CAMEROON: Crowded start for new year

The academic year has started with record numbers of new students in Cameroon but several universities have experienced problems including overcrowding, lack of teachers and even cancellation of a new faculty of medicine just before it was due to open. Newspapers reported that some universities were coping better than others.

Demand for higher education was greater than ever in public and private institutions, said the Cameroon Tribune. At the University of Maroua, there were nearly 40,000 applications for only 2,000 places, according to the Ministry of Higher Education.

More than 37,000 young people had passed their baccalauréat examination, and 15,000 their GCE A levels, so more than 50,000 Cameroonian school-leavers were eligible for higher education.

Most would end up in the seven state universities which needed to be able to match their educational needs with "adequate numbers of teachers, classrooms, libraries...but also basic facilities such as university restaurants, lavatories and accommodation", said the Tribune.

At the University of Douala, 5,000 new students brought the total roll to 40,000 - a problem for an establishment with only 15,000 places, the paper reported.

"Luckily, not all 40,000 students are seated at the same time," Professor Blaise Moukoko, Deputy Director with responsibility for teaching, told the paper. Courses with no classrooms available were dispersed among neighbouring schools.

But there had been progress: capacity had doubled from 7,500 places two years ago, two new lecture halls had recently opened, a teaching block built and two more planned. The number of teachers - 500 - had not increased, however, and the ratio of 80 students per teacher was far from the "one teacher for 25 students" recommended by Unesco, noted the Tribune.

Nearly 16,000 students were enrolled at the University of Dschang, an increase of about 10% corresponding to 2,000 new students, said the Tribune. But the Dschang community was shocked last month when the opening of a new faculty of medicine, pharmacy and biomedical science, with 105 places for new students, was cancelled just three days before a competitive entrance examination that had attracted nearly 3,000 candidates, reported Le Quotidien Mutations of Yaoundé.

Its programmes were to have led to professional licence (bachelor's equivalent) and master's degrees. Many hopeful applicants did not hear of the cancellation until they turned up for the exam. No satisfactory reason for the move appeared immediately forthcoming.

Newspapers reported shortages of student accommodation and students' problems with landlords who were ignoring officially fixed rents and charging exorbitant sums. Le Quotidien Mutations reported that students at Yaoundé University were beaten up during the night of 23 October after they complained of overcharging by owners.

The Cameroon Tribune interviewed second-year student Charles Ekoullé who with three friends was urging students not to pay inflated rents. "In spite of ratification by the commerce ministry, owners continue to charge unacceptable rates. I've decided not to pay the 17,000 FCFA (US$33.5) my landlord is demanding while the official rate is 8,000 FCFA. That's theft," he said.