Academic Bullying- A Scourge in Tertiary Institutions
The College of Health Science's has initiated a series of webinars under the theme: Academic Bullying in Tertiary Institutions. Conceptualised by the Dean and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine, Professor Ncoza Dlova, the series is the first of its kind in South Africa amongst tertiary institutions and is aimed at defining this behaviour in the learning environment, discussing its consequences for both the victim and society and mapping a way forward to ensure this unprofessional conduct is eradicated in Higher Education Institutions.
The first webinar provided an overview of a prototype of both the victim and perpetrator, discussed the various policies in institutions on academic bullying and introduced an example of an excellent mentor at UKZN.
Professor Soraya Seedat from the University of Stellenbosch presented the findings of an international study which found that in South Africa, 78% of undergraduate Medical students experienced some form of bullying during the course of their studies, while 58% of academics and 60% of medical registrars also experienced bullying. According to Seedat, ‘Students that were part of the study went from being alert, enthusiastic and excited to becoming cynical, frightened and filled with frustration over the course of their medical training. Unfortunately, university policies on the topic are often not clear, misunderstood or not enforced.’
Dr Thirusha Naidu from UKZN’s Discipline of Behavioural Medicine stated that bullying is often an aspect of the “hidden curriculum” in Medicine. She said, ‘Bullying can take the form of inappropriate touching, stereotypical comments, gender and or sexual discrimination, racist comments, etc, but more often it is the tacit hidden bullying that has far reaching consequences. We find that bullying often takes place in medical training due to the heteropatriarchal culture of medicine as well as the demands of the hidden curriculum with a low tolerance for failure accompanied by a transgenerational legacy of medicine shaped by colonial mindsets.
‘Bullying in academia can take the form of professional jealousy, selfishness, lack of rewards and acknowledgements, and isolation in workspaces as well as restricted opportunities for collaboration. Essentially bullying centres around power.’
Dr Flavia Senkubuge, President of the Colleges of Medicine South Africa (CMSA) said, ‘In the CMSA, we have adopted a new philosophy and architecture that is centered around Ubuntu, recognising that each of our candidates is someone’s daughter, son, mum, dad etc… Furthermore, we have a candidate’s and an examiner’s policy which focus on treating everyone with respect, fairness and confidentiality. We have also embarked on listening tours and introduced a whistleblower’s platform to ensure there’s a platform to recognise the voice of both the candidate and the lecturer.’
Ms Busisiwe Ramabodu, UKZN’s Director of Human Resources Development, noted that workplace bullying is rife at UKZN and often includes virtual bullying. The University has adopted a number of initiatives to provide support including sustainable diversity and inclusion workshops, a gender-based violence campaign and training and psychological support to all of its students through the Student Support Services toll free number (0800 800 017) and for staff (0800 254 255).
Professor Solly Rataemane, the Chairperson of the Medical and Dental Board of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), said that the HPCSA receives reports of academic bullying and the preliminary enquiry usually indicates a refusal to provide academic support, trainees being called “dumb” or “stupid” during ward rounds, deliberately under-marking students because they do not perform favours outside their scope of duties such as making tea, or sexual favours, and scolding a student in front of others instead of in a private meeting. If the HPCSA finds that the behaviour is intimidating to the trainee, adversely affects his/her attitude to the training or retards his/her progress, an internal intervention is provided through mediation. If this does not work or the trainee is ignored, this can give rise to legal implications and the matter is then reported to the legal authorities.
At the School of Clinical Medicine, Professor Rajhmun Madansein, Head of Cardiothoracic Surgery, has often been referred to as an excellent mentor. Madansein stated that the key to becoming a good mentor is to share one’s knowledge and skills, always display a positive attitude, take a personal interest in one’s students, provide guidance as well as constructive feedback, set a good example, assist the candidate with their personal and professional goals and lastly always show respect: ‘Always ensure that you create a learning environment such that the mentee never feels intimidated or inadequate.’
The webinar can be accessed on YouTube.
Words: MaryAnn Francis