Bamenda : Cameroon | Jan 27, 2011 at 11:45 AM PST
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(Partially in reaction to a newspaper article titled "THE CONCEPT AND LAYOUT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF BAMENDA" By Dr. Nick Ngwanyam)

kith and kin

The creation of the University of Bamenda is a recognition and the crowning of the North West Region as the undeclared ACADEMIC CAPITAL Of CAMEROON. But it looks the elites are about to mar and not make; it is popular opinion even in decision - making circles that different faculties of the University of Bamenda should be located in different Divisions of the region. This is misguided and unfortunate. What was the original need for the creation of the University? Was it political or academic? Bamenda, despite being the capital city of the North West Region, is not the North West region and even as you read the name “Bamenda” right now, what comes to your mind is definitely not Kumbo, or Fundong, or Wum or Nkambe. Bamenda is Bamenda and North West is North West. And quoting the President, “I am pleased to announce to you that I have decided to create the UNIVERSITY OF BAMENDA”.

One thing we might have failed to realize is that a university is not only a place where we study to get a degree. A university is a community in which people interact among themselves and learn a lot from others in different professional disciplines. This implies that isolating students in various faculties would have long term negative (academic, social and professional) influences on them. I strongly believe that for a new university, such a spread is gravely disadvantageous. Besides, any university setting has interdisciplinary courses and there is a lot of inter - faculty dependence for a healthy and vibrant varsity atmosphere, that is characterized by competition, innovation and pace - setting.

While faculties like engineering, agriculture can independently exist, administrative staff, hardware (laboratory equipment, office equipment, sport equipment, and ICT equipment like computers and Internet that a university cannot operate without), Amphi theatres and classrooms can serve more than one faculty at the same or different times for a university with a unique campus. We can keep administrative difficulties for now aside for such a spread out university.

Therefore, the fight by North Westerners to spread the University across the Region is a recipe for low quality and less competitive education, high running cost that the government might not afford, and the need for more redundant experts that might not be readily available or means might not be available to employ them. We recall that a year does not pass by without UB lecturers (including support staff) and or ENS lecturers going on strike for unpaid bonuses/overtime dues etc. So this may once again stir up the debate on whether fees should be increased in our state universities or not. We all know the government is drifting back into the issuance of bons worth 200 billion to keep the state machinery functioning, after the state budget got slashed, signaling an ailing economy, though state media paint rather a positive image of the deal.

Hence, I was taken aback after reading the publication cited above on many newspapers. A university to be spread across six Divisions of the North West Region? For what reason? It looks as though elites want to use the University as a sacrificial lamb for the ‘disenclavement’ of their Divisions! Once politics is allowed to meddle with academics, mediocrity and anarchy thrive where meritocracy and order should!

Dr. Ngwanyam, though fair in his proposed distribution of the faculties across the six divisions is merely a lobbyist for his native Donga Mantung Division. (There is nothing wrong in lobbying, but the interest and welfare of the University must be foremost). But what shocks me about it is that, Dr. Ngwanyam, a well respected medic/academic/role model and illustrious son, subscribes to the idea of politicians to spread the university to such an outrageous extent that Wum should host the faculty of Electrical Engineering and Ndop should host those of Mechanical and Computer Engineering, WHILE Boyo should host the faculty of Business Management and Bui host that of Business Education, Marketing etc! We need to realize that these faculties are so inherently interwoven and symbiotic that by their very nature should exist on a single campus!

Moreover, a Mathematics student in the faculty of science, supposed to be located in Bui Division, would normally need to do a minor in Computer Science/Engineering, located in Ndop, to be able ‘to fry an egg’, as Dr. Nick Ngwanyam puts it, while a Physics student also in the faculty of science in Bui might need to do a minor in (Practical) Electronics and Electricity and this faculty is located in Wum. What a University!

While the University of Bamenda is yet to kick off, it is already biting more than it can chew. Spreading out the faculties would be an attempt to satisfy political desire at the very expense (and guise) of academic desire.

With the faculties fairly together, UNIBA would be better, stronger and more attractive. North Westerners, with their deep passion for academics are capable of rendering UNIBA a reference and nation - wide attraction, as their high/secondary schools do. Then, students would choose UNIBA as a first choice and not as a last option.

