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International University students protest outside the Faculty of Pharmacy in Phnom Penh after they were told their recently acquired associate’s degrees did not entitle them to open pharmacies. Photo supplied
International University students protest outside the Faculty of Pharmacy in Phnom Penh after they were told their recently acquired associate’s degrees did not entitle them to open pharmacies. Photo supplied

Prescription for anger

Students who claim they were led to believe a local university’s associate’s degree in pharmacology gave them the right to open their own drugstores have received a rude awakening from the Ministry of Health.

Responding to a complaint the students posted on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page, the ministry on Tuesday said Cambodian regulations are clear in demanding a bachelor’s degree to operate a pharmacy. Membership in the Kingdom’s pharmacist association, another requirement, also requires a bachelor’s certificate.

“The associate degree of pharmacy at International University does not comply with the technical requirement of the Ministry of Health,” the response reads. But that response doesn’t jibe with what students claim they were told by Phnom Penh-based International University.

Ly Kim Im, 23, said she had spent about $7,000 obtaining her associate degree after being told she would be able to open her own pharmacy. “The school told us that if we studied for an associate of pharmacy degree for three years, we would be able to open a pharmacy,” she said. “But it’s not true; we hope the school can provide us a proper solution.”

Reached yesterday, Vouch Phisith, deputy director of international affairs at IU, maintained students had been told all along they needed a bachelor’s degree to open a pharmacy. But he refused to answer questions as to why the school was offering an associate degree students wouldn’t be able to use or how it had been advertised.

“These questions I cannot answer,” he said. Phisith would only say the school in 2014 stopped accepting students for the associate program in question, and that the students who complained would be able to transition into a bachelor’s program.

“We recognise that we are very young and we will try to make our program better,” he added. Ministry of Education spokesman Ros Salin yesterday didn’t respond to requests for comment as to whether IU’s associate degree in pharmacy was recognised by his ministry.

Students still hoping to become druggists will need to take an examination developed by the ministries of Health and Education to test their abilities, according to a statement issued by the ministry.

Those passing can jump straight into the third year of a recognised bachelor’s program in pharmacology, while those failing can enter as second-year students. Going forward, IU will also need to “respect” the national curriculum, the statement adds.

The solution provided small comfort to Kim Im. “I’m not happy with what the Ministry of Health is giving us as a solution,” she said. “If we don’t have money, that means the four years that we’ve gone through already will be useless.”

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