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47 colleges, thousands of graduates, but few jobs

47 colleges, thousands of graduates, but few jobs

Sok Chea Kung is about to graduate from university, and like many of his classmates

he's worried about finding a job.

Kung, 25, from Kampong Thom, is a fourth-year tourism major at the National University

of Management (NUM). After high school, he worked for a year in a garment factory

to save tuition money. Now, he's unsure if he'll find work once he earns his diploma.

"The job market here looks too narrow; it's very hard to get work," Kung

said. "If I have a chance, I'd like to get a job in another country. But I don't

think I'll have the opportunity."

Dorith Lay, 24, will graduate in two months. A fourth-year finance major at Build

Bright University (BBU), Lay wants to get a job in a bank. He has already completed

a two-month internship, but even with such experience he knows his chances are small.

Since Lay quit his job at a hotel last month his parents, banana farmers in Kampong

Cham, have had to support him. Lay says if he cannot find a job related to finance,

he'll try to work in a hotel again.

Chanvibol, 26, has been unemployed since he graduated in management from the National

University of Management (NUM), in 2004. He lives with his parents in Phnom Penh.

They pay for him to study English, a skill he hopes will help him land a job.

"Now, I do not mind what job I get. I just want to get some experience,"

Chanvibol said. "Since I graduated I have applied for many jobs, but I have

never got any replies. To make my living, I help my uncle to clean his barbershop."

Roughly 8,000 students graduate each year from Cambodia's 47 colleges and universities,

said Roth Sokha, director of the higher education department of the Ministry of Education,

Youth and Sport (MEYS).

"Each year, our job market does not have enough places for those students who

graduate," Sokha said.

In a 2005 report by local NGO Youth Star Cambodia, a high-ranking government official

said only one in nine university graduates in Cambodia is able to find a job after

finishing school.

"[This figure] comes from a quote from the Minister of Education that was given

during a speech," said Eva Mysliwiec, director of Youth Star Cambodia.

"When you look at the number of graduating students, it's hard to imagine that

many of them get jobs."

She cited another NGO that advertised one job opening and received 600 applications.

The findings of the Youth Star report, Youth, Volunteering and Social Capital in

Cambodia, stands in sharp contrast to the country's recent economic growth, which

the International Monetary Fund estimates to be roughly 13.1 percent in 2005.

The report, and the experiences of Kung, Lay and others like them, offer a bleak

outlook on the job market for young Cambodians.

There is no system in place to help graduates find jobs. Job agencies specifically

geared for youth are non-existent. Some universities hire a few of their recent graduates

to teach or do administration. Universities may also be contacted by individual companies

with job openings, but they do not have formal programs designed to help students

find employment related to their studies.

Sok Hach, director of the Economic Institute of Cambodia, said Cambodia's economy

does not need to grow faster to create jobs for university graduates.

"It is a question of quality of growth, not quantity," Hach said. He said

the current growth should be coming from particular areas that would help university

graduates to gain employment.

"This growth should come from big companies - and the quality of graduates needs

to improve," Hach said.

According to the World Bank, roughly 300,000 people are added to Cambodia's labor

force every year. The Economic Institute of Cambodia estimates that the country's

economic growth generates only between 20,000 and 30,000 new jobs each year.

A 2004 International Labor Organization report said people aged 15 to 24 made up

70.6 percent of the unemployed in Phnom Penh. The ILO defines the unemployed as those

who actively looked for work the week before the survey. People who have given up

looking are not considered unemployed, nor are people who worked even one hour the

previous week.

Sokha said university graduates must have knowledge of the English language and computers,

and meet many other requirements to get a job.

"The government needs to pay attention to the quality of education," Sokha

said. "Cambodia has enough schools."

He said the problem was the doubtful quality of the education being given. Private

schools were focused on the fees they got from their students.

"But private schools should not think only of their income: they should think

about the quality of education they offer as well, such as study programs, qualified

teachers, education materials and making sure that students actually do their study,"

Sokha said.

Professor Bede Uwalaka, a graduate from the University of Nigeria who has taught

at three different universities in Cambodia for more than seven years, said the quality

of graduates is part of the problem, but not the only one.

"Most universities are privately owned," Uwalaka said. "Being a business

they have to focus on the profit, which affects the quality of graduates, which affects

employability. [But] you have to remember that Cambodia is a developing country...

employment opportunities are microscopic."

Some students mentioned that some companies expect graduates to volunteer for a couple

months before they will hire them. Uwalaka said part of this is because the education

standard varies throughout the universities and corruption also occurs.

"There is an element of corruption in the system which makes it more difficult

for graduates to get a job. Some employers require financial commitments - bribery

- to get a job," Uwalaka said.

Some university graduates volunteer with NGOs or companies to gain experience in

their chosen profession before they are able to find paid work.

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