The impact of french and british colonial rule on the he system in cameroon from the perspective of students


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This chapter will examine some existing literatures which are related to the study and a suitable theory which will be of help to answer the research question. Cameroon has two systems of education, for the fact that these education systems are controlled and managed by a single body which is the Ministry for HE; the structure of education still contains the two systems which are completely different from one another in so many aspects. The origin of these education systems in Cameroon came about as a result of colonial differences which have reflected on the management of the present education structure in Cameroon. The keen interest of this research is to investigate how this colonial presence has influenced the current education development in Cameroon. With a review of related literatures on Cameroon’s HE system, one will be able come out with credible findings to justify outcome of the research.

3.1. Overview of Existing Literature

The mission of the university is to train highly skilled managers in terms of knowledge, skills and expertise to be able to act as responsible citizens in a society in constant mutation. This mission is reflected in practice by the transmission of knowledge, the development of research and support the community through knowledge sharing with communities and partner agencies. The university has a growing role to play as a catalyst for economic development, social and cultural development of the society in which it operates. To position it internationally, universities are in need of reforms and transformations.

French-speaking African universities south of the Sahara are on the margins of these changes. They are supported by international organizations, African sub-regions that promote good governance and the structures of universities are more open to change and this is guided by a board of directors who are more accountable and more concerned about its future. The William S.B (2011) study in recent years on university governance at the University of Burkina Faso, tries to establish the link between the Board of Directors and governance of universities. His study mentioned a host of issues facing the University of Burkina Faso ranging from frequent crisis originating as a result of strike from instructors and student instigated from internal and external influences. According to his study he assumed that some of these problems are cause by poor organizational management of these credible institutions to manage the affairs of the university. His research is of great important to the case of Cameroon because, the HE in Cameroon has been faced with similar problems for the past years, the university strike in 1993 which saw the closure of the University of Yaounde I for six months, the 1994 and 2005 University of Buea student strike which left two student death and hundreds wounded by the forces of law and order (The Post 2005, pp8).

The relationship between the Board of Directors and university government is very important because most university conflict in Sub-Sahara Africa often come about as a result of misunderstandings between the board of directors and university governance. The university of Buea student strike that lasted for four month in 2005 came about as result of misunderstanding between the ministry of HE and government of the University of Buea. This was an issue over the publishing of results for the entrance examination into the faculty of medicine. The list that was earlier publish by the university authority which carried the name of meritorious candidate was high jacked by the ministry of HE, leading to the cancellation of some names of candidates which had been included on the original list earlier published by the university of Buea. The reason for the government to do this was to maintain regional balance at the expense of some successful candidates and the university government. It is often noted that most of the semesters of HE in Cameroon are characterised with a series of minor strikes some are normally resolve while some escalate to the extent where the semester experience halts in activities. With such a quality of university study, the students are exposed to inefficient grasping of materials and missing of academic facts as some misunderstandings lead to the cancelation of some research projects sponsored by the state or university administration.

In 1995 the gross enrolment rate of HE in Cameroon stood at only 4%, with significant gender imbalance: 7% male and only 1% of female population were enrolled to tertiary HE training programme. By 1989 the enrolment level had increased and was almost equivalent to what they had been before the HE budget was trimmed in 1993. Cameroon had six state universities but today the number had rose to eight with University of Maroua and Bamenda coming into the scene. In addition, specialise institutions and schools of HE offered students with higher level diploma, degrees profession and occupations which takes into consideration the preference in the job market orientation. The Catholic University Institute, established in 1990 was the main private university in Cameroon but today several private universities and professional HE institutions have spring up. Despite the increasing number of private institutions it is well viewed that there is still imbalance in the education system with respect to job orientation. With the research question, it interesting to know that Cameroon is making immense progress on the education structure and one is interested on the efficiency of this system on promote the continuity of HE in Cameroon (Ajagangi 2000).

