National Status of the Student – Entrepreneur in Cameroon: Impact on Youth Economic Empowerment

Introduction

On 6th February 2023, Cameroon officially launched the National Status of the Student–Entrepreneur (SNEE). The program was initiated by the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) to encourage the development and institutionalization of the entrepreneurial culture in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Caribbean (1). This initiative is an ideal opportunity for young Cameroonians, most of whom are in a difficult economic situation. Even though youth represent more than half of Cameroon’s population (INS 2019), they hardly have access to decent jobs. In 2021 for instance, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated the unemployment rate of youth within the age range of 15 to 24 at 7,1% (2). The data organized according to gender reveal disparities between young women and men of the same age range within the same period. As a result, the unemployment rate of young women is 17,8% (3), while that of young men is 10% (4). In addition, the data obtained by the National Institute of Statistics (INS) reveal that the unemployment rate of young graduates between the ages of 25 and 35 is five times higher than that of youth who did not attend school, that is;14.8% compared to 3% (5). So, the main objective of the SNEE is to eradicate these paradoxes by granting students the means to ensure their economic empowerment while continuing their studies. In Cameroon especially, school is seen by both parents and youth as a sure means of getting a decent job. The legal framework for the implementation of this program was defined by Circular No. 003/MINESUP/SG/DAAJ/SDEEE on 13th January 2023 regarding the National Status of the Student-Entrepreneur in public and private university institutions in Cameroon (6). This circular defines eligibility criteria, conditions that could result in loss of the SNEE, as well as the benefits of the SNEE. The new law concerning the orientation of higher education in Cameroon adopted on 25th July 2023 includes the SNEE (7), which hereby confirms Cameroon’s commitment to improving the economic status of students. In that light, what opportunities does the SNEE offer to students of both genders? What challenges could limit its impact? The objective of this paper is to evaluate the real legal advantages of the SNEE to Cameroonian students of both genders (I) and identify the obstacles that hinder them from acquiring the best of this special status (II).

  1. Advantages of the National Status of the Student – Entrepreneur in Cameroon

According to the terms of the 13th January 2023 Circular mentioned earlier, the student entrepreneur benefits from several advantages that can develop their business start-up project. They have the possibility of taking part in different training/coaching sessions organized within host universities or by partners; they have a chance to gain access to a collaborative workspace adapted to the capacity of their school or business center; they benefit from a flexible timetable that enables them to handle both studies and business all at once; they have the advantage of considering their business start-up project as a final year project. In addition, the student–entrepreneur enjoys personalized assistance and follow-up from university and professional experts; they are invited to attend additional training courses, mainly in the areas of business creation and management, and copyright. Finally, they receive assistance when seeking financial support.

On 24th January 2024, the University of Douala launched a call for applications to recruit 200 student entrepreneurs for its business pre-incubation center (8). This initiative is particularly appreciated in cities with significant demographic and economic characteristics. Douala is the most populated town in Cameroon and also in Central Africa; it is equally Cameroon’s economic capital. Despite these characteristics, the unemployment rate of its youths aged 14 and upwards is very high, standing at 15,4%, against 11,7% for youth of the same age range in Yaoundé (INS 2022 9). Furthermore, the informal sector is highly developed and draws its major workforce from youth and women, a trend which is no different in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s political capital. Yet, the public and private universities in this town have not launched the recruitment of student entrepreneurs up till now. In any case, the proper implementation and promotion of this program at the national level will have a positive impact on everyone. Firstly, the SNEE will help overcome one of the major pitfalls encountered by startups, which is the difficulty in accessing information to comply with rules. More than 95% of businesses in the informal sector have neither a tax identification number nor a business registration number (10). Thus, the National Institute of Statistics (INS) has identified ignorance as one of the main reasons why businesses in the informal sector are not registered. Secondly, the SNEE will encourage an increase in the number of companies created by young people, leading to the third positive impact, which is the development of the Cameroonian economy hence bringing about economic growth, as the creation of businesses will encourage the emergence of several decent jobs. The last positive impact naturally is the economic empowerment of youth. They will be able to produce income to satisfy their family needs.

However, despite all the guaranteed advantages and promises of the SNEE, the Cameroonian context is characterized by some obstacles that could jeopardize the existence of this program.

