In the past few years, the number of students studying at the country’s state-run schools has skyrocketed, but the number of scholarships for these students have risen at a much slower rate. Beginning in the mid-1990s, when private schools began to open around the country, the country’s public higher education institutions (HEIs) also began to accept fee-paying students.
In 2003, 11 percent of students at government-run HEIs – 1,583 of 14,360 students – received scholarships. In 2008 that number was cut in half as 5.6 percent of students – 3,078 out of 55,178 – received scholarships.
When asked about the difficulty of ramping up scholarships to keep pace with the boom in student populations, Ngeth Sophalrith, chief admissions officer at the Department of Higher Education, said that state-run universities have to earn money to pay for buildings, support teachers and buy study materials for students, and that fee-paying students are key to providing this financial support. “Without money, the universities would not run at all,” Ngeth Sophalrith said.
Despite funding shortages, some public and private universities have found a way to provide scholarships to needy and deserving students.
“This year, for instance, there are 15 private universities and 11 state-run universities that together help provide scholarships to high school graduates,” he said. “We hope that we will get help from other universities next year.”
Despite the high level of competition for scholarships, many of the students who receive a free-ride to study at state-run universities drop out before they graduate.
In 2009, 28 percent of the 3,120 students who received scholarships quit before they finished their four-year academic programme.
Srey Sokh Dara, 21, who opted out of his scholarship in physics at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, cited a couple of things that caused him to quit. “When I had to choose between three majors I had no idea what to choose and neither did my parents or my relatives,” he explained, adding that the guidebook provided by the Ministry of Education only had information about related courses in each major, but did not explain what sort of jobs one might get upon graduation. “They should have put some descriptions of the jobs that students can do after they graduate from each university,” he suggested.
Ngeth Sophalrith said that the Ministry of Education is aware of this problem and that it is working towards a solution. He added that in 2011, the World Bank will provide 1,050 scholarship positions for students from provinces all around Cambodia. These scholarships will include stipends for living expenses.
By making these changes, Ngeth Sophalrith said that he is confident that the number of scholarships will increase and dropouts will decrease next year.