In the 21st Century, despite the evolution of education in Africa, access to knowledge is still not an easy equation for thousands of university students. In search of knowledge, many of these students have made their home at the university: they live at the university.
This is not a matter of living on university campuses as they do in dormitories, but of spending nights in lecture halls and days on campus for a number of reasons not necessarily emanating from a deliberate choice. After describing this state of affairs in the first instance, I will return in the second instance with some possible solutions.
1-A night in the amphitheater versus a seat the next day
The high population growth in Africa is accompanied by high demand for training and most universities on the continent are struggling to keep up with this growth. As a result, many students once in college discover the dark side of campus.
In 2005, Cameroonian artist Sultan Oshimih in a song entitled "Quelle école", which has become a classic in Cameroonian student circles, describing the shortcomings of his country's school system, denounced the overcrowding in the lecture halls:
"At the university, we go to class at 5 a.m./We go very early and speed to get a seat/We wait for the professor until 8:30 a.m./ Amphi 500, for three thousand students."
A lecture hall that is supposed to hold a maximum of 500 students accommodates about 3,000 students. This situation described in 2005 has not changed much. In 2021, the situation is the same or even worse. Cameroon is not the only country experiencing this situation. At the Faculty of Medicine and Odontostomatology (FMOS) in Bamako, the situation is similarly catastrophic.
In an article published on Bamada.net, several medical students claim to be sleeping in the amphitheatre in order to have a place the next day during class. An amphitheatre designed to accommodate 700 students has between 3500 and 4000 students. Therefore, in order to get a seat, one must either sleep in the amphitheatre or arrive very early in the morning. In the aforementioned song, the artist specifies that one must arrive at 5:30 am and wait for the professor until 8:30 am. This situation is the same in Côte d'Ivoire and many other African countries.
Having a seat in the lecture hall means not standing or sitting on the floor for hours on end to attend a class; it also means not being in the back of the room and not hearing anything the teacher explains. Hunting for a seat is not the only reason students make their home on campus.
2-Sleeping in the lecture hall to take advantage of the electricity
A major fact that stood out to me when I enrolled in the university in 2010 was that students, after dark, would take their binders and computers to the lecture halls in search of the energy produced by the university's generator. In the city of Dschang, nicknamed "City of Knowledge," which is home to one of the best universities in Central Africa, students are trapped by untimely power outages.
Cameroon, one of the countries with the most rivers in Africa, is also blessed with sunshine almost every day but it remains one of the countries where access to electricity is an ordeal. According to the Veolia Foundation,whose goal is to promote access to electricity or energy for the African population, only 27% of households have access to electricity in Cameroon. I will focus on the city of Dschang which allows me to explain the effect of this deficit on students.
The power goes on... sometimes
In a study by Kévine-Ornelard Djoufack et al (2022) the evolution of power outages is summarized as follows:
"Months with high outage duration (February, July and September) whose outage durations easily reach for the observation period 15,000 minutes or more than 250 hours without electricity. The months of average duration of outage which concern the months of March, May and August. We notice a considerable increase in the duration of power cuts which represent 25.36% or 40,571 minutes over the period studied. It is especially from May onwards that the increase in the duration of outages becomes really noticeable. Monthly outage durations fluctuate around the average outage duration of 13,327 minutes. Finally, the months with relatively low outage durations (January, April, June, October, November and December)."
From these figures, we can see that the city's students, like many people living in this housing project, spend thousands of hours a year without electricity. As a result, they fall back on the means at hand, such as the generator. Students who cannot afford these generators are forced, for some, to spend nights in the lecture halls to revise their lessons, especially as exams approach. The cuts are not only made during the night, they often find themselves spending a whole day at the university not because they want to but because they want to take advantage of the energy produced by the generator. This was the case for me as a student and is still the case for many students.
