A new independent body giving accreditation to Cambodian universities
hopes to place international standards on higher education, but critics
say the process is inaccurate and biased
Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Students leave class at Pannasastra University on Wednesday.
THIRTY-SEVEN universities have been given a stamp of approval by the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia (ACC), a new independent body that aims to measure the standard of educational institutions across the Kingdom.
Tech Samnang, secretary general of the ACC, told the Post that out of 104 private and state-run higher educational institutions in Cambodia, 40 have already been assessed.
Out of these, 37 were recognised with temporary or permanent awards of quality, while three were denied, he said last week.
"We believe the ACC has the ability to strengthen quality in higher education institutions and hope the inspection and assessment we do is recognised by those schools," he said.
Tech Samnang added that that the accreditation process was based on standards agreed to by the schools, which, he said, believed that regularly assessing educational quality was a good way of measuring improvement across faculties.
He also said that the assessment of educational quality in higher education will help fresh graduating classes achieve a higher rate of employment.
Currently, only a small number of university graduates - as few as one in 10 - secure jobs in their area of study, education officials say.
"We think that the educational quality in Cambodia today has a standard level and can compare to countries in the region because Cambodia's educational quality is recognised by the Asia-Pacific Educational Quality Accreditation Network Organisation ,which has member countries from Asia and Europe," Tech Samnang said.
But Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said he was worried that assessments by the ACC were not accurate because these were based only on information provided voluntarily to the committee by the schools.
"I am extremely concerned over the assessment because the ACC assessed schools based on school-submitted documents, not on any real inspection," he said.
"We think that almost all higher educational institutions in Cambodia have a shortage of quality. Only about 15 percent have international standards," he added.
"We cannot accept the assessment by the ACC because it assessed the schools based on bribery rather than technical tasks."
According to the ACC's criteria, schools must comply with seven conditions in order to receive accreditation.
They must have at least 100 new students for foundation year, a library, internet facilities, professors who have had at least two years experiece, various departments, enough educational equipment and a comprehensive strategy to attract new students.
But Rong Chhun said that in order to properly strengthen education, it was necessary for the government to restrict the number of disciplines available for study and raise teachers' wages, as well as limit student numbers in a class to be fewer than 30.
Current classes in some universities have up to 150 students, he said, and exams are plagued by cheating due to corrupt and inefficient proctors.
All levels of education, from primary school to university, needed to be looked at, he added.
"We think that to respond directly to the needs of society, the important work is not only strengthening assessment at higher education, but at lower levels of education too, if they want fresh graduates with quality and competence," Rong Chhun said.
Sok Touch, vice rector of the Khemarak University, whose Battambang branch was one of three universities that failed to be accredited, said that he didn't think the process was accurate.
"I think my school is rated high if compared with other schools because we limit the number of students to 4,000, which is much less than the accredited schools," he said.
A professor of English literature at the Institute of Cambodia in Banteay Meanchey who did not want to be named said that the accreditation results should stand as a mark of the difference between universities in the city and in the provinces.
"We don't oppose the assessment by the ACC, but the ACC should understand the difference between schools in Phnom Penh and schools in the provinces, especially Banteay Meanchey," he said.
"It is a border province and has several universities, so it is very hard to compete to gain up to 100 new students a year," he added.
"Moreover, we are facing many difficulties ranging from finance to equipment, but we are dedicating to develop human resources in rural areas," the professor told the Post.