The name Cameroon is derived from the term `Rio dos Camaroes`, given to the Wouri River by Portuguese explorers. Reaching the Cameroon coast near the modern port city of Douala around 1472, those explorers named the river Rio dos Camaroes ("River of Prawns") after discovering that the river was rich in prawns. This name later was applied to the coastal area between Mount Cameroon and Rio Muni. It is a country located in the gulf of Guinea, within an intersection of West and Central Africa. The Northern part of the territory is dry and contains vast Savanna and the South is characterized by dense tropical rain forest. Cameroon is rich with 200 ethnic groups and is also highly bio-diversified especially in flora. According to the latest update of 2009 carried out by UNESCO, the population stood at about 18 million inhabitants who belong to the approximately 200 ethnic and linguistic groups, with GNP of about 8.7 billion and an annual growth rate of 6.7%. With the coming of colonial masters this country was divided after World War II as a trusteeship territory between the French on one hand controlling 2/3 of the territory and the British on the other hand controlling 1/3 as a joint mandate with Nigeria. These colonial masters each brought different systems of administration as well as educational format. I will begin by providing background knowledge of the Higher Educational system in Cameroon, how it operates and under what conditions. Then make an appraisal on how Higher institutions of learning achieve their goals and objectives under the above conditions. The conclusion will be a reflection on probable measures which could be taken to improve on Cameroon's situation to match the famous ``famous trinity of funding-quality-access in higher education`` (Jongbloed, 2000).
A Brief History of Higher Education in Cameroon
Cameroon as it is, is a Bilingual country and faced a fundamental problem of trained personnel for top positions in the government immediately after independence in 1960. At the time, the country did not have a single university. The few who managed to study abroad during the colonial era received education that was poorly adapted to the local needs of bilingual and bi-cultural Cameroon at the time. To provide these specific needs therefore, the government with the assistance of UNESCO and the French government created a university complex known as the National Institute for University Studies (Institute National d'Etude Universitaires) in 1961. Its goal was to prepare students in the traditional disciplines of Economics, Law, Education and the Arts. This was followed by the introduction of higher professional training programmes in the fields of public administration, engineering, medical care, judiciary, journalism, teacher training, diplomacy, agriculture and the military (Doroth, 2003).
By 1971, the University was composed of organizational units such as faculties, schools, centers and institutes, each assigned with specific missions; and by the end of 1974, Cameroon already possessed at the structural level its two principal types of higher education establishments: fundamental education and technical and professional education (Dorothy et. al. 1999, Pg. 2).
Between 1969 and 1971, several other professional schools were created and attached to this lone Federal university. These were the University Centre for Health Science (CUSS) 1969, the school of Business, the School of Journalism in 1970, the International Relations Institute and the Engineering School (IRIC) in 1971. However, ENAM and EMIA were and are not attached to the University probably because of their strategic importance to the state. Following the Presidential Decree of 19 of Jan. 1993 reorganizing, restructuring universities, other six state universities were created. These were the universities of Yaoundé I, Yaoundé II Soa, Buea, Dschang, Douala and Ngaoundere. This was due to the tension that emanated from the massive enrollment of students (more than 40.000 students in a university created to house 5.000 students) and the fact that the Federal university and its institutions discriminated against the Anglophone community since all was taught and learned in the French -limiting them access. Today, Cameroon counts seven state universities with the most recent being the Universities of Maroua created in 2008.
Private institutions started operating in the early 1990s with the creation of the Catholic university of Central Africa (Univeristé Catholique d'Afrique Centrale). Many have now come up and are much more market oriented. Although the Cameroon government believes in secular education, I very much think that the rapid emergence of numerous private universities and other Institutions of learning are as a result of government inability to make higher education accessible to all or university inefficacy. This is due to retrenchment of government funding. Therefore, students are willing to pay higher tuition which is about five to ten times higher than those of the state universities. In Cameroon, these private institutions have become very popular, attracting students' attention more than state universities. This is so because they are geared towards providing the needs of the labor market. Although quality is the main problem, students see these institutions as the best especially when manager/ownership see students as 'clients'.
Governance / Steering: Higher education in Cameroon is public and the governing body is presided over by the President of the Administrative council. Cameroon`s Higher Education system is a Cooperate-Pluralist state model (Gornitzka 1999) whereby the state is seen as the unitary actor and has the total control over Higher Education because of too much political influence by those in top positions. Thus there is no institutional state where academic freedom and the institution is supposed to protect its values and teachings, (Gornitzka 1999). When it comes to governance policy implementation, it is slow because they do not focus on the problem, do not make specific goals and by the time the policy is implemented they would have gone.
