHE) audit site visit, none of the employees at the university could operate the equipment in the multimillion-rand clinical simulation laboratory. It was also alleged the equipment was not in working condition.
Earlier this month, CHE wrote to The Citizen confirming minister of higher education and training Dr Blade Nzimande requested a special audit of institution as part of ”Institutional Improvement Plan”. This was preceded by a strongly worded letter Nzimande wrote the Unizulu council, warning of inevitable “decline of the academic project”.
‘Institutional academic audit’
It is also not clear whether the institution is accredited to offer the four-year Bachelor of Curative Nursing (BCurae). Information found on South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) indicates that the institution is accredited to only offer a three-year diploma programme, not BCurae or post-basic qualifications it currently teaches to students.
The sources have warned of further decline of nursing education standards, as practical modules are no longer “offered by adequately qualified nursing science lecturers, but so-called clinical instructors, most of whom themselves lack ‘nurse educator’ qualifications”.
KwaZulu-Natal provincial health authorities and the provincial health ombudsman, together with national health department and the office of the health ombudsman, Prof Malegapuru Makgoba, were contacted. The Citizen is awaiting their response.
Adre van Heerden, the senior manager of marketing and communications for SANC, assured The Citizen the CEO and acting registrar of the council would attend to the queries. SAQA acknowledged The Citizen’s questions and asked for them in writing.
Unizulu vice-chancellor, Prof Xoliswa Mtose, the head of department of the nursing sciences department, Prof Thokozani Mhlongo, as well as university spokesperson Gcina Hleko, were contacted and The Citizen is awaiting their response.