It seems that gender equality is fast gaining ground in the enrolment of HE in Cameroon; the traditional approach based on culture has always viewed the woman’s place to be the kitchen or the house. Some advanced families in Cameroon often make an effort to encourage the girl child to enrol in school but in the other hand saw their boundary limited at the level of primary schools where they can learn how to read and write. This makes the girl child have the complex of living in the mist of boys as her main peers. With the advent of globalization and new age of technology the mentality of gender discrimination is slowing being minimised and girls are finding more exposures to various sort of HE opportunities. This has made the competition in academics more competitive as the male and the female students are increasingly going head to head in the HE system.

From the World Bank analyses that leads to a variety of factors that promoted the significant number of HE institutions in Cameroon during the 1990s, the most significant one was that, the technical school were “not given meaningful job-oriented practical training due to lack of instructor motivation, poor planning of the discipline that are taught, resource constraints, and complete separation between the colleges and the world of work” (World Bank 1997). This report is very important because the graduates of most Cameroon HE institutions graduate with little or no experience on professionalism. This is as a result of the lack of professional orientation in most universities curriculum. In the case of Cameroon where a student will specialise in a single subject in the university, after graduation the government will launch an entrance exam to a professional HE institution which will further train the student on a career. An example of such institution is the Ecole Normale Supereur (ENS) which is assigned to train instructors who are employed in the public service. The state finds it difficult to make direct employment of graduate from the universities; most direct employments are often made by the private sector. This makes it difficult for graduate in the HE to find a job or rather be self employed since the French education system does not promote professionalization in universities. They all look up to the government for employment who on the order hand her sector is more saturated with retirement-age workers who keep on prolonging their retirement. Furthermore, the management deficiencies associated with overly centralised decision-making often made it hard for school to response to more immediate local condition patterning to the need and preferences of student in the faculty. These are some of the issues which have made the HE study in Cameroon problematic, the authorities charged with the management of HE institutions are not operating autonomously when it comes to decision making. Before a situation is given full concern which is for the interest of the students, most at times the final decision has to come from the central system – the Ministry of HE.

The World Conference on Higher Education at UNESCO in June 2009, the ACU and Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) initiated a joint project to establish the Pan-African Institute for University Governance (Institut Panafricain pour Gouvernance Universitaire). The Institute aimed to support effective governance and management in universities across Africa through the following objectives:

  • To facilitate an open dialogue between universities and other stakeholders in African HE systems on governance issues

  • To identify key governance issues, and their relationship with wider policy

  • To identify, recognise and disseminate good practice in African university governance

  • To establish and develop a professional culture for university governance

  • To provide new mechanisms for Africa-wide discussion on university governance issues    

The emphasis was on sharing experience and good practice, providing guidance and facilitating exchange between African institutions with the aim of supporting the development and improvement of governance structures and processes.

In 2009 there was considerable scoping and development of the concept, including a stakeholders meeting and the formal launch at the UNESCO World Conference of HE, held in July 2009 in Paris. Since then, the initiative has received the commitment of the Government of Cameroon, a member of both the Francophonie and the Commonwealth, to help establish a physical base for the Institute on the campus of the University of Yaoundé II in Soa. This was a keen response from the Cameroon government to actually acknowledge the challenges in the management of HE in Cameroon. The HE in Cameroon has suffered from a series of such problem and Cameroon’s subscription to such a forum provides government personnel who are assigned to manage key areas to pay more attention to the demands and specific areas on the HE system in Cameroon. Especially as the setting of most HE institutions in Cameroon always comprises of students from the French and English education systems. These differences in educational orientation always spark debate among students on how to approach a subject matter.

Cameroon’s HE system had its roots from the traditional francophone African model, with almost all students in full degree courses, few links to labour market with no involvement of the private sector in programme selection and curriculum content. In terms of financing most is been provided by the government under the Ministry of HE (MINESUP) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MINESUP) with little student fee introduce in 19933. This system of education initially designed to produce personnel for the civil service is no longer in conformity to the economic need of the shrinking public service (World Bank HDN II). The World Bank analyses noted that a high number of HE students enrolled in 1998 found out that the government is unable to provide sufficient funds to promote more traditional university training.4 The educational system in Cameroon is faced with the problem of system structure mismanagement. In the recent years one can witness that Cameroon government put much money and time in repeating the training of personnel for key government positions which can also be better included in the school curriculum. This traditional colonial education system still continues as students from such institutions will testify that most of the courses are taught in French while the reality in the job market is faced with both French and English languages.