  1. Challenges of the implementation of SNEE in Cameroon

The SNEE is unquestionably a boon to the prosperity and economic freedom of youth in Cameroon, considering the multifaceted advantages attached to it. Nevertheless, this promising initiative is not free from structural, financial and cultural obstacles. As far as the structural obstacles are concerned, there is lack of follow – up structures. Most universities and prestigious schools in Cameroon do not have an incubator within their structures to follow up the projects of potential student-entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, a few existing incubators are found in some major public schools and universities. These are the Centre d’Appui à la Technologie, à l’Innovation et à l’Incubation of the University of Dschang (CATI²-UDs); the Technopole Sup Valor of École Nationale Supérieure Polytechnique; the Sup’ptic Business Academy of the National Advanced School of Posts, Telecommunications and ICT; the Business incubation center of École Supérieure des Sciences Économiques et Commerciales; and the Ongola Fablab of the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (11). Private universities and major private institutes, on their part, are lagging in terms of possession of incubators. More so, universities and prestigious schools in Cameroon still lack sufficient human resources, both quantitatively and qualitatively, to manage and train learners who are considering entrepreneurship.

There is equally a financial obstacle which affects the incubator and the incubated alike. The former does not always have the adequate material to ensure quality training and follow up of the latter. Furthermore, the regulatory framework in Cameroon does not guarantee the obtaining of funds for projects set up by student-entrepreneurs. It is about helping students get funds, though even national universities face the problem of accessing funds for research.

Finally, the cultural obstacle is linked to the fact that the entrepreneurial culture in Cameroon is very underdeveloped in nature. Consequently, entrepreneurship is not very much considered as a path to professional integration. Graduates strongly prefer public service or jobs offered by national and international Non – Governmental Organizations. In the global society, the entrepreneur is still considered as someone who failed to finish their studies. A study conducted by the INS reveals that 70% of entrepreneurs in Cameroon are BEPC or GCE Ordinary Level holders, that is; they did not complete their studies at the secondary level (12). Yet, the SNEE is only for youth who have been enrolled and are regular at university, that is; those who have completed their secondary education and are furthering their studies at the higher level. There is hence the need for a set of strategies to help the SNEE attain its objectives and obtain its desired results.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The SNEE helps facilitate the entry of young men and women into the world of entrepreneurship in Cameroon. It equally enables students of both sexes to have facilities to build and realize their projects so they can be financially independent. However, some obstacles hinder the optimal implementation of the SNEE, such as a limited number of follow-up structures within higher institutes, difficulty in accessing funds, and a weak entrepreneurial culture in Cameroon. Hence, the joint efforts of public authorities, public and private universities, as well as students are required to overcome these different obstacles.

a.Actions to be taken by the State

  • Create a national funding program meant to sponsor the setting up and equipping of incubators and business startups within universities and prestigious schools;
  • Train and certify teachers and supervisors to ensure the quality and quantity of human resources available for the supervision of student-entrepreneurs;
  • Involve private sector organizations (SBEC, trade unions, employers) in the designing and managing of the SNEE;
  • Envisage extending the SNEE to young project owners who though have not yet completed their studies at the secondary level have at least a minimum level of education.

b.Actions to be taken by Public and Private Universities

  • Encourage collaborations between the public and the private sector to manage and animate training meant for student entrepreneurs;
  • Create funding coffers for projects with innovative themes that are likely to succeed;
  • Regularly organize SNEE campaigns to raise interest in youths of both genders.

c.Actions to be taken by students

  • Meet university administration to get information about the SNEE on participation, training, and project creation
  • Prioritize the creation of group projects, to have more human, material, and financial resources.
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Aboudi Vanessa is a Research Associate in the Democracy and Governance Division of the Nkafu Policy Institute. She holds a Master's degree in Political Science from the University of Yaoundé II and is particularly interested in governance and gender issues. She is the author and co-author of several articles published in national and international journals.

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JENGU Guy Beaudry est doctorant à l’Université de Yaoundé II, Soa et chef du département tendances et conjonctures du Centre Africain de Recherche en Sciences Morales et Politiques (CARES-MP). Il est particulièrement intéressé par les questions de sociologie des relations internationales et les études stratégiques.

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