In the twenty-first century, despite the development of education in Africa, access to knowledge is still an easy equation for thousands of university students. In search of knowledge, many of these students have moved to the university: they live at the university.
Here it is not about living on campus as in dormitories, but about spending nights in lecture halls and days on campus for a variety of reasons that do not necessarily stem from deliberate choice. After describing this situation first, I’ll come back later with some possible solutions.
1- One night in the amphitheater vs a place the next day
With the high population growth in Africa comes a high demand for education and most universities in the continent are struggling to keep up with this growth. This is the number of students who discovered the hidden side of the campus once at the university.
In 2005, in a song called “Quelle école”, which has become a classic in the environment of Cameroonian students, the Cameroonian artist denounced the shortcomings of the school system in his country, for overcrowding in lecture halls:
“At the university we go to class at 5 am / We go very early and quickly for a place / We wait for the teacher until 8:30 am / Runway 500, for 3,000 students.”
The amphitheater is supposed to accommodate a maximum of 500 students and accommodate about 3,000 students. This situation described in 2005 has not changed much. In 2021, the situation was the same or even worse. Cameroon is not the only country suffering from this situation. At the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry (FMOS) in Bamako, the situation is similarly disastrous.
In an article published on Bamada.net, several medical students claimed that they slept in the runway to be able to get a place the next day during the course. An amphitheater designed to accommodate 700 students accommodates between 3,500 and 4,000 students. Therefore, to get a place, you have to either sleep in the runway or arrive early in the morning. In the above song, the artist specifies that you have to arrive at 5:30 in the morning and wait for the teacher until 8:30 in the morning. This situation is the same in Côte d’Ivoire and in many other African countries.
Having a place in the runway means no standing or sitting on the floor for hours to follow the course; This also means not being in the back of the room and not hearing anything about the teacher’s explanations. Finding a place isn’t the only reason students call campus home.
2- Sleeping in the amphitheater to benefit from the electricity
There was a key fact that stood out to me when I enrolled in 2010 at the university: Once the students dropped in, the students took their schoolbags and computers to go into the lecture halls in search of the energy produced by the university’s collective generator. In Dschang, nicknamed the “City of Knowledge” and home to one of the best universities in Central Africa, students are entrapped by untimely blackouts.
Cameroon, one of the countries with the most rivers in Africa, is also blessed with the sun that shines almost every day but is still one of the countries where access to electricity is an ordeal. According to the Veolia Foundation, which aims to boost African residents’ access to electricity or energy, only 27% of households have access to electricity in Cameroon. I will dwell on the city of Dschang which allows me to explain the effect of this deficit on the students.
The current goes through…sometimes
In a study by Kévine-Ornelard Djoufack et al (2022), the evolution of blackouts is summarized as follows:
“Months with high outage durations (February, July and September) with easy outages of up to 15,000 minutes for the monitoring period, i.e. more than 250 hours without electricity. The months of average outage duration which are for the months of March, May and August. We observe a significant increase in the duration of outages. Electricity which accounts for 25.36% or 40,571 minutes during the period studied From May in particular, the increase in the duration of outages becomes really noticeable. Monthly outages fluctuate around the average outages, i.e. 13,327 minutes Finally, months with a relatively short outage period ( January, April, June, October, November and December). »
From these numbers, we see that the city’s students, like many people who live in this city, spend thousands of hours a year without electricity. As a result, they fall back on onboard means, such as a generator. Students who cannot afford these groups are forced, for some, to spend nights in lecture halls revising their lessons, especially with exams approaching. Not only are the cuts made at night, but they often find themselves spending an entire day at university not because they want to but because they want to take advantage of the power produced by the generator. This was my case when I was a student and it is still the case for many students.
3- Deliberately housing the university
Away from the loads and lack of places, a campus can be a fun place. Not all students spend their time on campus looking for places or searching for power plants, there are also some who prefer the campus because it is a suitable place for their studies. University residences are often places of conviviality and celebration but also of discussions or debates of all kinds, hence the absence of quiet.
In search of a quiet place, many students spend whole days and nights in the amphitheater, on the lawns, in the sports facilities kiosks to study. This behavior is not limited to African students alone, it is almost the same behavior in many university institutions. On the other hand, in Africa, solutions for improvement can be envisaged.
The need to build modern infrastructure
I am certainly not the first to suggest building infrastructure. Moreover, even those responsible for education are aware of this glaring lack of infrastructure. In the case of the Mali medical school we mentioned, the dean offers distance learning courses. It is an alternative but the problem of electricity, access to the Internet and the purchase of suitable devices (smartphones, computers, speakers, etc.) are not within everyone’s reach without forgetting that distance courses require the development of specific technologies.
Therefore, the solution to the problem of overcrowding in the university requires the creation of short and medium-term stands or rooms with benches and tools for better transmission of knowledge: a video projector, microphones, computers, etc.
Ensure the safety of students
Spending the night on campus, whether it’s searching for a place, searching for energy, or a suitable framework for study, is risky, especially when you know the insecurity that pervades many African cities. This case is well presented in an article written by Mwanza wa Kalombo Claude and Mumba Kakudji Martial (2020) at the University of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It is clear from their text that insecurity is not only due to external factors (criminality) but also to internal factors (student demands) related to the lack of infrastructure and other imbalances that African universities face. Accordingly, it is important for the heads of these institutions to work not only with the authorities responsible for security in cities but also to advocate with governments to improve safety and security conditions for students.
Providing alternative energies
The Dschang University we mentioned, despite its generator, often finds itself without power. Either the unit is malfunctioning or it has no more fuel to operate. The authorities must find alternative sustainable solutions in order to ensure the continuity of university services so that the choice to live at the university is a personal desire of the student and not a constraint.
Colleges of technology should focus their attention on the problem in order to produce different sources of energy. The Fotso Victor University Institute of Technology in Bandjoun, which is based on Dschang University, can set itself a goal to meet the university’s demand in terms of energy through solar panels.
Find an alternative financing
All of these solutions involve a commitment to massive financial resources. Since governments are unable to meet the demands of universities, it would be better to turn to private companies or look for alternative funding. In some universities, institutions are created to mobilize resources, and this is the case of the Dechang University Foundation. This university, like other universities, can move forward with crowdfunding by creating crowdfunding campaigns.
Moreover, “on average, only 7% of young people have access to tertiary education in Africa compared to 76% in Western countries,” according to Sarah Mason. Despite this low rate, students find it difficult to follow classes normally. They are obligated to reside in the university despite all the risks involved. Living in a university can also be a deliberate choice and not a compulsion, but for this, the authorities will have to address the problem of infrastructure, access to energy and above all ensure the safety of these people in search of knowledge.
Bamada.net, “Medical School: Student Group for a Place at AMPHI,” http://bamada.net/faculte-de-medecine-le-calvaire-des-etudiants-pour-avoir-une – a place in Lymphe, 2022 .
Djoufack, Kévine-Ornelard et al, “Electric power in the city of Dschang between access and urban growth” in Benot Mougoué from urban growth to regional planning, in honor of Professor Benoit Mougoué. 2022 (pp. 319-332).
Mwanza wa Kalombo Claude and Mumba Kakodji Martial, “Security in University Environments: The Case of the University of Lubumbashi Campus,” KAS Library of African Law Study – Librairie Africaine d’Etudes Juridiques, https://www.nomos- elibrary. de/10.5771/2363-6262-2020-1-144.pdf? download_full_pdf = 1, 2020.
Sultan Oshimih, Any School, https://kamerlyrics.net/lyric-199-sultan-oshimihn-quelle-ecole, 2005.
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