Calls for probe into death of student after her exam

The students’ union of the faculty of pharmacy at the University of Tripoli in Libya has called on the university presidency and the ministry of higher education and scientific research to investigate the death of a female pharmacy student who sat for an examination, despite being in poor health.

According to a staffer at the university, Sarah El-Jedidi experienced shortness of breath related to pneumonia. She died three days after the exam.

According to local news media, the student’s father submitted a medical report and was told her request to be excused from the exam would be considered.

However, the student allegedly distrusted the system and rather opted to sit for the exam.

In a statement on 3 May, the union described the incident as “a violation of human rights” and “extremism in the application of regulations” by those who have to judge the medical reasons students provide for missing an examination.

The union alleged that the vice-dean for scientific affairs at the faculty of pharmacy has to take responsibility for the incident, adding that it had received complaints of ill-treatment and intimidation (from the office of the vice-dean) repeatedly.

It called for dismissal of the vice-dean, along with members of the examinations committee.

On 7 May, the students’ union also held a protest sit-in at the entrance to the faculty of pharmacy.

The Alliance of Students of the faculty of economics and political science, Qasr Bin Ghashir branch, also issued a statement in support of the pharmacy students’ union’s stance and called on the country’s attorney general to investigate.

Ministry response

Omran Al-Qeeb, the minister of higher education and scientific research, said in a statement on 6 May: “Action will be taken to punish those who caused this act in violation of regulations and to bring them to justice” and that “no one is above the law”.

Professor Ahmed Attia, the head of faculty affairs at the faculty of medical technology at the University of Tripoli, Libya, told University World News: “Each student has the right to get sick leave once he or she has presented his or her medical records excuse.”

Similar incidents have occurred in other universities in North Africa, including the death of an Egyptian student at the faculty of physical therapy at Sinai University after the faculty administration forced him to attend an exam, despite his infection with the coronavirus.

University World News asked higher education and medical experts about ways to establish an efficient system to deal with medical problems that might affect students as they sit for exams.

These systems should be in the interests of the student and the university, so that the students do not exploit the system to obtain unjustifiable educational gains and, at the same time, are not held to be intransigent by the university administration.

Morad Ahmed Morad, a professor of medicine at Tanta University in Egypt, told University World News that the system that considers the medical excuses of students should be efficient and free from bureaucracy.

Automatic conditional approval should apply in instances in which students are ill or if there are unavoidable circumstances beyond a student’s control. Applications can be completed online by relatives or the student, or even by phone.

“To get final approval for medical exam excuses, students should provide medical evidence that must be accredited by the university clinic,” Morad said.

Good governance

Ahmed El-Gohary, emeritus professor of clinical pathology and the former president of the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology, told University World News that good governance includes “clear, strict guidelines for every single issue in a university and educational institution”.

“For medical excuses, an efficient medical committee, decision-independent from the university administration, is in place to evaluate students’ medical conditions,” El-Gohary said.

“The role of the medical committee is to examine the health status of the students, case-by-case, to see whether the university guidelines are being observed; more importantly, to raise the flag for a new, unseen medical condition to modify or re-form the set guidelines,” El-Gohary added.

“Simple and fair implementation of this concept will never raise a problem for the student or the university,” El-Gohary stated.

“In my personal career (almost 12 years as president of two different governmental universities, one of them tuition-based) we never had an issue related to medical excuses,” El-Gohary noted.