PhD admission ban: Academics call for better infrastructure

Academics in both private and public higher education institutions in Cameroon have voiced the need for adequate infrastructure to enable them to do quality, cutting-edge research. This is in response to the government’s recent suspension of PhD admissions in state universities, a move which, it said, was geared at addressing serious quality concerns in PhD research.

According to Professor Magloire Ondoa, the rector of the University of Douala, “Infrastructure deficiency in university institutions hinders smooth learning to produce expected results.”

Speaking at a recent press tour to present newly completed infrastructure developments at the university, the rector said insufficient infrastructure and support for research and development were some of the major challenges facing higher education in Cameroon, in particular, and Africa, in general.

“There’s a need for adequate support from the government and partnerships with the private sector and international organisations for these infrastructure challenges to be addressed,” Ondoa said.

He touted the efforts of the University of Douala that just completed the construction of about 16 buildings, including an 800-person capacity hall, 10 offices, 88 toilets, a surveillance camera system and standby generator, worth CFA3.9 billion (about US$6.7 million).

The brunt of the multipurpose investment, he said, was born by the university, thanks to a bank loan obtained in 2021.

Infrastructure needed

With virtually all higher education institutions in the country lacking in essential services such as transport facilities, water, power, healthcare, adequate learning space and a government uninterested in investing in research, academics are questioning how PhD students could conduct the expected cutting-edge research to tackle problems related to local needs in their communities and contribute to the country’s economic emergence.

According to Professor Ernest Molua, the former registrar of the University of Buea, Cameroon, university students have not been able to study in well-built and equipped universities with a positive intellectual experience.

The situation is even worse for university students with disabilities who have problems adapting to the study environment because the school infrastructure does not take into consideration the existence of students with disabilities, he told University World News.

“After suspending PhD admissions, it is also apt and proper for the government to close institutions which lack proper and befitting infrastructure,” Molua said.

Universities around the world are rapidly transforming, with not only academic reforms but also infrastructure. University students need quality teaching staff as well as the enabling infrastructure, Molua added.

He cited infrastructure like enough green spaces, amphitheatres, lecture halls, rooms for tutorials and group meetings, hostels, laboratories, workshops, staff offices, teaching hospitals, staff quarters, practising schools and colleges, shopping centres, food courts, car parks, incubator centres and science parks.

Calls on government to invest in HE

Dr Nick Ngwanyam, the CEO of St Louis University, for his part, says the lack of adequate infrastructure and an enabling study environment accounts for poor performance in PhD research and the reason why universities in Cameroon hardly feature in the top list of university rankings in Africa.

Ngwanyam notes that, though these rankings are rated on the quality of performance in different fields of study such as mathematics, medicine, engineering, archaeology and technology, there is also consideration on innovations and investments in infrastructure.

“Universities must show some progress in research and innovation and this requires good and up-to-date infrastructure,” he told University World News.

He called on the government to correct the mistakes of yesterday by investing adequately in its higher education system and to support quality research.

“The government needs to budget adequately to support higher education studies at all levels,” he said.

Experts say quality research is imperative to address development challenges in Africa. According to a UN report, quality research in science, technology and innovation are the pathways to attaining the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The degree to which research fulfils this role in Africa depends on the availability of infrastructure, the report says. It also notes that, although some African countries have invested in research infrastructure, evidence suggests a glaring deficiency in most countries.

This deficit, if not addressed expeditiously, will constrain the ability of countries on the continent to deploy science, technology and innovation as a means of implementation of the SDGs, with an adverse knock-on effect on the rate of progress to achieve the targets. The report says cooperation among countries of the region and between the continent and the international community could bridge the gap.

Poor resource management

Academics also note that, with better management of available resources, some progress could be made.

“Universities have to improve on the management of resources and give priority to infrastructure. We have observed that both public and private higher education institutions in the country tend to use public venues for their official ceremonies because their campuses have not gotten the requisite infrastructure. This is not good for the image of these institutions,” Dr Fridolin Nke, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Yaoundé 1, told University World News.

He blamed the lack of basic infrastructure in some state universities on bad governance. “I think poor management in some universities is also a big problem. This is evidenced by the fact that some are more equipped than others, though receiving virtually the same financial support from government,” Nke said.

“Despite the loud decibels of marketing by public universities and some private higher education institutions, it’s very disheartening [to see] the low infrastructure standards these institutions subject its students to, Molua noted.

“It is regrettable that universities, whether in public or private institutions in Cameroon, do not meet the basic threshold of a university campus. This is a big management challenge and, by and large reflects on the quality of results obtained,” he said.

Even the locations or sites of some private higher education institutions are not recommended and suitable for quality studies. “Some are located in city centres and on market corners. This is unacceptable, and a tragedy for human capital development,” he added.

According to a 2023 World Bank report, Cameroon suffers from weak governance, hindering many development projects and the ability to attract investors.

Experts called on higher education authorities in Africa in general, and Cameroon in particular, to improve on university governance as pathways to development of their institutions. “It is the quality and characteristics of governance in universities in Africa that shape the level of their stability, performance and the prospects for infrastructure improvement,” Nke told University World News.