Cameroon: Professors Without Publications

9 Apr

According to the 2013 University Web Ranking  for the top 100 best Universities in Africa, none from Cameroon or in the Central  African sub-region features on this ranking! Seriously!!?? 

Apart from public secondary schools in Cameroon that charge small tuition fees, primary and university education is free for Cameroonian nationals. The only fees expected are annual admission/ enrollment or registration fees. However it is one thing  to have free university and another thing to have a financially independent and self sustaining university. Most universities in Cameroon are state created-funded-administered institutions, the lack of independence makes university bureaucracy an exhibition of the country’s  actual  political and social configuration.

 The University of Yaounde in its milk and honey days was a center of academic reference and excellence in Francophone Africa, noted for its bilingual profile. This put it on firm ground with other celebrated universities as Makerere in Uganda and Ibadan in Nigeria. Following the university crisis of the late 1980’s, the government decided to de-congest and decentralized this university  to found five other state universities in the regions with the 1993 university reform law. However, this offspring universities soon began experiencing the same problems the mother university had laboured with. Even the newly created University of Bamenda, has had difficulties starting up and running because of the over politicized issues of ethnicity over its geographic location and staffing. Even as Chancellors of the Bamenda University are being  installed into office, let us ask where is the University campus? By manipulating around with E.N.S BAMBILI doesn’t equal to constructing a University in Bamenda. 

Government had simply spread the problem through the creation of other universities, but had not solved the origin causes of the university crises with yearly strikes by staff members over the non-payment of their arrears and other delayed allowances. Most lecturers are there on the job because it rewards a salary, not because it’s a place to conceive and deliver ideas that can better society! Since 2005 till present, strikes and riots have become sporadic and with characteristic violence from student demonstrators and law enforcement officers.

In the same light of disbelief and sheer condescending, one is prompted to ask how could Somalia which is struggling to recover from more than two decades of civil war and plunder, or Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Mauritania, all of whom Cameroon supersedes in terms of human development index and per capita income earn a place on that list while we with far more higher institution numbers have none on that list!? This means Cameroon universities wouldn’t even appear in the first top 1000 of the world! There is no bias at all in that ranking as English, Arabic, French and Portuguese speaking universities are represented. Breaking them down by African regional blocs, once would notice that there is no university from any of the ten central African regional group of countries on the list. Interesting isn’t it?

It is equally disgraceful and shameful that most alumni cannot proudly refer their global network of friends in other countries  to their alma maters websites, as the latter only shows how frail, irrelevant and neglected the internet as a tool for research and networking is to the national higher educational system. It’s still an awe striking sight when one sees 21st century university students copying down pre-prepared and dictated notes during lectures from their lecturers. Handouts and pamphlets while initially intended as special readings recommended by lecturers to fill the vacuum created by under-stocked university libraries and lack of access to online journal databases have tended to promote student dependency and underdevelopment of extra reading and researching skills for new information and sources. With its cramped up classes from converted secondary schools into university amphitheaters, with few functioning image projectors and sound equipment, small computer labs with 100 computers running on a very low internet speed  to serve more than 10,000 students on campus, that pretty much paints the portrait of a typical university campus in Cameroon.

Moreover, Cameroon universities suffer from identity crisis. It’s hard to tell if they are actually switching their model over to the Bologna Process on higher education or are they still caught up in their hybridization of the French and Anglo-Saxon systems? Courses and exams in some state and private universities are offered in one of the official languages: English or French and students reserve the discretion to answer in whichever of these two languages. Every discipline has a subject language and philosophy in it so personally, I find this form of promoting bilingualism unproductive and disadvantageous to the students, particularly when one national language becomes dominant for a particular course for which the student is not a primary speaker. Hence the object shifts from seeking the epistemology in the course to being bent on ‘validating’ the course with a pass mark.  This has spawn an informal parasitic institution which specializes in offering  “translated notes, translated classes, and preparatory classes for exams” most often by former university graduates or ‘brighter’ peers, all at the students cost.