The setting of Higher Education System in Cameroon
Cameroon has two major distinctive educational systems:
The French francophone system, modeled after the French francophone system.
The English Anglophone Cameroon educational system modeled after the British Anglophone system.
These models were put in place by the colonial masters - Great Britain and France. Cameroon`s education system is therefore not bilingual as in the true sense of bilingualism as individuals only master their colonial system with little cross interaction with the other system even when on the same campus. While many institutions claim to be bilingual, this merely comprises of an independent non interacting Anglophone and francophone system on the same campus, with one graduate learning little or nothing from the other.
The Anglo-Saxon system (roughly 20%) is practiced on the British colonial territory consisting of the South West Region and the North West Region of Cameroon and a few schools in Littoral and Centre Region to carter for the Anglophone population in the city area.
The francophone system (80%) is practiced by the remaining eight (8) regions of Cameroon. These systems were put in place by the colonial master, France, and are still being practiced today with little adjustments. In addition to these independent Anglophone and francophone systems, efforts have been made to push for true bilingual institutes in Cameroon.
Supervision of Higher Education
Education in Cameroon is supervised and administered by various Cameroon government ministries namely:
The ministry of Basic Education, which dedicates state policies and programmes for basic education comprising of pre-school and primary (elementary) schools in Cameroon.
The ministry of Secondary Education, which dedicate state policies on secondary and technical education, setting programmes and syllabuses and assessment of secondary education in Cameroon.
The ministry of Higher Education which monitors higher education institutes in Cameroon.
The ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation.
The ministry of Sports and Physical Education.
The ministry of Youth Affairs.
The Minister of Higher Education is at the helm of institutions of Higher Education. He\ she also appoints head of departments on the recommendation of Rectors in the French universities and Vice-chancellor in the lone Anglo-Saxon university in Cameroon (The University of Buea), following consultation of teaching staff. There are also Vice Rectors\ Deputy Vice- Chancellors in charge of Academics, Research and Administration. (Dorothy, 2003).
Funding: The relationship between investment in Higher Education and the level of socio-political, economic and cultural development is well established and amidst this is the growing concern about the continued demand, for quantitative and qualitative output within the existing patterns and levels of funding. Meeting the social needs for Higher Education when resources are not there is difficult particularly where budgets have been further affected by the consequences of structural adjustment policies. The greatest response to this tend to dominate the agendas of policy analysts and politicians in Cameroon cost sharing, or ``shift of some of the education cost burden, from the principal reliance on government (tax payers) to being shared, especially with parents and students`` (Johnstone, 2004). This measure has infact caused huge setbacks on the teaching and learning processes of increasing participation in Higher Education as seen below:
The Economic crisis that hit Cameroon in the early 1980s, forced the state to reduce its budgetary allocation to the Higher Education sector. Most importantly, budget properties became distorted; student welfare for example took precedence over the fundamental mission of the university teaching, research and contributions to national development.
The subsequent reduction of government subvention; irregular, disbursement of the subventions, the introduction of tuition, particularly disproportionate contribution by parents and students and have combined to make sustainable and viable teaching and learning of institutions extremely difficult.
With French and English as official languages in Cameroon, Bilingualism in the university therefore implies that English and French enjoy equal status as language of instruction and learning. Practically, professors/lecturers teach in any language of their choice,(usually that which they master well). When the teacher is not proficient enough in the other language, some technical and/or physical scientific concepts can hardly be explained in that second official language. This restricts the teacher in his or her ability to fully develop what is being taught. Teachers are also often limited to teaching and research material that exist in their first received language and this is usually evident in the bibliography that is drawn up from the courses taught. Finally, grading a student's work is not often effective because of the teacher's handicap in the other language.
Academic staffs of the institution have so many shortcomings; there is the shortage of academic staff and most of them are unqualified, because most of them are not professors. They are just holders of Master`s Degree and do not have a good mastery of the teaching profession. Their teaching method is mostly teacher-centered, with students at receiving end. Thus the knowledge output and quality is poor and it is knowledge that provides the organizational building blocks of these institutions (Cloete, et al 2002).
