A Cameroonian tabloid recently reported that the University of Yaoundé I is among the best in the world. You didn’t read wrong. According to what ranking, when it is not even included in the first hundred of Africa? What infrastructure, what research could revolutionize humanity there?
Elite universities in Africa?
These questions do not mean that nothing is being done. On the contrary. Cameroon (despite itself) produced luminaries such as the sociologist Jean-Marc Ela, the philosopher Fabien Eboussi Bulaga or the economist Joseph Tchundjang Pouémi. Even today, there are few foreign institutions that are not presided over by brilliant Cameroonian or African subjects. But to take a closer look, they all spent part of their education abroad. Decades after independence, can this trend be reversed?
North American universities
Building the infrastructure needed to nurture young people, 60% of whom are under the age of 25, takes time. This demographic is pushing the able-bodied to Western institutions, and France is no longer the only target. There is also a market on the African continent of higher education whose quality deserves to be analyzed. Even if facile chauvinism tends to argue otherwise, Africans study elsewhere because they think they can find better there.
If until the early 1990s some countries still offered scholarships to the brightest students (and above all to the less well-off), this is no longer the case. On the other hand, in order to reduce the significant costs of quality education, some English-speaking countries directly turn to North American universities to train their future leaders.
In 1992, during student demonstrations, Cameroon decided to “break” the only national university into two. Since then, the government has established public universities by presidential decree. In addition to prebendary appointments, enterprises are born without any infrastructure. In 2015, Cameroon’s minister of higher education had a strange (and expensive) idea: buy 32 gigabytes of Chinese “computers” for 75 billion CFA francs (€114.3 million). Sealed PBHEV (Paul Biya Higher Education Vision, an exclusive brand in Cameroon), they are distributed to students, teachers and administrators.
The definition of mediocrity or the education system of Cameroon
In Senegal, President Macky Sall inaugurated the Amadou-Mahtar-Mbow University specializing in economics, management, science and technology on December 1, 2022. Cost: 60 billion CFA francs, including state-of-the-art buildings and equipment. This university is part of the Higher Education Development Plan jointly financed with the World Bank.
These are two clear examples of public funding of education. In serious countries, training costs constitute a significant part of the national budget. The share of GDP allocated to education highlights the priorities. Cameroon, 3.2%; Mali, 3.8%; Senegal, 5.5%; South Africa, 6.2%; Botswana, 8.7%; Namibia, 9.4%.
Private sector to the rescue
In this context, the private sector becomes inevitable. Along with faith-based institutions, education is being hijacked by business communities that take advantage of the constraints of the public sector. As demand remains high and quality remains relative, many students go abroad. Canada is a privileged place for thousands of students who come mainly from four countries: Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal.
It’s expensive mobility It can also be explained by the means used by Canadian universities to attract foreign students. In addition to Pearson Scholars’ brightest scholarships, the University of Toronto makes every effort to attract the best minds, including many from Africa. It supports 11% of foreign students. Since 2003, the Toronto-Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration has trained nearly 100 Ethiopian psychiatrists. It also provides health training to youth across the continent. This project includes eight universities in five countries: Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Ghana and Ethiopia. Why these countries? Perceived as “reliable”, more enterprising, they have the bare minimum needed for this kind of knowledge dissemination: rooms equipped with computers and access to the Internet.
Abraham Lincoln said that education is expensive, ignorance is even more expensive
Africans who have excelled in foreign universities are eager to support the continent. When they show independence (or simply indifference) to their leaders, they are suspicious. Only Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali and Senegal are making plans to take advantage of the knowledge gathered by their diasporas.
Abraham Lincoln said that education is very expensive, ignorance is even more expensive. There is a large African education market in which the private sector holds its own. The state could limit itself to regulatory acts. In the digital age, the continent could benefit greatly from free online resources and educational support from established universities that sometimes just want to clear their consciences.
Massive Open Online Courses (Moocs) offer free online courses for anyone. These courses are a flexible and cost-effective way to acquire new skills essential to the development of the continent. Faced with the obvious failures of certain states, the sector is criss-crossed by illiterate scavengers seeking to maximize their profits. In Hiala Road, billionaire Viktor Fotso, the owner of the university technology institute, expressed only one regret: that he did not go to school. This shows the importance of education and the urgency of adopting policies the to encourage.