Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cash-strapped Royal Academy turns away students

Cash-strapped Royal Academy turns away students

Cash-strapped Royal Academy turns away students

The Royal Academy, a government - funded research institute designed to train civil

servants and bolster Cambodia's development, did not enroll any students for the

latest academic year, said school officials.

They said the Academy could not afford to enroll more than its current 70 students

because of insufficient funding. The school still employs 55 teachers.

All the government's other higher education institutes have enrolled students this

year, said Rath Sokha, director of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports' higher

education department.

The Academy currently receives $8,750 per month from the government, said Uch Kath,

deputy director of the Academy's Financial and Administrative department. But he

said that was not enough to pay fees for new students who are not charged tuition.

Instead, the money goes towards "material, computers, research, preparing seminars

and conferences," said Kath in his office as cigarette smoke rose from a can

of beer on his desk.

Him Sophy, a fine arts professor at the university, blamed the Academy's failure

to enroll students on a lack of funding caused by the deadlock between the three

main political parties.

The Academy was supposed to enroll this year's batch of students in October 2003,

said administrators. But Kath said he was still hopeful that new students could be

accepted for the current 2003-2004 academic year.

"I have submitted a suggestion to the Council of Ministers. They will submit

it to the government to start the new term," he said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said that

even if the Academy only receives $8,750 per month, this should be enough to cover

tuition fees for more than 70 students.

"The money is not being used effectively," Chunn said. "This money

is enough to pay for more students...The money must flow into the pocket of someone

who commits corruption."

Khieu Kanharith, CPP spokesman, shifted some of the responsibility for the Academy's

fate onto the shoulders of the international community. He said it was difficult

for the Academy to attract foreign sponsors because it does not specialize in science

and technology. Instead, it focuses on teaching liberal arts subjects such as literature,

philosophy and English and French.

However, critics of the Academy have accused the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of

using the institution to propagate doctrine of the ruling party.

Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian, voiced strong criticism of the Council

of Minister's control over the Royal Academy. "When you are talking about the

Council of Ministers you are talking about the CPP," he said in a telephone

interview December 24.

The Council of Minster's monopoly over the university inhibits academic freedom,

he said. "It is contrary to the idea of a university. A university should be

a place of debate on political and social ideas."

Khieu Thavika, CPP Council of Ministers spokesman, teaches political science at the

Academy and is vice-chairman of the school's administrative council, according to

promotional documents from the school. Several students also said other CPP officials

teach political science at the academy.

Linte Keo, 24, has been studying linguistics at the Academy since November 2002.

"Officers from the government have been invited to teach here," he said.

The Academy is controlled and funded by the Council of Ministers rather than the

Ministry of Education, according to officials in the Academy and the Ministry of

Education.

Sok An is the Academy's "supreme advisor", while Hun Sen is the honorary

chairman of its administrative council, according to university documents. Sok An

was contacted several times by telephone but said he was too busy to be interviewed.

Despite the Academy's connections to the CPP and the Council of Ministers, Academy

officials said the institution has no political bias. Khieu Kanharith said that although

the Academy is part of the Council of Ministers, it is politically independent.

"It is not important if [lecturers] have any political affiliations," he

said. "If people choose to follow a political party it is their choice."

The Academy's failure to enroll new students will not force the Academy to shut,

said a senior Academy official who declined to be named. He also predicted that a

new batch of students would be enrolled for the 2003-2004 academic year in January.

"The government will let [us] continue the new term," he said, "because

that is government policy."

Remarking on the Academy's failure to enroll students, Chunn warned that Cambodia

could not afford to turn away students.

"If the government has no willingness to educate the people, the country cannot

develop," he said.

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