The Royal University of Phnom Penh plans to make its social work degree available to everyone next year, as young, locally trained graduates look to take the reins from foreign aid workers.
Seven years after beginning via a scholarship program, the four-year degree is set to transition to a “freebase” course when it resumes in 2015, meaning successful applicants will pay for their place.
RUPP Department of Social Work Faculty member Ung Kimkanika said the move would help the course financially, but also open access to the degree to Cambodia’s huge pool of informally trained para-social workers who work with NGOs.
“Because it’s a scholarship program, we have only been able to recruit students from high school,” Kimkanika said.
“But there is a lot of interest, especially from those people who are working for NGOs. These are people with interesting experience that we can’t ignore.”
Initiated in 2008, the course was developed specifically to train Cambodian social workers to take charge of a sector traditionally coordinated by foreign aid workers and staffed by Cambodians often with little formal training.
As Cambodia becomes more stable, this is something 2014 graduate Chhum Ratha wants to see change.
“In Cambodia, mostly people working in NGOs are para-social workers and their managers are foreigners,” Ratha said.
“I would like us to jump out of that box. It doesn’t mean discriminating against foreign workers, but we are the owners of these problems and we would like to solve them.”
Like 80 per cent of the 64 graduates produced so far, Ratha, 22, has transitioned from the course into the field, working as a social worker at Calmette Hospital.
“It’s time for Cambodians to work by themselves, independently,” he said.
According to a recent report by Oxfam, 450 of Cambodia’s 3,492 registered NGOs are international, with NGOs in total spending $600 million to $700 million annually.
Although acknowledging international NGOs still have an important role to play, the report urged foreign players to rethink their roles and consider exit strategies in light of the country’s progress.
“The young generation is aware of their responsibility to change society,” 21-year-old Mao Monyka, who graduated in 2014 and now works with disabled children through Aide et Action, said. “But we need to change the perception of social work. It is not charity; charity is based on sympathy while social work is based on empathy.”
“It is about working to empower people, helping them to understand what they need and how they can get it.”
After RUPP began its course in 2008, another social worker degree was introduced by the National Institute of Social Affairs in 2012. RUPP has also introduced a masters degree in social work.
Kimkanika said the course is still being refined ahead of the transition next year and the department plans to keep the intake level at about 25-30 students to maintain quality and manageability.