In 1995 the gross enrollment rate for higher education in Cameroon was only 4 percent, with significant gender disparities: 7 percent of males and only 1 percent of females of higher-education age were enrolled in tertiary-level education and training programs. By 1998 enrollments had increased and were almost equivalent to what they had been before the higher education budget was trimmed in 1993. At the start of the new millennium Cameroon had six publicly supported universities—the Universities of Yaoundé I and Yaoundé II, plus the Universities of Buéa, Douala, Dschang, and Ngaoundéré. In addition, specialized institutions and schools of higher education offered students higher-level degrees and diplomas in various professions and occupations, with a gradually increasing emphasis on linking training opportunities to conditions in the labor market. The Catholic University Institute, established in 1990, was the main private university in the country.
World Bank analysts noted that a variety of factors led to significant flaws in many of the higher education institutes in Cameroon during the 1990s, the chief ones being that technical schools were "not providing meaningful job-oriented practical training due to a lack of teacher motivation, poor planning of the disciplines that are taught, resource constraints, and a complete separation between the colleges and the world of work" (World Bank 1997). Furthermore, management deficiencies associated with overly centralized decision-making often made it hard for schools to respond to local conditions and to the needs and preferences of students or faculty. By the turn of the millennium attempts were being made to correct these problems; both the Government of Cameroon and outside actors appeared to be well aware of the need for significant reforms.
The demand for vocational and technical education carefully matched to labor-market needs increased appreciably during the 1990s. By the end of the decade, government ministers and educators placed greater attention on trying to develop a model that could be successfully replicated throughout the country to train youth for jobs and secure higher levels of employment for the graduates of both secondary and tertiary education programs. One model that appeared promising was an experimental university at Douala, started after the university-level reform decrees of 1993. This school, the Institut Universitaire de Technologie de l'Université de Douala (University Institute of Technology of the University of Douala, or IUT Douala), enjoyed close linkages with employers and entrepreneurs and was strikingly more successful at jobplacing its graduates. Over eighty percent of IUT Douala graduates found jobs not long after graduating, compared with the graduates of most other university programs who rarely succeeded at finding employment directly after graduation. Based on the success of IUT Douala, the World Bank in June 1998 offered four years of credit totaling US$4.86 million from the International Development Association to supplement funds from the Government and self-generated monies derived from the institute itself to further support and test the development of IUT Doula so the successful elements of the model could be replicated throughout the country.
In their 1998 project-appraisal report reviewing the conditions in Cameroon that inspired this Higher Education Technical Training Project, World Bank analysts noted key problems in Cameroon's higher-education system which a public-private model of training might be able to address. According to the analysts:
The higher education system in Cameroon has its roots in the traditional francophone African model, with almost all students in full degree courses, few links to the labor market, no involvement of the private sector in program selection and curriculum content, and virtually all financing (apart from small student fees introduced in 1993) provided and controlled by the Ministère de l'enseignement Supérieur (MINESUP) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MINEFI). This model, initially designed to produce personnel for the civil service, no longer conforms to the economy's needs in the era of shrinking public services, nor to international best practices. (World Bank HDN II)
Moreover, the analysts noted that the high number of Cameroonian students already enrolled in highereducation programs in 1998 precluded the Government's being able to find sufficient funds on its own to support more traditional university training. The Bank analysts spotted curious contradictions in the financial costs of traditional higher education in Cameroon, with potentially deadly, unanticipated, negative consequences:
Few graduates from the ordinary universities find employment within a year of their graduation and the overall unemployment rate of university graduates is around 30 percent (unemployment rates rise with qualifications—only 6.5 percent of unschooled young people are unemployed, compared with 30 percent of university graduates). Such figures put in question the validity of the 24 years of schooling bestowed upon graduates. Furthermore, the defeated expectations of many of the youth introduce a dangerous element of instability into society. (Ibid.)
The Government of Cameroon and the Bank thus attempted to collaborate to introduce new forms of higher education where students could enter the job market directly after graduation with valuable, marketable skills attuned to the needs of the labor market and Cameroonian society. The differences between regular higher education programs in the late 1990s and the type of training programs the Bank intended to support were that institutes following the IUT Doula model would provide diploma-level courses instead of degree-oriented academic training, the institutes would limit course and program enrollments to the number of students the institutes could effectively teach, they would use private-sector internships to give students in training specific job skills directly transferable to paid employment after graduation, and the institutes themselves would generate income through courses offered on a part-time and "à la carte" basis where students could more easily pay for their own training. By April 2001 the National Assembly had passed a new law concerning higher education which reflected some of the same principles and understandings as the Higher Education Technological Training Project, including the key principle that private enterprise and public organs should be encouraged to work together to provide coordinated training opportunities for students beyond the secondary level of education.
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