Touch Sokvuoch, a Prey Veng province native, wants a better future but struggles with financial problems. Her parents are both farmers and they live in a rented house. Those in her shoes almost never make it to university because they can’t afford the fees. However, when Touch was accepted into Western University a year ago, she obtained a student loan.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to study in this institution. Without my student loan, I would not have a bright future,” the 20-year-old said.
Students usually strive to attain university scholarships but with thousands of people competing every year, many are unsuccessful. Those from disadvantaged families feel the pinch, especially. As a result, they may give up on their studies completely because they can’t afford university program fees.
Fortunately, there is an alternative solution – student loans.
“We want to boost the education sector and reduce poverty. That’s why we offer loans to poorer students,” said Chhay Rothmonny, executive director at Western University. “In addition, we plan to provide more scholarships as well.”
Although cash-strapped students are eligible for university loans, they are first carefully selected by the universities. The loan procedure is simple: Applicants must provide a guarantor, family book, identification card and a letter of authority that indicates their living situation. Not all applicants will be offered a loan because of limited capacity.
“Every year, as a institutional policy, we offer loans to about twenty to twenty-five capable students from disadvantaged backgrounds. If we offer more than we can handle, it becomes riskier to expect repayment,” said Kompheak, a marketing assistant at Western University.
He recounted that a year ago, a student was granted a loan to pursue his degree but due to his bad grades, the loan was cancelled.
Keo Bunnate, an officer with the Department of Education, Youth and Sports, agrees with the student loan system but raises an important question – can students really afford to honour loan repayments?
Western University, one of the few institutions that offer reasonable student loans, says that financially challenged students are not required to pay the interest on their loans for the duration of their studies.
“We don’t charge them interest during their academic period, but after graduation, we have enabled them three years to pay 0.50% interest rates per month,” Kompheak said.
He added that the university keeps the students’ original certificate of graduation until their debts are cleared.
Other universities that offer this service are Built Bright University, Angkor University, Panha Chiet University and the Institute of Technology of Cambodia.