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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Friction sheds light on Vedic U

Friction sheds light on Vedic U

PREY VENG - Students unhappy at a university's curriculum have returned to their

studies after demonstrations forced the institution's closure.


Maharishi Vedic University (MVU) opened in January 1991, 50 km east of Prey Veng

town, on 200 acres of government-granted land. It is near the home village of

National Assembly Chairman Chea Sim who, said university officials, requested

the land be given.

The Australian Action for Cambodia Fund is backing the

university and MVU officials say $700,000 has been spent so far out of $1.2

million committed to the project.

Classes were suspended last October

after students threw rocks at buildings. MVU officials in Phnom Penh said the

demonstrations and evident student dissatisfaction would make the University


"We have been forced to adapt but we are not going to change

the nature of the University. These students knew when they came to the

University that it was a Vedic University," said one official.


who have come from all over Cambodia, claim otherwise. They said they were

misled by television and radio advertisements which "offered foreign teachers

and a curriculum just like Phnom Penh University."

MVU Rector Robert

Brown said the university's organizing principles are based on Vedic science, a

traditional form of knowledge preserved in India which was revived in the 1960s

by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Brown said the university believes that modern

medical and agricultural practices alone are inappropriate for a developing

country such as Cambodia. He said transcendental meditation could have

beneficial cognitive and health consequences for students and that the study of

the classical Indian language Sanskrit "creates orderliness and coherence in

mind and body."

He contrasted traditional modes of instruction and

knowledge with that practiced and taught at MVU. "Traditionally, universities

have focused on the known, on feeding the student information. We give [our

students] scientifically validated techniques for developing their intelligence,

creativity, personality and health," he said.

But many of the 470

students decided the program's focus on strengthening traditional Khmer culture,

including the use of traditional health care and agricultural methods, was

anti-science and anti-technology. They also said it promoted Hinduism over other


Negotiations have led to a curriculum accepted by the Ministry

of Education which MVU officials said has been approved by the appropriate

commission of the National Assembly.

Over 400 students have returned to

MVU but there is still doubt whether foreign teachers will come back and if

students will accept the curriculum. One MVU administrator in Phnom Penh said:

"We are open and we are not open."

University administrators in Prey

Veng said current class sessions were focusing on internal rules, discipline and

morality. A Jan. 20 visit by the Post indicated many students were unhappy with

the situation and uneasy about what the future holds.

They said they

wanted a "modern, technical, scientific curriculum and teachers asked them to

"create a mental image of what they want to achieve rather than teaching

technical or modern methods for doing things".

The practice of

transcendental meditation is mandatory and students are taught to repeat

Sanskrit phrases whose "sounds and structure," said one teacher," have

beneficial health consequences."

But students do not appear to see the

curriculum in the same way. They have written to Chea Sim asking him to "abolish

this language (Sanskrit) immediately, because it is a dead language that the

world has already forgotten."

They requested English instruction be

increased so interpretation of classes could be eliminated and that "professors

with high ability but not gardeners come to teach the students".


other things, they asked Chea Sim for proper study documents and materials,

laboratories and libraries. "At the moment, we do not have all these things,

almost not even chalk," said the students.

The university has three

faculties: agriculture, medicine and management. Students said about 300 of them

study management, 70 medicine and 75 agriculture. There is a small technical

library, but the students do not so far have any textbooks. The library is in

English, but none of the books are available to students. The school is

attempting to produce study notes.

Song Kol, the leader of a university

student organization said his association had two to three hundred members and

they had seven complaints. These were: the program of study; the lack of

teachers; the lack of study materials and laboratories; the structure of the

university; the living conditions of the students; a dislike of studying

Sanskrit; a dislike of transcendental meditation.

Agriculture student

Sreng Sataro said: "The teachers make us meditate and pray and chant Sanskrit

phrases, we want to learn English instead of Sanskrit. They teach agriculture

but they do not teach about modern machines, fertilizers or


"The students want a modern curriculum," he said. "They are

worried about their future. They want to be able to find a job when they


School administers say the Ministry of Education has agreed

that degrees conferred by MVU will be considered equivalent to those of the

University of Phnom Penh, and the MVU medical program will be considered

equivalent to the degree of Medical Assistant granted by the Medical School in

Phnom Penh.

University tuition is free. Students said they paid a

one-time administrative fee of 20,000 riel when they entered. Students received

$4 if they live in one of the 16 school dormitories and $5 if they live


Sreng said students lived seven to ten a room, were never

hungry but "often had to live on rice and a few bits of fish." The remoteness of

the university was a problem.

Another student complained about medical

teaching. "In medicine all that we have learned is how to take a pulse," he

said. Replying to this, medical faculty chief instructor Dr David Hill said the

pulse can indicate "the health of the body, and basic imbalances in the body"

and was an "effective way to conduct self-diagnosis."

He said reliance on

traditional preventive medicine would "promote the self-sufficiency of the

Cambodians, so they don't have to rely on expensive health care".


officials claimed the use of transcendental meditation by students last year

resulted in increased intelligence, significantly lower anxiety and depression

and significantly better health.

According to a study conducted for the

university, MVU students scored (on average)18.8% lower on an intelligence test

than their peers at other Cambodian institutions. After three months of

meditation the same students were re-tested and scored (on average) 21% higher

than students in Phnom Penh University similarly tested.

In addition to

an overall increase in intelligence scores of 28%, MVU students showed reduced

levels of depression and stress. In the same period, students at Phnom Penh

University and the Institute of Economic Science who participated in the study,

showed no significant change in intelligence.

MVU officials said claims

about the relationship between meditation and intelligence, the benefits of

traditional forms of medical diagnosis and treatment and natural modes of

agriculture were supported by hundreds of scientific studies conducted at

hundreds of universities.

Jim Shield, an architect over-seeing continuing

construction at MVU, said: "We are not a religious institution and we do not

teach a religion as such. However, the development of inner potentiality is

connected in some minds to spirituality."

"The students have the choice

to come to the University or not," he said. "The Ministry has agreed with our

curriculum. If they do not like the university and its curriculum, that is

beside the point. The students' complaints have not been rational at all. The

students have been very disruptive, our problem is discipline and cheating, not

the curriculum."



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