Minister suspends PhD admissions in all state universities

Higher education authorities in Cameroon have suspended PhD admissions in all 11 state universities for the 2023-24 academic year.

Professor Jacques Fame Ndongo, the minister of higher education, urged the rectors and vice-chancellors of these institutions to halt PhD admissions until new conditions laid down by the government have been met, according to a ministerial media statement.

According to the statement, the university heads have been requested to each file a detailed report on the financial and academic ability of each unit (department or school) within their institutions that trains PhD students.

They are also expected to provide details on how money was used that was disbursed by the state for PhD defence panels in the period 2020-21 and 2022-23.

“The ministerial decision is in line with a prime ministerial order to look into the management of finances deployed during PhD training in the past few years,” the statement said.

Why the decision?

According to the minister, the decision emanated from the observation that many PhD graduates were inadequately prepared and did not produce the expected research outcomes.

“We want results-oriented PhD training with quality research, geared at contributing to the growth of the economy, especially in the private sector,” Ndongo explained last week over state radio.

Consequently, PhD applicants, according to the ministry’s guidelines, will be approved only if they have sufficient financial and academic means to carry out research projects.

This explains why the release requires all PhD applicants to hence provide a report showing sufficient financial and academic means to carry out quality results-oriented research to gain any approval and subvention by the ministry of higher education, he added.

The decision by the Cameroon higher education authorities comes at a time when there has been a clamour for an increase of PhDs in Africa as well as concern about the quality of training.

In fact, African governments, policymakers and intellectuals share the view that PhDs are not only a vital part of building human capital but a potential driver of development on the continent. The World Bank has consistently asserted that Africa needs more PhDs.

What do the experts say?

Cameroon’s higher education experts University World News spoke to support the minister’s decision as a step in the right direction.

“The decision by the minister may look unacademic, but I think it is a welcome move, especially at this juncture, where virtually all qualified staff to supervise PhDs in state universities are overloaded with candidates,” Professor Christopher Nsoh Ndikum, the academic registrar at the Pan African University, a private university in Cameroon, told University World News.

“PhDs for quality research are absolutely necessary. However, every country has its specificities and challenges,” he said. Ndikum is a professor in conflict management, international migration and intercultural communication.

He says a critical survey by higher education authorities has shown that “qualified supervisors do not only have students to supervise in the universities in which they are employed, but in [universities in] other states and at times [in] private universities. It makes it difficult to follow up [as regularly] with a student as is required. The different state universities don’t have the staff strength to supervise the surging number of PhD students at the moment,” noted Ndikum.

PhD students and potential students say the lack of sufficient financial support could be at the root of inadequate research performance.

“A lot of those enrolled into PhD programmes in Cameroon are not able to mobilise the requisite financial resources to carry out meaningful research. Most of the students don’t have even part-time jobs and so rely on their parents, who are also not [able to support them financially]. It is quite a huge challenge,” Aminateh Nkemngu Fuanya, a masters graduate in communication and a PhD applicant at the University of Buea, told University World News.

Dr Nick Ngwanyam, educationist and CEO of Saint Louis University, a private institution for health and biomedical sciences, noted that Cameroon has been implementing the wrong PhD training programmes in the past, geared at public service employment.

“The world is evolving and the country cannot afford to stay behind. You cannot realise you are on the wrong track and then continue on the same path,” he said.

He noted that PhD research is geared at diagnosing community problems and to craft solutions to address them.

According to him, most community problems are solved through research in technology science, engineering, economy, industry and innovations in agriculture.

“Our PhD holders in Cameroon, unfortunately, have not been doing that and I think that is [the aspect] that the government wants to correct,” he said.

He cited the case of a PhD defence in the University of Yaoundé 1 in 2021 on ‘The silence of the President of the Republic’ or another one on ‘The attributes of the mvet’, a stringed musical instrument used by the Beti tribe in Cameroon, wondering how such research can effectively contribute to the development of the country during this technological age.

“We need quality PhD research in Africa that is results-oriented with good data collection and analysis, project proposals and policy formulation that can contribute to solving specific community problems,” he said.