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University Institute Of Diocese Of Buea Created 

Interviewed By Charly Ndi Chia

The Catholic Diocese of Buea in the Southwest Region has had state authorization to start a university. Christened "University Institute of the Diocese of Buea", UIDB, the institution will open its doors to qualified candidates on October 4, this year. According to its President, Rev. Fr. George Jingwa Nkeze, it is a professional university that meets the needs of the Diocese. Hear him: "We are inclined to skill as opposed to certificate oriented education".

The Bishop appears to be racing against time; he is either creating a JOPASIT, building a Cathedral, secondary and primary schools, radio stations… and now a university in the Buea Diocese. When did he decide on a technical university?

The idea of a technical university began on the January 30, 2007, day of the Episcopal ordination of Bishop Immanuel Bushu. After the inaugural mass in Buea, there was a lunch in honour of that celebration, during which, many of the Christians, who sat with him, kept telling him; My Lord, there is a need for a higher educational institution, that should meet the needs of our children.

Many of our children graduate from the University of Buea; they sit at home and there are no jobs. Why can’t we start something professional? From that moment, the Bishop felt the need to address that concern and set up a committee to study the possibility of starting a professional university that will meet the needs of the young people in the Diocese.

After his first pastoral visit, many complains came from young people, who are sitting at home doing nothing. The Bishop felt that there is a need to change the focus of their education. It should not just be grammar oriented but professional education that will meet the needs of the 21st century. That is what inspired the Bishop to begin this new idea, which was followed up by the committee and today, we are proud to say, the University Institute of the Diocese of Buea, UIDB, has been approved by the government.

Will the UIDB sort of remedy a situation whereby existing varsities have been churning out "unemployable" people?

 Government has seen the need for more partners to support them in the domain of higher education. There are many secondary schools in Cameroon that help to support the efforts to provide education to young people. At the level of higher education, it was more of government control.

There was a situation whereby in the University of Buea, 20.000 students apply to enter the university, but only 5000 are selected. So, there is an excess of 15,000 students, who are left frustrated. So, there is a need for the 15,000 to be absorbed. The current initiative of the government is to encourage the private universities to help out in this domain. We are just in line with the government policy to promote higher education, especially skilled education that is lacking west of the Mungo.

How is UIDB going to integrate with the other projects, instituted by the Bishop, like JOPASIT and the school of music?
 

He saw that, it is a constant concern raised by the people, especially during his three pastoral visits so far in all the parishes of the Diocese. The Bishop told them, if you want it, let’s go for it. That is why we are having all these.

The Bishop is of the opinion that, when it comes to the things of God, we must also think big! In the 21st century, the Diocese must have a radio; there must be an institute to upgrade the laity. Those are things the Bishop found it strange that they were not there, in a vibrant Diocese like that of Buea. To him, they are outlets for evangelization.

Is he not putting the bite too much on the purse of the Diocese and by extension that of the Christians by piling projects on projects?

Actually, he is not the one. He is merely meeting the needs of the community. For instance, the Christians in Limbe have been asking for a catholic secondary school for girls for the past thirty years. He told the people; I am not the Diocese, it is you the people. So, you can go ahead and create a school. It is the people requesting that they can go ahead and the Bishop gives his blessing. That is why the support has been remarkable.

How will UIDB be different from the Catholic University in Bamenda?

There will be no major difference. All Catholic universities are intended to develop the human person in his holistic nature. However, UIDB has its own vision, different from the Catholic University in Bamenda. UIDB is professionally inclined. It is intended to meet the needs of the people of the Diocese of Buea, as gathered from the Bishop’s pastoral visits.

The Catholic University in Bamenda meets the needs of the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province in Bamenda. That is they need the Faculty of Theology, Faculty of Philosophy, they need more faculties, which we in Buea cannot handle as a Diocese. What we are running is a professional university that meets the needs of the Diocese. We are inclined to skill as opposed to certificate oriented education.

Is UIDB autonomous from other Catholic universities?

UIDB is a Diocesan venture. It is a higher institute owned by the Diocese of Buea. The Bishop of Buea is the Chancellor and Proprietor of UIDB, while that of Yaounde is for the West and Central African regions and that of Bamenda is for the Ecclesiastical Province.

Has UIDB been approved by the government or you are just testing the waters?

The project started in 2007. After two years, we had the authorization to create a university from the Minister of Higher Education. The last approval was to have the authorization to start. That was a long venture. We finally had it on May 25, 2010. In the letter to start from the Ministry of Higher Education, the specifications are made by the Ministry on what you are supposed to do. In the specification, the Minister of Higher Education approved that we can run all HND Programmes authorized by the Ministry of Higher Education. Secondly, all the four schools we asked for can go on in 2010.

Which are these schools?

The Schools of Management Science, Information Technology, Engineering and Agriculture.

We understand that you intend to open your doors on October 4, 2010. Is that not too early? Do you have the students and infrastructure already?
 

We have a two storey building in Molyko that can be sufficient for a university. Some universities in Europe have two storey buildings. It depends on how you manage the space and the schedule of the students. When a team came from Yaounde to supervise the structures, they were very satisfied with UIDB, which is amongst the higher institutions requesting to be a university. They found our structures meeting the standards. That is why they gave us the approval. We also took them to our new sites, in the Muea neighbourhood in Buea, where work is going on, and at the end of August 2010, the keys will be handed over to us.

Members of the inspection team from the Ministry of Higher Education saw it for themselves. It will be another two storey building to accommodate the students. For students, we don’t yet have them. We will be starting admission on Monday, June 7 2010. We are calling all interested students to come to the campus in Molyko and pick up their application forms or go to our website; www.uidb – Cameroon.org, download the forms, fill and bring to the UIDB campus.

