“I am afraid of talking or discussing politics in public because of the situation of politics in our country. Studying political science is not easy for students because discussions in the classroom can be dangerous.”
These remarks by Thorn, a 30-year-old secondary school teacher in Phnom Penh, epitomise the feelings of many students around the country, and help to explain why there is not a single political science department at universities in the Kingdom.
Thorn decided nearly a decade ago to discontinue his political science studies at university because he felt that the subject was dangerous for him, instead, he became a teacher.
There are some political science courses in Cambodia, but Thorn says that he shares the view of most students who choose not to pursue such studies. “There are two things that have kept me from choosing political science as a career. Of course, it is dangerous, but there is also a lack of resources to enter the political scene,” he said.
Dr Chhun Nareth, a professor at the Royal University of Law and Economics and a PhD graduate from a university in Russia, said that Cambodia does not have a college or department of political science yet.
“Cambodia does not have a college of political science because the universities in our country create colleges or curricula that focus on students’ interests and also the job market,” he said. He added that the lack of political science studies does not mean that Cambodians “are afraid of the political situation in our country, but students just aren’t interested in studying political science”.
“The university directors create schools that are popular for students and easy to find jobs as graduates,” he said, adding that it would be difficult to find a job after receiving a hypothetical political science degree.
“Most universities teach only subjects that the students want to study such as law, accounting and tourism. Some of these courses also include theories regarding political science that are related to the class.” he said. “At the University of Law, we teach about many political lessons or theories, but just not so broadly.”
Seang Sovann, general director of administration at Asia Euro University, said that there are no students who have asked to register in its political science courses.
“I don’t think studying political science negatively affects their security, but it is not their favourite, and it’s not easy for them to find a related job,” he said.
The problems contributing to a dearth of political science programmes seem rather circular. Students are scared to speak openly about politics, which makes political science programmes unattractive, which in turn gives universities little incentive to create programmes for students to engage in political research and discussion.
Perhaps if politics were more open and transparent to everyone in Cambodia and students felt secure that their political statements would not put them in danger, political science studies would become more popular, teachers say. After all, some day the shoes of today’s long reigning Southeast Asian leaders will need to be filled.
“I think universities within Cambodia will create political science colleges just like other countries are doing,” said Chhun Nareth. “I think that young people will be interested in studying about politics when they see the development of our country.”