Author: Jean Patrick Mve
Site of publication: Scientific Research Publishing
Type of publication: Study
Date of publication: April 2021
Cameroon is a Sub-Saharan African country of the Central African-Sub region. It is a former German colony (1884-1916) that was jointly ruled by France and Great Britain after the First World War, on a mandatory basis under the League of Nations, from 1919 to the 1960s. Modern higher education in Cameroon started after the country became an independent State in the 1960s. France was the main actor in the creation of the Cameroonian university by making available important resources (human, financial and physical resources) for the implementation of the project of higher education in the country. The French Foundation of Higher Education in Cameroon was the organ delegated by the French Ministry of National Education to build up the Cameroon higher education system in collaboration with the Cameroonian government.
This means France was upstream and downstream in the process of designing and setting up the university institution in Cameroon.
Indeed, articles 7 and 13 of the Cultural Cooperation Agreement between France and Cameroon, signed on 13 November 1960, states that “the French Government would assist in the creation, organization and development of a University in Cameroon to enable it to train locally the senior managers, it needed in the following fields: culture, teaching, research, and vocational training”.
From independence in 1960 to the 1990s, the country’s higher education system had only one public university, the University of Yaounde, previously known as the Federal University of Cameroon. During this period, the Cameroonian higher education landscape comprised the University of Yaounde (including three faculties, four schools, one specialized center, and two institutes) four University Centers with specific educational mandates created in 1977 in four different regions around the country. There was no private higher education institution by then and the education policy in place was an elitist policy based on the training of local officials (elites) capable of replacing Western expatriates holding administrative positions in the country before its independence.
However, between the 1970s and 1980s, Cameroon higher education faced unprecedented challenges, with major ones being the exponential growth of student enrollments and retrenchment in public funding. Before the reform of 1993 for example, the country’s only university, the University of Yaoundé, was experiencing exponential massive increases in student enrollments while its absorption capacity remained very limited.
The great reform of 1993 of higher education in Cameroon intervenes therefore in response to this increasing massification of higher education. Indeed, student population rose from 17,535 in 1986 to 44,270 over 1992. Thus, the University of Yaoundé had between 1991 and 1992 five times more students (37,215) than its capacity of absorption (7000 students). The issue of massification in higher education is not peculiar to Cameroon alone, but it is common to all the regions of the world. The study stresses that no matter the current meager GTER in the Sub-Saharan African region (as compared to the GTER of the other regions of the world), higher education in Cameroon is paradoxically facing an unprecedented massification.
Causes of Higher Education Massification
The rapid and permanent growth of mass enrollments leading to the critical massification of higher education in Cameroon was caused or favored by three main factors. Such factors include the high rates of attendance and completion in secondary/high schools, the open-door academic policy adopted by the Cameroonian government for most institutions, and resource constraints within higher education institutions.
Economic growth/development was not found to be among the drivers of higher education massification in Cameroon, which appears not to be paradoxical. Considered as lower middle income (World Bank, 2021b), Cameroon has an economic growth level that may not cause an exceeded demand for graduate-level jobs capable of resulting in increased participation in higher education. Moreover, the findings revealed no linkage between higher education massification and “national liberation struggles”.
Secondary/High School Attendance and Completion
One of the main drivers of massification and increasing enrollments in Cameroon higher education is the highly increasing number of the population attending and completing secondary schools in the country. The exponential increase in the number of students attending secondary education is likely due to the freedom and compulsory policy implemented in the country’s primary education sector. Indeed, since 2002, the Cameroonian government, the largest provider of education national wide, is implementing a free and compulsory primary education policy for public schools.
The rapid and permanent growth of mass enrollments leading to the critical massification of higher education in Cameroon was caused or favored by three main factors. Such factors include the high rates of attendance and completion in secondary/high schools, the open-door academic policy adopted by the Cameroonian government for most institutions, and resource constraints within higher education institutions
Primary education is almost compulsory and available free to all. Thus, kids from all social classes are admitted to public primary schools without any discrimination. This, added to the policy of collective promotion that is implemented in our education system, naturally results in increasing numbers of students in secondary schools (Sarah). The majority of students who complete their Baccalaureate or GCE advanced level are automatically enrolled in the university when they leave secondary school.
The limited financial capacity of higher education institutions has also been pointed out by the data as a major facilitator of the overcrowding situation experienced in the different campuses of higher education institutions in Cameroon. It was revealed that the open-door policy required an adequate increase of universities’ resources to cope with this situation efficiently. Thus, more human and physical resources needed to be provided before the implementation of the open-door policy and this should become a continuous action as doors of higher education continue to be widely open to all secondary/high school leavers. However, such actions did not follow accordingly due to the lack of sufficient financial resources, which the provision of other resources depends on. Thus, the open-door policy has been adopted and continues to be implemented in an environment plagued by the crisis of financial, physical, and human resources.
The dramatic increase in student enrollments in higher education in Cameroon has not been matched with university funding effectively. The budget allocated to higher education is not enough to help all the universities deal with mass enrollments appropriately. More faculty needed to be recruited and additional infrastructures to be built. Yet, the availability of public funds is limited such that these important actions did not follow effectively. The government has even created new campuses, but both old and new campuses still lack adequate resources to manage all these students appropriately.
In order not to render access to the university difficult to students from a low economic background, the Cameroonian government introduced a token registration fee of XAF 50 thousand per student per annum (approximately $85) after the reform of 1993. This fee is irrespective of the degree program or kind of degree pursued.
The data have posited the crisis of financial resources as the fundamental cause of other constraints faced by Cameroonian higher education institutions, including constraints associated with physical and human resources.
The dramatic increase in student enrollments in higher education in Cameroon has not been matched with university funding effectively. The budget allocated to higher education is not enough to help all the universities deal with mass enrollments appropriately. More faculty needed to be recruited and additional infrastructures to be built. Yet, the availability of public funds is limited such that these important actions did not follow effectively. The government has even created new campuses, but both old and new campuses still lack adequate resources to manage all these students appropriately
What Higher Education Massification Means in Sub-Saharan Africa-Cameroon
The data showed that the phenomenon of massification is merely experienced at the level of institutional resources, especially physical and human resources, which highly depend on financial resources. The concept of massification in Cameroon higher education is likely linked to the concept of resource capacity or resource adequacy/quality. The data revealed that many Cameroonian higher education institutions are faced with the scarcity of adequate infrastructures and the shortage of academic staff in the context of the open-door policy, as the number of new and adequate classrooms, amphitheaters, and labs needed and the sufficient number of faculty members have not been provided since many years in many institutions. There is a strong linkage between the problem of lack of sufficient and adequate physical and human resources and the problem of shortage of funding within the Cameroonian university, which may certainly be the case of many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
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