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WBank to put US$15m towards improving higher education

THE  World Bank is to inject US$15 million to support tertiary education in private and public universities and institutes in Cambodia, the Ministry of Education has said. 

The money will be spent over five years and will be aimed at boosting standards and providing scholarships for needy students, while improving academic research and financial management.

Pith Chamnan, a secretary of state at the ministry, said last week that the funding would be a significant boost in addressing weaknesses in the sector.

"Fifteen million US dollars is enough to support the higher education sector across the country," Pith Chamnan said.

"It is a small sum, but we consider it a start. We must ensure the four areas of spending reach their goals so that education quality will improve."

He said the ministry hoped for further funds if the project was successful, adding that the initial tranche of money had not yet reached the ministry. The cash will be spent between 2010 and 2015.

"The World Bank has previously shown interest in the education sector, but that was predominantly at the primary and secondary education level," he said.

"Tertiary education is very important for development - studies show that an economy improves once a country has people with good-quality higher education."

Pok Thavin, director general of the ministry's Tertiary Education Department, said the Kingdom currently has 77 higher education institutions and 130,000 tertiary students.

But standards are mixed. A recent ministry report noted that some institutions provide little benefit to students, while Prime Minister Hun Sen told attendees at the National Education Congress in March that some master's and PhD candidates were unable even to type on computers.

Pith Chamnan said the World Bank had provided US$3 million for three higher education projects in 2006 and 2007.

One-third had gone to the higher education sector, another third to the accreditation committee that develops educational standards in the Kingdom and the final third to enlarge the Hun Sen Library at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

A report written by the Education Ministry in January showed that the number of scholarships on offer at state higher education institutions now benefits just 12 percent of students, whereas previously, higher education at all public institutions was free.

 A total of 10,000 students have benefited from scholarships in the three years since 2006.

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