3-Inhabiting the university deliberately
Beyond the load shedding and lack of space, the campus can be a pleasant space. Not all students spend their time on campus looking for spaces or searching for power stations, there are also some who prefer campus because it is a suitable setting for study. University halls of residence are often places of conviviality, parties but also discussions or debates of all kinds, hence the lack of tranquility.
In the search for a quiet place, many students stay days and nights in the lecture hall, on the lawns, in the stands of sports facilities to study. This behavior is not unique to African students, it is almost the same in many universities. On the other hand in Africa, solutions for improvement can be considered.
From the need to set up modern infrastructures
I am certainly not the first to propose the setting up of infrastructures. In fact, even those in charge of education recognize this glaring lack of infrastructure. In the case of the Faculty of Medicine in Mali that we mentioned, the Dean proposes distance learning courses. This is an alternative but the problem of electricity, access to the internet network, the purchase of adequate devices (smart phones, PC.., speakers...) is not within the reach of everyone without forgetting that distance learning requires the development of specific technologies.
So, solving the problem of overcrowding at the university requires the establishment in the short and medium term of amphitheaters or rooms equipped with seating and the necessary tools to better transmit knowledge: video projector, microphones, computer etc.
Ensuring the safety of students
Spending the night on campus, whether it is for the search of a place, the search for energy or an appropriate setting to study implies a risk-taking, especially when we know the insecurity that prevails in several African cities. This state of affairs is well presented in an article written by Mwanza Wa Kalombo Claude and Mumba Kakudji Martial (2020) on the University of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It emerges from their text that insecurity is not only caused by external factors (criminality) but also by internal factors (student demands) related to the lack of infrastructure and other dysfunctions that African universities encounter. Consequently, it is important for the heads of these institutions to work not only with the authorities in charge of security in the cities but also to advocate with governments for the improvement of security and safety conditions for students.
Provide for alternative energy
The University of Dschang that we cited, despite its generator, often finds itself without power. Either the group breaks down or it runs out of fuel to operate. The authorities must find sustainable alternative solutions to ensure the continuity of university services so that the choice to live at the university is a personal will of the student and not a constraint.
The faculties of technology must focus their attention on the problem in order to produce various sources of energy.The University Institute of Technology Fotso Victor of Bandjoun which depends on the University of Dschang could aim to meet the university's demand for energy through solar panels.
Searching for alternative financing
All of these solutions involve the commitment of enormous financial resources. Given that governments are unable to meet the demands of universities, it would be better to turn to private enterprise or the search for alternative funding. In some universities foundations are set up in order to mobilize resources, this is the case of the Foundation de l'Université de Dschang. This university as well as the others could also proceed through participatory financing by setting up Crowdfunding campaigns.
Accordingly, "on average, only 7% of young people have access to higher education in Africa compared to 76% in Western countries", dixit Sarah Masson. Despite this low rate, students find it difficult to attend classes normally. They are forced to live at the university despite all the risks that this entails. Living at the university can also be a deliberate choice and not a coercion, but for that to happen, the authorities would have to address the problem of infrastructure, access to energy, and above all, ensure the safety of these people seeking knowledge.
Bamada.net, "FACULTY OF MEDICINE: STUDENTS' CALVARY TO GET A PLACE IN THE AMPHI," http://bamada.net/faculte-de-medecine-le-calvaire-des-etudiants-pour-avoir-une-place-dans-lamphi, 2022.
Djoufack , Kévine-Ornelard et al, "Electrical energy in the city of Dschang between access and urban growth" in BENOÎT MOUGOUÉ DE LA CROISSANCE URBAINE À L'AMÉNAGEMENT DU TERRITOIRE, MÉLANGES EN HONOUR DU PROFESSEUR BENOÎT MOUGOUÉ. 2022. (pp.319-332).
Mwanza Wa Kalombo Claude and Mumba Kakudji Martial, "De la sécurité dans les milieux universitaires : cas du campus de l'université de Lubumbashi," KAS African Law Study Library - 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, "What School," https://kamerlyrics.net/lyric-199-sultan-oshimihn-quelle-ecole, 2005.
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