Limkokwing University founder Dr Lim Kok Wing shares his thoughts on the challenges faced by Cambodia in education
Tan Sri Dato’ Lim Kok Wing. TRACEY SHELTON
What inspired you to establish the university?
I have a background in the creative industry and I initially wanted to start up a training centre for Malaysians. But it started to grow and when Asian recession hit, the region in 1997-8 and the market collapsed, Malaysians could not afford to go overseas so were looking for domestic options.
Around that time more foreign students also started to come. More people were looking at Malaysia as an alternative to Western education. Another jump came after 9/11 in 2001, when the number of students coming to Malaysia increased sharply and has been increasing stably since.
What is unique about what LUCT offers students here?
I am always telling students to be alert to yourself as a person, to know your strengths and weaknesses and design yourself so that you are better than anybody else doing what you do. The whole philosophy is built on knowing how to do it and not just knowing how to talk about it. Typically, people know how to talk about it. The old style professor or teacher is about knowing how to talk because most would not actually have done what they're teaching.
But most our departments are headed by people from the industry - real architects and real designers, writers, film producers and music directors.
Why did you choose to establish LUCT in Cambodia?
It's like people say to me ‘why do you go to Africa?' We go there to raise awareness, because they need education the most. We train in technology and the programs we deliver are not available anywhere else in Africa.
And so I say, we have not come to Cambodia because we think it's a goldmine. We have come to Cambodia because we believe we can make a difference. It's not about how many students we can get but how much we can do to bring change to the country. What we do is change mindsets, to look at what the 21st century is about.
We have not come to Cambodia because we think it’s a goldmine.
Are there specific cultural mindsets in Cambodia that you hope to change and how do you plan to revolutionise education here?
Before we go into a country, we make sure we understand what the country aspires to be, the state of the economy and of social development. A lot of them have plans, they have a vision, and so we'll try to fit in with their plans. We'll bring programs here that are suitable for the development of Cambodia - town planning, architecture, multimedia, design, communications and so on, Not just business courses - everyone is doing business here. What we have added on to the Phnom Penh programs is leadership and tourism.
Students are encouraged to think about being an entrepreneur instead of just being a worker.
For us, transformation means changing firstly yourself and the way you see things and fitting it into what the country needs. In other words, you build yourself a place and design your self a role. You can't fail if you do that.
You have previously referred to an "Asian mentality" or a "passing exams syndrome" in education. Do you think this exists in Cambodia?
I think it exists generally in Asia. People in Asia are taught not to challenge their elders, not to disagree with their parents and, therefore, when they go to work, they're unlikely to disagree with their bosses or be engaged in open debate. They'd rather come and speak to you softly after the debate. I was referring to this sense of compliance. But it doesn't mean they cannot think. Great ideas can come from Asia, from Phnom Penh, from the slums in Africa - anywhere. But it's really a cultural thing. We've been proposing to put the two sides of the coin together, East and West. If you are looking at things only from the East, the chances are you'll be deprived of knowledge of the West.
What is unique about Cambodia that international students can learn from?
Plenty. People from the West coming to Cambodia would learn humility. They'd learn what's real, that wealth is not necessarily measured by your bank account. Learning from Cambodia, or the East generally if you like, would be humility and restraint - a quiet resilience. If you look at the last one hundred years of history, this is how you see the people in this region. Very humble and very cultured people.
Can you identify any obstacles graduates might face within industries in Cambodia?
I don't really see any stumbling blocks. I see the opportunity we have to develop the Cambodian tourism industry, to promote its culture and history beyond Angkor Wat. People say there's nothing in Phnom Penh, but that's not really true. You have to be here to experience it. So I think we will help bring the world to have a closer look at Cambodia. Understanding how to promote Cambodia to the world - I think that's where our graduates will function best.