CAMEROON: "Multifaceted corruption" permeates universities

Extortion and political patronage are corrupting the public universities of Cameroon, claims the French newspaper Libération. Rectors siphoned off university funds for their own use or 'salaries' for their large entourages - all quite legally as rectors are "all-powerful and unsackable", the paper reported. "Student fees, foreign trips, organisation of examinations, all are good pretexts for awarding themselves bonuses of tens of thousands of euros each year."

Yet operating budgets in university departments were rarely more than EUR3,000 and the insufficient number of buildings were dilapidated, libraries were empty, science faculties had no laboratories, student housing was in a deplorable state. No funds were available for research and lecturers earned hardly enough to live on, said the article.

Some teachers also joined in, extorting money from their students. Candidates for entrance exams for grandes écoles paid bribes of thousands of euros to gain a place.

Libération timed the start of the "descent into hell" at the beginning of the 1990s when the regime made universities dependent on the party in power. Teaching careers subsequently owed more to political patronage than academic merit. Despite some "brilliant teachers", recognised abroad, the universities of Cameroon, "once among the best in the African continent, are today of a lamentable standard," its correspondent Fanny Pigeaud said.

Pigeaud described the case of Jean, whose parents had spent EUR914 (US$1,200), equivalent to four months' salary of his civil servant mother, on the fees for his masters course at the University of Yaoundé's journalism school. While Jean's parents had become indebted, the fee charged was illegal: a course in a public university in Cameroon is fixed by law at EUR76.

The managers of the school, which provided the only public sector journalism course, profited from its reputation to fleece students without guaranteeing quality education, according to the Association for the defence of Cameroon students' rights (Addec), reported Libération. Addec has lodged a complaint against the school's director for misappropriation of public funds.

A member of Synes, the higher education teachers' union, told Pigeaud of "multifaceted corruption and lack of ethics in the seven public universities of Cameroon, one of the most corrupt countries in the world".

Full report here