Late last month, Cameroon’s Minister of Higher Education, Prof Jacques Fame Ndongo, quietly published the names of students admitted into the University of Buea's School of medicine for the 2007/2008 academic year.
Unlike last year when the admission process unleashed a firestorm that resulted in the shooting death of 2 students and the dismissal of the university’s Vice Chancellor, this year’s process was relatively uneventful and was largely unnoticed by the public.
It should be recalled that the 2006 crisis began when the Minister of Higher Education invalidated the list of successful candidates eligible to participate in the oral part of the entrance examination into the Faculty of Medicine which had been published by that university’s Vice Chancellor. According to the Minister, the Vice Chancellor’s list was null and void because it was based solely on merit (it consisted of the best 127 candidates who sat for the written part of the exam) and failed to "respect of the sociological balance [of Cameroon], the guarantor of national integration and stability".
And when the final list of the 85 successful candidates was made public, an accompanying press release from the Minister stressed that the list was driven primarily by “regional balance” considerations. For the first time in the history of public examinations in Cameroon, official results included a detailed breakdown of the linguistic and provincial origins of the successful candidates.
This time around, it appears (at least on paper) that the advocates of meritocracy (however defined in the Cameroonian context) seem to have won the day with regional considerations apparently relegated to the background. According to the ministerial order of September 24, 2007 announcing the results into the School of Medicine:
"The Minister of Higher Education announces that, subject to the verification of their qualifications, the following candidates in the entrance examination into the first year of Medical Studies at the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of Buea, for the 2007/2008 academic year. They are, in order of merit [my emphasis]…"
So did merit really trump over the “regional alchemy” for which the University of Buea served as a Guinea Pig last year? If that is indeed the case, is the debate over regional balance finally over? If not, should merit alone determine admissions into the “Grandes Ecoles” (or even into the civil service, police force, army, etc.) or should some form of “affirmative action” also play a role in a country “where history and geography have created regions that are lagging behind others, and where colonialism and post-colonial politics also created favored and disfavored ethnic groups”? The jury is most certainly still out on this emotionally-charged debate which even countries such as the United States are still grappling with.
Those interested in the regional balance controversy which rocked UB last year can click here to read my commentary on regional balance in Cameroon.
Interested parties can also click here to view the official list of students admitted into UB’s Faculty of Medicine this year.