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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Education down under on the rise in Cambodia

Education down under on the rise in Cambodia

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Cambodian student Ban Seyha is studying political economy at Sydney University.

Once restricted to a select few, economic growth in the past few years and increased demand for education has seen the numbers of Cambodians looking for an overseas education swell.  

While the US and Singapore continue to be among the favourite destinations of Cambodian students, Australia is becoming an increasingly attractive destination.

Education is now one of Australia's biggest service exports, larger than all other Australian exports except coal and iron ore.  In the past 25 years, Australia's education exports have grown an average 14 percent a year.

Australia's popularity is for good reason, said Sreng Mao, the office manager at IDP Education, an Australian company specialising in placing students into the Australian education system.

"Australia's reputation for quality of education is as strong as any other country," he said. "An advantage Australia has is that tuition fees are comparably lower than many other countries, such as the US."

From Cambodia, between 80 and 100 private students pay their own way to Australia every year, he said. The Australian government also funds more than 35 scholarships, primarily through its Australian Development Scholarships and  Australian Leadership Awards programs for Cambodians to study master's and doctorate degrees in Australia. The purpose of the scholarship programs is for scholars to return and have a positive effect on development Cambodia.

Ban Seyha, 21, is currently in the second year of a bachelor of arts in political economy at Sydney University.

He said it was difficult adjusting to study in a country with a different language, while the different education system also took some getting used to. However, he said a degree from a major international university would enhance his job prospects when he returned to Cambodia, hopefully with a master's in commercial law.

"What are the benefits?" he asked. "More jobs opportunities and higher qualifications that are recognized everywhere, not only Cambodia."

Not all overseas education means bachelor- or master-level study, Sreng Mao said. "In recent years we have seen a increasing number of Cambodians traveling to Australia for high school or technical education."

IDP will be hosting an Australian Education Exhibition in June, which is expected to have strong interest from the public.  "Last year, more than 20 universities from Australia participated in the exhibition, and we are hoping for even more in 2009," said Melissa Cockroft, a special projects officer at IDP.  "There is strong competition participation from the universities, because they know that Cambodians are very interested in a high-quality Australian education."

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