According to the World Bank (2008) few graduates from ordinary universities find employment within their final year of graduation and the overall unemployment rate of university graduates is around 30% but recently this figure has skyrocketed. On the contrary only about 6.5% of unschooled young are unemployed this brings us to the conclusion that unemployment rates rise with qualification. Such a statistic puts us to question the validity of the 17 years of schooling bestowed upon university graduates in Cameroon.

A joint move from the World Bank and the government of Cameroon made an attempt to introduce new forms of HE where student are oriented toward the job market meaning they can enter the job market directly after graduation with valuable marketable skills which are in connection to meet the needs of the labour market and aspirations of the Cameroon society. The difference in focus between pioneer HE courses in the 1990s and the type of training programmes the World Bank seems to introduce in Cameroon HE system is in convergence to the programme in the IUT Douala model. This provides diploma level courses instead of degree oriented academic training; this institution will limit courses and programme enrolment to the number of students the institution could accommodate. The use of private sector and Non-Governmental Organisations as internship opportunities will be introduced so that student will have direct experience to the job they have been destined for. Such educational innovation will be useful to Cameroon’s context because this will further cut down time, expenditure and government spending in the domain of HE and on the other hand fortify the students for future challenges in today’s job market.
3.2. Theoretical Framework

A close follow up of Cameroon’s educational history will leave us with a conclusion that French and British colonial presence actually played a significant role in shaping the educational policies which has acted as the main determining factor that has reflected the current education system. Looking at the contemporary situation in Cameroon with respect to education, Cameroon operates two separate education systems which have completely different orientations and approaches from each other. Watson, (1994) and Nieuwenhuis et al., (1991), in their studies on the development of education in post-colonial African and how this can help shape education policies in South Africa can also be use in the case of this study to better understand the current situation in Cameroon. The case of South African is similar to Cameroon in this aspect because during the apatite the Black and the White had two different systems of education and policies respectively, South Africa was also colonised by the British who had colonised some areas in Cameroon and in addition South Africa is also a country in African continent unlike Cameroon. Though Cameroon has never been in such an apartheid situation, what the researcher simply wants to point out is the significance the two countries shared which can as well has an influence on their education system.

According to this theory, the ideology of education policy cannot be developed in isolation from the macro context in which it operates. According to this theory the macro context implies to the national and international context where the education system in a country cannot be sharp without taking into consideration the economic, political, demographic, geographical, social and labour issues. Finally the international trends in this context, one can easily see that the globalisation of education has a direct impact on the development of education systems all over the world. This is evident as more international organisation are been involved in the funding of huge tertiary educational research and their involvement in the implementation of policy designing. For instance much pressure is been put on Muslim countries to educate the girl child. From the a diagrammatic presentation of this theory it reveals that the education system in any country is a result of a number of interacting forces that with the unique nature of a country’s history will give rise a specific education system.

Education is a subsystem within which the larger state and political dispensation5 including the current government. The administration will therefore take decisions concerning education based on the politics of its constituency. This can help the contemporary education system in Cameroon since much of the system structure was been designed under the traditional French and British colonial systems.


Values, character, conflict

and attitudes


Population growth




Climate; Size







Industrial/Developing resources


Development of state and ideology


Democracy / One party

Capitalist / Socialist


Link with neighbours

Trade / treaties

Donor status








Fig 2.Determinant of an education system [Adapted from (Watson, 1994)]








With the globalisation of education and the increase in system dynamics the government is force to meet up with the demands of the growing population especially that of Cameroon which grows at a geometry progression? From the theory, the key factors which are displaced in the figure above, in an ideal education system the macro factors must be significant. In this situation the national aspect which is economic, political, demographic, geographical, social and labour issues must interact with each other. To relate this theory to better explain the current education situation in Cameroon, the researcher decided to group these factors into three categories; 1.) Economic, political and labour issues are classified in one category. 2) Geographic and demographic in second category and finally the. 3) Social aspect. The socio cultural aspect of this theory will be over emphasised since the historical aspect of tradition, culture and beliefs are more pragmatic to the real situation affecting HE in Cameroon.

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