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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - French Institute to be continued

The former French Institute building in Siem Reap has been turned into an ad hoc cafe for university students. George Nickels
The former French Institute building in Siem Reap has been turned into an ad hoc cafe for university students. George Nickels

French Institute to be continued

Director says rumours of the institute’s permanent demise, following the building’s closure, are premature

Despite the closure of the French Institute’s Siem Reap building, the institute is not shutting down in the city permanently, says the Phnom Penh-based director Romain Louvet.

The apparent closure of the institute – which has been operating in Siem Reap for 20 years and which many view as an essential bastion for preserving both French historic and emotional ties and the relevance of the French language – prompted hundreds to sign a petition directly addressed to Louvet.

However, the director this week said the building’s closure and halt in operations were prompted by the conclusion of the lease agreement on the property and part of an overall change in strategy that has been one year in the works.

“The annexe of the French Institute is by no means closing once and for all, but is going through a tough transition phase,” he said.

“The lease on the property could not have been renewed and, as such, we were compelled to leave our premises.”

As part of a year-old re-organisation affecting both the Siem Reap and Battambang annexes, driven in large part by dwindling resources within a competitive market, the institute chose to stop activities on September 15.

This date was chosen to coincide with the regular school calendar. The institute is still uncertain about when and where a new location will be found.

The petition, which was just shy of 600 signatures strong on Thursday evening this week, said the “committee for the defence of the French Institute Siem Reap” rejected the closure of the establishment and wished to know the institute’s future plans for Siem Reap.

According to Louvet, while efforts to find a new location are under way, the institute is still evaluating how the Siem Reap annexe, where roughly 600 students registered for language classes last year, can continue to be run in a way that is more financially sustainable.

Once a site is located, classes will recommence and the aim is that they will be restructured to more closely meet the needs of the private sector.

In the meantime, Louvet assured that the staff had been provided for. “The four employees that were affected benefited from the best possible conditions,” he said.

Louvet hoped the petition may lead to increased support for the organisation in the future. “The Institute can only exist if there is an audience and members who subscribe to its offerings.

We strongly hope that this will be apparent in the rate of frequentation of the French Institute in general,” he said.

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