Even the University of Yaoundé I with so many faculties (ENAM, FMBS, ENSTP, IRIC, Polytechnique, ENS) with job guarantee at the end of the training is mostly spread in the city centre of Yaoundé. South West Region is made up of three well developed towns - Buea, Limbe and Kumba, but then for the sake of quality and meaningful holistic education, the University of Buea has not suffered such a grave spread.

FASA in Dschang and the Regional College of Agriculture in Bambili have not proven their worth in multiplying the agricultural output of their localities, as they mostly confined themselves to trial and demonstration (minute scale) farming. So the thought by Dr. Nick Ngwanyam that, should the School of Agriculture be located in Nkambe, this will boast the agricultural output of Nkambe is a fantasy. Though on the whole, this improves the national output as a result of the diversity of its students, most graduates from schools of agriculture would prefer to work in big offices than to create and run big farms.

UB prides itself on ‘THE PLACE TO BE’ and the University of Bamenda in such location diversity would automatically become “THE PLACE NOT TO BE”. Do not ask why the late Prof. Moses Fon Asanji drove across four Presbyterian churches from Chomba to Ntamulung congregation each Sunday! So UB and the Universities of Yaoundé would still be selling better to our students if we spread out the faculties of the University of Bamenda. And if this happens to be the case, then we cannot dream of attracting international students, who pay fees following international rates! The role international students can play in the university of Bamenda can lead to greater investors coming to Cameroon and our economy growing with the creation of more jobs and opportunities. Here, the three G’s apply – Get them in, Get the money and maybe Get them out.

Do you know that teachers posted to the suburbs and divisions far off from the city centre are very good at staying off from their duty stations? If you doubt this, just listen to the announcement slot on CRTV Bamenda. Menchum and Donga Mantung are among the divisions wrestling to host the university. This calls for laughter! Tell me how many university dons, after enjoying metropolitan and high standard life in Europe/America, can return home and sacrifice to take up residence in such enclaved areas and remain devoted, when they have hours in universities across the country and beyond, conferences and radio shows to moderate, PhD thesis to supervise, small scale businesses for sustenance that can thrive only in towns etc? I believe we need a university and not a glorified high school!

We equally know that a bulk of retired university dons and qualified personnel that can offer part time lectures resides in the city centre Bamenda. And talking about Wum, who knows just when there would be another toxic gas explosion of Lake Wum or another farmer - grazer hold up? In considering where to locate the university, proximity to the city centre is a key factor, in case, there is some deviation from Bamenda town. It is worth noting that over 90 percent of ENS Bambili lecturers reside in Bamenda where they are more comfortable.

Come to think of extra - curricular activities: (1) The University of Buea sells out its image a lot in solemn ON CAMPUS graduations - so, shall graduations be regularly held on neutral grounds like the Bamenda congress hall, and what if there is need for fund raising, that needs appraisal of the need? (2) Yearly university games need a composite body for a formidable team, something we the Anglophones aren’t very good at. Imagine the cost of identifying and molding talent across several campuses (3) For the yearly universiade (like Olympiad), there will be a tussle on who plays what role and it would be difficult to fish out the best talents. Hence mediocrity will be the obvious outcome. (4) The UB Choir and UB Pres Singers are a national Anglo-Saxon pride in music circles and the University of Buea rightly harvests all the credit. Shall the University of Bamenda ever boast of such great performance in a milieu that renders coordination impossible by its nature?

President Biya has given us a university, something we had longed for, for too long - The University of Bamenda, UNIBA. We have a moral and legacy duty not to treat this gift like some gigantic prey hunted down by a group of marauding lions, from which each is fighting to grab as large a share as its political strength can allow. Our North West politicians have played their own part and it is now time for Academics to play their own part. We need quality and relevant market - driven education for our children. Hence, the spreading the faculties across the North West region should be VERY LIMITED and our focus should rather be on partnering with the government to construct and equip a befitting 21st century University of high standard and class. And when this is done, we can, in the same spirit, oneness and readiness to partnership, press hard on the government to create the Faculties of Medicine and Law. Bambili, Bambui, Bafut, Nkwen, Mankon, Bali and some other villages closed to the city centre have enough land for the University. A faculty must not be located in our backyard before we can send our children there! I hope we unite for the common good and welfare of the education family and for posterity. Our infighting to thwart the original intention of the President can be a very big embarrassment to him.

AKABA A. James

Academic (Physicist)

Boulevard des Nations Unies, Douala.

Tel: 76411987 or 99011857

ajito is based in Douala, Littoral, Cameroon, and is a Stringer on Allvoices.
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