Despite the particular  exemption of many academics from this generalization, I find it very appalling that despite the plethora of  ‘university professors and doctors’ that Cameroon hosts, a Google search with the names of some of them as keywords yields little no results of publications or research breakthroughs to their credit when compared to their peers elsewhere. It appears as though once  made a ‘Prof.’ or ‘Dr.’ most forget about research. Some are clearly elevated to this grades to become political elites and power brokers,  not academics within the university community. Most will be quick to blame the small or limited research grants offered by the state for research or are quick to accuse censorship, I still find it not plausible that with the real limitations faced from few peer reviewed or full fledged journals in Cameroon, there are however many more journals and databases hosted within and out of the African continent where most could publish.

The choice of the University of Yaounde II to host the sub-regional faculty of Governance Humanities and Social Sciences of the Pan African University created by African Union is evidence of the recognized potentials the country has in higher education. Clearly the government and private stakeholders need to do more about university infrastructure and furnishing, research and cooperation, telecommunications, grants and scholarship funding, student and central administration governance, academic curriculum, lecture and teaching patterns for quality assurance, accreditation, mobility, recognition of degrees, classification professionals masters/research masters, doctorates and PhD.

The questions now are thus;

– Are our degrees and graduates at par with their colleagues in academia or are our public and private universities simply degree mills and places to pre-occupy the youths? – Now do you agree that we need another university reform, since the 1993 reform and the 2007 LMD reform (Bologna adherence)?

By Nwanatifu Nwaco

2 Responses to “Cameroon: Professors Without Publications”

  1. uprising12 April 10, 2013 at 11:57 #

    An interesting and an unbiased piece of discussion of the gradual and steady decline of the quality of university education and the generalized consequence of the emergence of an academia that is neither suited for the needs of the country nor recognized by the authorities who evaluate higher institutional learning world wide.
    Whatever policy guided the government of Cameroon to embark on the creation of a four more universities in Cameroon following the strike of the early 90s,it is likely that most of the decision was based on the decongestion alone (to forestall the volatile atmosphere of student that works up ) rather than a genuine intention to make the educational quality better.
    This opinion is based on the logic that downsizing a hostile crowd students who have more than ten major demands helps little. In fact as you note, it is no longer a secret that the decision to create more universities was a political calculation rather than an academic solution.
    The much acclaimed bilingual status of the mother university, the then University of Yaoundé had become a sham by the 1980s with more effort put towards the frenchification of Cameroonians with an Anglo-Saxon educational background than a real commitment to making the institution what is was initially intended to be, the only bilingual university in the central African sub region.
    When English speaking students and lecturers demand an institution that suits their academic background, the government was not solving the problem by (upgrading the school of translation in Buea to a university),it went ahead to create four others (in Dschang, Douala, Maroua and Ngoundere) though there were no demands from francophone students for that. Worst of all such decisions were not followed with a concise effort to put the necessary structural (modern campuses) and educational infrasture (lecturers, research grants, libraries and an educational atmosphere) for the five universities into place.
    With fewer lecturers whose salaries had been slashed by the salary cuts,( and sometimes students who had been admitted through questionable circumstances) as a measure to combat the economic crises that hit the region in the late 80s and 90s,the newly created universities simply soon became a reflection of the one they had been created to ameliorate.
    It was the perfect environment for corruption of all sorts, sexually bought marks to lecturers abusing power and the rights of students. The University of Buea (UB) which was hailed at the onset as “the place to be” will soon be saturated by similar difficulties and was soon to witness its own share of strikes. Strikes from the students who became frustrated with the slow pace of progress in reforms.
    The University of Yaoundé had itself suffered from the chronic problem of both understaffing in terms of numbers and the quality of the staff. When the decision to create new universities came up little attention was given to the problem of staff. We can go on and on but we shall end with the same conclusion, that it is not surprising that we are faced with the results we have today where no Cameroonian university appears on the list of the top 100 in Africa. The truth is….the mess may even be more than what we see or are able to write about for now.

    • nwaco April 10, 2013 at 14:15 #

      Wow!! Your comment is more of an article Sir. It’s very impressive update you have here. thank you very much.

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