Despite being a young university in Cambodia, the American University of Phnom Penh has made some big advances for tertiary education in the Kingdom.
Based on the American education system, the university has a strong general education program to strengthen students’ skills in critical thinking, analysis, cultural diversity and social interactions, as well as a choice of four major courses: law, global affairs, business and information technology management.
To ensure students have hands-on experience in their chosen field, internships are a compulsory element of each bachelor degree, said Sharon Siverts, president of AUPP. The internships are either two months full-time or three months part-time. This summer, the law students are working with the Council of Ministers in the Cambodian government to gain perspective on legal issues facing the nation, and the global affairs students are working in the international affairs section of the government.
Meanwhile, the business students are interning with Angkor Air and RMA Cambodia.
“We work hard to give students a breadth of experience, not just on campus and in class but in the real world so they are applying their learning,” Siverts said.
To help students realise the career opportunities available to them, the university frequently organises guest speakers. Past talks have been given by professors, news directors and former ministers.
The university has also set up a direct transfer program with a community college in the US. After one year or study at AUPP, students can opt to do a one-year transfer at the community college, and if they decide they want to continue studying, they are then able to apply to study at any four-year institution in the University of Massachusetts system.
“The US has recognised that our courses, our programs, are the same quality that exist in the States, so students don’t have to work on getting one course accepted or another,” said Siverts.
Although many students originally think they will want to stay in the US, they often opt to return home, where they can study at a US-standard institution close to their family and friends.
“We have some each year that are transferring, and they want to go [and stay] and they decide after two years they” they want to return home because “they like it here,” Siverts said about the university.
This year there are 120 scholarships on offer, 30 all-inclusive and 90 partial, a big step up from the 10 or so AUPP granted last year. On top of this financial aid, AUPP has implemented the first university loan program in Cambodia.
The program allows students to borrow up to 60 per cent of the semester’s tuition while they pay the remaining 40 per cent. The 60 per cent loan is then paid back with just 5 per cent interest but only once the student has graduated and has a job.
“I think [the loan program is] one of the best I’ve ever seen anywhere,” said Siverts.
With 100 or so student currently attending AUPP, Siverts hopes to increase that number to 15,000 over the next 10 to 20 years. To cater for the growing number of students AUPP has, it just built a 15,000 square metre facility that includes classrooms and a spacious library.
Entering their third school year, AUPP plans to add more degree options to the university to provide the necessary skills for Cambodia’s changing economy.
“We’re still exploring and looking at future trends and industries that would give us better ideas about what’s really needed in the market. We’re listening to Cambodia as new industries come in and [we find out] what the needs are for Cambodia, so we pick and choose wisely,” Siverts said.