Who is eligible for admission and how about post graduate programmes?

We can’t by law begin with post graduate students. The law which authorizes us to operate states that we are under mentorship from the University of Buea. One of the requirements is that no university can operate on its own without a mentor university. We got that approval before the government gave us the authorization to start. We are pleased with the University of Buea, which has accepted to mentor us for some years, before we can get our independence. What are the rules governing admission? Will Muslims, for example, be admitted in UIDB?

We follow the Catholic principles of open door cultures. God has created us all as human beings. Everybody is invited but we will not compromise our values. We are non – discriminatory, but we will stick to our values and we respect theirs. That is our policy at UIDB. You must have love for the trade you want to do. We are skill oriented. Secondly, you must have the basic academic qualification, which is four Ordinary Level and two Advanced Level papers. We want to give every Cameroonian a chance to do what he or she wants to do. This is our focus.

Are you going to peg fees at FCFA50.000 like obtains in state run varsities?

One of the dangers I see in the education sector in Cameroon, especially at the higher education is that the government has been controlling everything. Putting a fee now looks strange to many Cameroonians. Fortunately, we have the Catholic University in Yaounde, where many Cameroonians have gone there and other private institutions around where they pay fees. What we will charge is not even commensurate to the professional education we shall be offering.

For instance, the fee for the Bsc Programme is FCFA 400,000 per semester, which means it is FCFA 800,000 per year. What the Yaounde Catholic University offers is more than that. It is more than a million. We have checked all that. Our semesters go for six months. The first semester you pay FCFA 400,000 and the second you pay FCFA 400,000.

The type of education we want to give to our students is broad based. It is tailored towards modern standards and it is four years. The skills that our children will pick up, every company will want to get them. It is hands-on-doing type of Bsc programme. It also meets international standards, which means that people can come and hire our graduates from all over the world.

We have visited Microsoft and they want those skills. If you go to Europe, they pay 40,000 dollars, for a programme; we are giving at FCFA 800,000 a year. What we are asking is very cheap. The Bishop emphasizes that a Cameroonian child, who cannot afford to go abroad should be able to receive the kind of education that those who have been privileged to go abroad received. That is our goal.

What is the calibre of your teachers, your equipment and the non-academic staff?

Because of the philosophy of our university, we stress on the right personnel. Before they teach, they must go to an orientation programme. We are not just training minds, we are training persons. University means Universitas – that is holistic. We want teachers who are holistic in their outlook. Teachers who are non holistic will not be able to fit into our system. We have had the first interview already; the second interview is on course. There is a form to be filled. The form will help us appreciate the kind of lecturers that we want for our university.

What will be UIDB’S focus in terms of programmes?

We want to focus on Information Technology in the central school. We are talking about Computer Engineering, which goes with Engineering; there is talk of Computer Agriculture. The IT Unit will be pivotal in our university. We will have Computer Banking, Computer Accounting. Everything in the 21st century has to do with Computer. IT is the core of our school, where our students can learn across the board and meet the demands of the 21st century.

That is the philosophy of UIDB, which gives us the entrepreneurial spirit. We don’t want to train students, who will come out and be lacking in the skills that society needs. That is why we have started by having an MOU with IRAD. It is focused on infrastructure. IRAD has more than 250 researchers, the highest number in West Africa; they are not well exploited. They have machines of millions of dollars lying fallow in Ekona and they are not well exploited. So, we have exploited that by having an MOU with them and they are ready to give us those facilities.

We think that we have all the facilities in place. We are exploiting what the government and the country have to train Cameroonians. We have been having discussions with CDC to send us their programmes and we will send our students to them. We look forward to have MOUs with some banks, so that when our students go out for field work, they are assessed by the banks.

Are you going to bank solely on IRAD? You will not set up your own demonstration farms? Build your own extension networks?

We have 500 hectares of land for the School of Agriculture in Bonjongo. There will be demonstration farms there. As a new university, we cannot do the impossible. So, for a start, we are having help from IRAD. After some years, we may not need them.

Networking with state run bodies like IRAD and CDC, reads like government has given you much more benediction than you bargained for?

Yes! We have been very silent about the project. Some have been asking why we are starting a university and talking about it only now. We did not have the official approval from the government. We wanted the government to say you are allowed to do this. With the authorization, the Minister has given us the lee way and the go ahead to liaise with any other higher institution in the world. Now, we are legal and contributing to the development of every Cameroonian. We will also provide the needs for companies.

As you take off for the 2010/2011 academic year, how up to date is your ITC department?

We have some finances to take care of that. As soon as our buildings are completed those things will be installed. We are working with EVERGREEN. They are an American company with operations in Douala. They are in the ICT domain, with high internet capacity. They will be installing their services at UIDB. All our programmes and classes will be on video conferencing. EVERGREEN will be providing us the computers.

What happens if you are faced with 5000 students for admission?

For now, we have already put our limits at not more than a hundred. We can’t do the impossible. That is why we say, we need more universities. I hear the Protestants are coming up, it is good. We need more of the universities to withstand the pressures.

Nigeria has more some 200 universities and counting. Do you see Cameroon hitting about 50, given government’s new trend?

With this policy, I see it coming. When we travel to our meetings in Europe, I lament to see that there are universities everywhere. In Rome, you have many universities, but they have a specific character. That is what Cameroon needs. We at UIDB, are more on professional education; we need another university that may focus on law. There is no Marine School in Africa. There are so many things that we lack in Cameroon, yet we have all the resources. I foresee a blossoming of universities in Cameroon, except the government changes its policy.

 

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