Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Budding scientists embrace nature




Budding scientists embrace nature

Budding scientists embrace nature

090129_04.jpg
090129_04.jpg

New master's program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh is creating

generation of conservation-savvy scientists keen to help protect the

Kingdom's natural resources.

Photo by:
PHOTO SUPPLIED

Students from the Royal University's conservation master's program on a field trip last year. 

CAMBODIA'S wildlife benefits from a new team of passionate, well-trained guardians, and a new generation of scientists who are advancing Cambodian biological research, thanks to a master's degree in conservation now on offer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

"In the future, we will be included in the decision-making process for policies to conserve our resources," said student Kannitha Lim.

In 2005, the master's of science in biodiversity conservation course opened its doors as the first postgraduate program at the Royal University. 

The program has been a runaway success. All current graduates have received jobs with the government or major local conservation groups, including Flora and Fauna International Conservation International, and the WWF.

Student Va Vuthy, who recently submitted a thesis on bat habitats in the province of Mondulkiri, said he loves the fact the program allows him to participate in his country's nascent scientific research community.

For Kannitha Lim, the program "is more demanding and strict compared to other programs at the university", but it will, she says, allow her to advance Cambodian biological research.

"I would really like to be a scientist. If we don't have local researchers, it will be difficult to do good conservation work. This is the first time we had to do research on our own. It's a challenge but we enjoy it."

It is not just aspiring scientists who are attracted to the course. In 2004, Danish government development agency DANIDA tested government conservation officials and found gaps in their fundamental knowledge of the field. The master's program is specifically shaped to address those gaps, and some old hands are showing humility by enrolling.

You Liang, who has already been a lecturer of undergraduate biology at the Royal University for more than a decade, is in her first year. "My knowledge in some areas was still limited, and I wanted to improve my understanding," she said.

What makes it work?

Luise Ahrens, an American Maryknoll nun who arrived in Cambodia in 1991 as an adviser to the Ministry of Education and is now an administrator at the Royal University, said the program showed unusual discipline in restricting its numbers.

"The best thing they are doing is controlling their numbers, so there isn't an oversupply of students. That's why they've all gotten jobs after graduating."

The program spans two years - a year of classes and a year to write a thesis in English - and currently has 35 students enrolled.  

Australian Callum McColloch, an official from Cambodia's Flora and Fauna International office who heads the program, said around 30 percent of the students drop out, mainly due to strict attendance policies and the requirement that all assignments and courses be conducted in English. But he says Royal University is an ideal home for the program given its higher academic and merit-based standards compared with most other universities in Cambodia.

"We try to educate not just on the subject but on critical thinking skills as well," said Callum.

Most instruction comes from guest lecturers from the US, Europe and Australia, typically PhD students doing research in Cambodia, such as two - from England's Cambridge University and Australia's University of Queensland - who are currently teaching.

"There is a strong focus on research in our program, and that attracts inquisitive minds," Callum said.  

Field research includes overnight trips to various wildlife habitats in Cambodia.

At US$250 a semester, tuition is heavily subsidised by a number of research and conservation organisations, including the Darwin Initiative and US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as a private American donor.

For Ahrens, who is widely regarded as a pioneer for her role in resuscitating Cambodia's higher education, the program stands out due to the dedication of its students.

"They have to really want this because it's not easy. They see themselves as doing something good for the future of their country." 

MOST VIEWED

  • School reopening to be postponed until November

    Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins. In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new

  • Foreigners in Kingdom must now register in FPCS system

    The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that it would not grant visa extensions to foreigners staying in Cambodia if their names are not listed on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) by July 1. Foreign nationals can register in the

  • Covid-19 at ‘alarming rate’, health ministry says

    The Covid-19 risk level for individual transmission is at an “alarming rate” in the Kingdom and its probability is “not low”, warned Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine. “Cambodia’s coronavirus scenario is classified as being at an early stage of the pandemic because of ongoing

  • Mandatory quarantine for 30,000 workers begins

    Some of the roughly 30,000 workers from factories and enterprises across the Kingdom who went on leave during Khmer New Year began their government-imposed 14-day quarantine on Monday. Speaking at a press conference while visiting workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Monday, Ministry

  • Unemployed to get $40 per month

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has instructed enterprises, business owners and travel agencies in five provinces to prepare the proper forms for the suspension of employment contracts. This, it said, will make it easier for the ministry to transfer $40 a month to workers

  • Gov’t travel ban flouted

    While the majority of Cambodians have paid heed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to stay put and not travel during the Khmer New Year – the holidays of which were also postponed – several hundred have left Phnom Penh nonetheless. They have allegedly breached provincial

  • G20 energy ministers struggle to finalise oil output cuts

    Top oil producers struggled to finalise production cuts during a virtual summit held by Group of 20 (G20) energy ministers on Friday, despite US President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts to end a standoff with Mexico. The final G20 communique appeared to gloss over simmering divisions

  • Kingdom revises travel restriction order

    The government on Friday eased the district and provincial border restrictions issued on Thursday. People are now allowed to cross districts within their provinces. Phnom Penh and Kandal province are to be treated as a single region where people are allowed to travel freely. In

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,