Reforming higher Education in Cameroon
January 1993 saw the government of Cameroon launching a major reform of the higher educational system. If one were to talk about the reforms in the higher education system in Cameroon, it will be best still to look back at the period after the first reform was passed (1977-1991). During this period, the University of Yaoundé, the only state university at the time comprised of ten organizational units, which were three faculties, four schools, one specialized centre and two institutes. The university`s basic infrastructure was not expanding and yet it saw the student population increase with negative consequences (massification), leading overcrowded amphitheatres and saturated laboratories making it very difficult for students to carry out practical work or follow lectures in a conducive environment of learning. In order to remedy this situation, the state created four university centres with specific educational mandate namely:
Buea University centre for language studies
Douala University centre for business studies and training of technical education teachers.
Dschang University centre for agriculture
Nguaounderé University centre for food science and food technology.
However, this reform contributed little to remedy the situation of the congestive nature of University of Yaoundé. It however reduces the number of university schools and affiliated institutes. With this unsolved situation, came the second phase of reforms.
Apart from the over congested nature of the University of Yaoundé; it also had the problem of very poor teacher/student ratio which differs greatly from one faculty to another. Also the university budget was provided solely by the state without contribution either from the direct beneficiaries or the community at large.
By 1999, the problem of higher education had nearly reached the point of explosion. With the increase in student population in the University of Yaoundé from 9000 in 1977 to 45000 in 1991, the outrageous teacher-student ratio worsened, compounded by the deepening economic crises. These crises brought about the late and regular payment of the university budget. As could be the situation in any organization or institution, students' agitation and political demands were rife. It became imperative to decongest and decentralize the University of Yaoundé by the creation of universities of higher learning like the Universities of Buea, Nguaonderé, Yaoundé II (Soa), Dschang and Douala.
These reforms are generated by the National Council on Higher Education and Scientific Research, which is chaired by the Head of State. It is and advisory body comprised of a broad range of interests, including government officials, university staff, students and representatives of the private sector and civil society. The details of the reforms were formulated by a selected committee of ministry officials, who worked closely with university leaders and the presidency of the Republic. Although this process did not involve direct consultation with stakeholders, the reforms took into account the concerns of the public, especially students.
The Challenge of Quality
Reform objectives were designed to address the challenge of providing a quality education. The decongestion of the University of Yaoundé, the granting of more academic and management powers to universities, the provision of more varied programmes (which are more professional, adapted and responding to the needs of the job market), the provision of a conducive environment for teaching and research, and the provision for selection of students were geared towards ensuring quality in the academic domain.
With the creation of more universities, it became obligatory to recruit more academic staff in order to provide the new system with adequately qualified teachers who would ensure quality education of the students as well as carry out research. Unfortunately, most of the newly recruited teachers do not have terminal qualifications (i.e. Ph.D. or equivalent) and lack the necessary experience to contribute towards the desired improvement on quality. Presently, most teaching staff are trained abroad as only a few programmes in some University institutions offer post-graduate programmes. These oversea studies are usually financed through grants from international organisations, friendly nations or inter-institutional linkage arrangements. However, these funding sources are not adequate to train the academic staff that will be needed as the educational system continues to grow.
The Way Forward
Given the serious problems of funding research as explained, one would be tempted to ask this question, what is the way forward for African universities? With such a bleak background, universities are left with no choice but to seek alternative sources of funding to ensure their survival. The alternative to funding is collaboration with external Donors.
Conclusively, The realities of the Cameroon`s experience are a true reflection of the complexities of higher education policies as orchestrated by the dynamics so embedded in the international, national and institutional conditions of higher education. There is an absolute need for Cameroon to better adapt to institutional conditions and stay integrated within the realms of a commendable higher education structure. To achieve this, there is first the need to adhere to the policy goals of many higher education reform programmes. These goals are directed towards efficiency, effectiveness, responsiveness and competition (Cloete, 2002).
Taking into consideration the deplorable state of the economy of Cameroon for example, one would be tempted to draw the conclusion that massification and the liberalization of higher education sector should not allow for greater financial autonomy. In other to achieved desired results, it would be appropriate for the state to maintain its traditional role of funding higher education but, with a limitation in its regulatory activities. This should be so because the introduction of cost sharing for example in the case of Cameroon is not backed by a student study loan scheme. There are even no good paid summer jobs for students to meet some of the study costs. It therefore, should limit the regulatory mission of the principal sponsor (the state) such as to affect partially the mission of the university but mainly students' welfare and research (sponsor lots of research). Efforts should be made to obtain private and government-operated research foundation. This should match with a regulatory activity that does not interfere with the natural trait of the university as an academic producing firm with professional autonomy. This way, the university may be able to attain greater efficiency, flexibility and a better degree of responsiveness to changing conditions.