If you put money in to university, are you guaranteed to get it back?

If you put money in to university, are you guaranteed to get it back?

The are a few new universities in town that are way more expensive than the old ones. Sun Narin and Vorn Makara find out if it means a better education.

With the increasing number of privately-owned higher education institutions, especially universities in Phnom Penh, the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia, or ACC, has been working to ensure the quality of education for students and their main concern is the difference in fees.

According to the Ministry of Education, there are about 40 institutions and universities nationwide, approximately 30 of which are private. Pen Sithol, the director of the Department of Standards and Accreditation which oversees the ACC, said the growing number of universities is a good sign because Cambodia is a free market. “The growing numbers means that all the universities compete against each other and the quality improves, giving students the choice of which university they want,” he said.

The ACC sets all the quality education requirements for all universities, focusing on nine standards – including management and planning, academic programmes, teaching staff, students and student services, teaching and learning resources, physical facilities, financial management and planning and dissemination of information.

In 2008, the ACC evaluated all the higher institutions of learning in Phnom Penh, and found there were five universities failing to meet the standards of quality set by the ACC, according to Pen Sithol.

A few of the more expensive universities recently established charge large fees, including Limkokwing, where the fee is at least US$1,700, and Zaman, which charges an average of $3,000 per year. Some other universities charge much lower fees, but many students are skeptical about how they can provide a quality education.

However, Pen Sithol said that all universities have enough resources and often get support and funding from partner organisations, so they charge only small fees.

“It does not mean that universities charging cheap fees have no quality,” he said, adding that in cases where universities do not have other funds to support them, they charge a low fee which results in limited facilities and human resources, and a drop in quality will follow that.

Established in 2007 and recognised by the ACC in 2008, the Phnom Penh-based Chenla University charges students fees ranging from $250 to $350 per year, which is lower than other private universities. Sin Khandy, the president of Chenla University, said his university charges low fees and gives discounts to students.

“I want to help poor students and I also guarantee the quality for them,” he said, adding that his university has experienced human resources at least holding masters degrees. “My school has a foreign sponsorship partner of Konyang University and I have capital to support everything for my school,” he said.

Asia Euro University charges small fees the same as Chenla University. Chhoeun Savorn, the vice-rector of AEU, said the quality is also ensured by hiring experienced teaching staff and providing enough school materials.

“We have our own building, unlike other universities, so that eases our spending. We also want to help students who cannot afford to study at an expensive university,” he said.

How Leanghor, 21, a year-one student of nursing at Chenla University, said his university charges acceptable fees compared with other universities which cost a lot of money, adding that the quality is guaranteed for students as it is with other universities.

“The quality is the same with experienced human resources like other more expensive universities. Some universities charge a lot for fees because of their name,” he said.

Pen Sithol said that, in general, universities charging a lot of money have enough facilities and professional human resources, adding that it is still very hard to judge them.

“We just match the quality of the universities to our standards. It is not dependent on the fees. The most important thing is whether students can absorb knowledge from their lecturers,” he said.

Kieng Rotana, vice-rector of Pannasastra University of Cambodia which sees about 3,000 students enroll annually, said his university charges students more than $600 per year and provides quality education with various resource and facilities.  

“The price that we charge is still low if we think about the quality. We are following international standards and we have about 85 partnership universities abroad,” he said.

Zaman University was established last year and Erkan Polatdemir, the rector of the university, said his institution follows international standards with a teaching staff with doctor’s degrees from abroad, modern facilities and a challenging curriculum.

“We charge much higher in order to provide quality education for students,” he said.

Due to the different fees, students who study at a cheap university wonder what they will do in the future. “Generally if a university is expensive, the quality is better, which can make it easy for students to find a job after graduation,” said Hong Choeun, head of the National Employment Agency, adding that the difference in fees can show the quality of the university.

“All universities have to strengthen the quality of education for students so they are qualified for a job,” he added.

Pen Sithol said that getting jobs sometimes is not dependent on a degree from a university, but is contingent on other factors. “There is no study of students who get jobs after graduation, so it is hard to judge which one provides good quality.”

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