Young Cambodians from the provinces are flocking to Phnom Penh in increasing numbers to attend university in the capital, but the move is taking the best minds from the countryside
Kun Vesna (left), a 23-year-old electronics major from Takeo province, studies with Ty Soksan, 22, from Phnom Penh, at Norton University in the capital on Wednesday.
A MASS exodus of young people from the provinces is under way.
This is not the rural poor, flocking to staff the Kingdom's booming garment industry or find informal work on the fringes of the country's recent impressive economic growth. This is the rural middle class - young, ambitious Cambodians who are coming to Phnom Penh in search of a degree and a job.
Students from the provinces are flocking to Phnom Penh in increasing numbers to enroll in universities in the capital, turning their backs on provincial higher education institutes for academic, personal and professional reasons.
"Almost all provinces have universities, but [young people] cannot accept their quality," said Ros An, deputy chief of the Information and Statistic Bureau of Higher Education Department of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.
"The educational institutes in the provinces are not yet international standard, they are low quality, that's why the number of students coming from provinces to study in Phnom Penh is increasing," he said.
Both private and public universities in the capital have benefited from year on year increases in enrolments of rural students.
Despite growing evidence of a rural-to-urban "brain drain", the government is not planning to act, Ros An said.
"Young people have the freedom to decide they don't want to study in the provinces. And some universities in the provinces do not offer the majors that they want to study," he said.
It's better in the city
In Phnom Penh, the registrar of the private Norton University, who declined to be named, said enrolment was increasing at around 16 percent a year due to students coming from the provinces to study in his university.
"Most parents send their children to study at university in Phnom Penh, even if their provinces have universities," Ros An said.
If i apply for a job with a degree from the provinces, i don't think i'll get picked.
"They think that universities in Phnom Penh are better quality, have more experienced professors, and they will have a better chance of getting a job at the end of their course," he said.
"The downside is that they have to spend more money than in provinces on transportation, food and accommodation," he added.
Duong Leang, rector at the Asia Europe University, said that this year about 80 to 85 percent of total enrolment was students from the provinces.
"The quality of the universities in Phnom Penh are better than in the provinces and they have more choice" of institutions and courses, he said.
Jobs at stake
Touch Kosal, a 19-year-old first-year hotel and tourism student at Norton University, said that he decided not to attend university in his native Kandal province because he wanted the best education possible in Cambodia.
"And also, I have a much better chance of getting a job because employers prefer qualifications from Phnom Penh universities," he said.
Fourth-year student Seang Chheyleang, 25, who is studying accounting at the Human Resources University in Phnom Penh, said he moved to the capital two years ago for both educational and personal reasons.
"I didn't want to continue my study at a university in the provinces because there were no good professors and the curriculum wasn't so interesting," he said. "But I also moved to Phnom Penh as I wanted to see a new environment, make new friends.
"Also, I need a job when I finish and if I apply for a job in the city with a degree from the provinces I don't think I'll get picked," he said.
Sun Dina, 20, a third-year student at The Royal University of Phnom Penh, said financial reasons made her move to Phnom Penh.
Her parents couldn't afford to pay for her studies in her native Sihanoukville, but in the capital she was able to find an NGO to sponsor her degree.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said he had witnessed an increase in the number of students moving from the provinces to universities in Phnom Penh.
"Education in the provinces is not good so many chose to study in Phnom Penh," he said.