PREY VENG - Students unhappy at a university's curriculum have returned to their
studies after demonstrations forced the institution's closure.
Maharishi Vedic University (MVU) opened in January 1991, 50 km east of Prey Veng
town, on 200 acres of government-granted land. It is near the home village of
National Assembly Chairman Chea Sim who, said university officials, requested
the land be given.
The Australian Action for Cambodia Fund is backing the
university and MVU officials say $700,000 has been spent so far out of $1.2
million committed to the project.
Classes were suspended last October
after students threw rocks at buildings. MVU officials in Phnom Penh said the
demonstrations and evident student dissatisfaction would make the University
"We have been forced to adapt but we are not going to change
the nature of the University. These students knew when they came to the
University that it was a Vedic University," said one official.
who have come from all over Cambodia, claim otherwise. They said they were
misled by television and radio advertisements which "offered foreign teachers
and a curriculum just like Phnom Penh University."
MVU Rector Robert
Brown said the university's organizing principles are based on Vedic science, a
traditional form of knowledge preserved in India which was revived in the 1960s
by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Brown said the university believes that modern
medical and agricultural practices alone are inappropriate for a developing
country such as Cambodia. He said transcendental meditation could have
beneficial cognitive and health consequences for students and that the study of
the classical Indian language Sanskrit "creates orderliness and coherence in
mind and body."
He contrasted traditional modes of instruction and
knowledge with that practiced and taught at MVU. "Traditionally, universities
have focused on the known, on feeding the student information. We give [our
students] scientifically validated techniques for developing their intelligence,
creativity, personality and health," he said.
But many of the 470
students decided the program's focus on strengthening traditional Khmer culture,
including the use of traditional health care and agricultural methods, was
anti-science and anti-technology. They also said it promoted Hinduism over other
Negotiations have led to a curriculum accepted by the Ministry
of Education which MVU officials said has been approved by the appropriate
commission of the National Assembly.
Over 400 students have returned to
MVU but there is still doubt whether foreign teachers will come back and if
students will accept the curriculum. One MVU administrator in Phnom Penh said:
"We are open and we are not open."
University administrators in Prey
Veng said current class sessions were focusing on internal rules, discipline and
morality. A Jan. 20 visit by the Post indicated many students were unhappy with
the situation and uneasy about what the future holds.
They said they
wanted a "modern, technical, scientific curriculum and teachers asked them to
"create a mental image of what they want to achieve rather than teaching
technical or modern methods for doing things".
The practice of
transcendental meditation is mandatory and students are taught to repeat
Sanskrit phrases whose "sounds and structure," said one teacher," have
beneficial health consequences."
But students do not appear to see the
curriculum in the same way. They have written to Chea Sim asking him to "abolish
this language (Sanskrit) immediately, because it is a dead language that the
world has already forgotten."
They requested English instruction be
increased so interpretation of classes could be eliminated and that "professors
with high ability but not gardeners come to teach the students".
other things, they asked Chea Sim for proper study documents and materials,
laboratories and libraries. "At the moment, we do not have all these things,
almost not even chalk," said the students.
The university has three
faculties: agriculture, medicine and management. Students said about 300 of them
study management, 70 medicine and 75 agriculture. There is a small technical
library, but the students do not so far have any textbooks. The library is in
English, but none of the books are available to students. The school is
attempting to produce study notes.
Song Kol, the leader of a university
student organization said his association had two to three hundred members and
they had seven complaints. These were: the program of study; the lack of
teachers; the lack of study materials and laboratories; the structure of the
university; the living conditions of the students; a dislike of studying
Sanskrit; a dislike of transcendental meditation.
Sreng Sataro said: "The teachers make us meditate and pray and chant Sanskrit
phrases, we want to learn English instead of Sanskrit. They teach agriculture
but they do not teach about modern machines, fertilizers or
"The students want a modern curriculum," he said. "They are
worried about their future. They want to be able to find a job when they
School administers say the Ministry of Education has agreed
that degrees conferred by MVU will be considered equivalent to those of the
University of Phnom Penh, and the MVU medical program will be considered
equivalent to the degree of Medical Assistant granted by the Medical School in
University tuition is free. Students said they paid a
one-time administrative fee of 20,000 riel when they entered. Students received
$4 if they live in one of the 16 school dormitories and $5 if they live
Sreng said students lived seven to ten a room, were never
hungry but "often had to live on rice and a few bits of fish." The remoteness of
the university was a problem.
Another student complained about medical
teaching. "In medicine all that we have learned is how to take a pulse," he
said. Replying to this, medical faculty chief instructor Dr David Hill said the
pulse can indicate "the health of the body, and basic imbalances in the body"
and was an "effective way to conduct self-diagnosis."
He said reliance on
traditional preventive medicine would "promote the self-sufficiency of the
Cambodians, so they don't have to rely on expensive health care".
officials claimed the use of transcendental meditation by students last year
resulted in increased intelligence, significantly lower anxiety and depression
and significantly better health.
According to a study conducted for the
university, MVU students scored (on average)18.8% lower on an intelligence test
than their peers at other Cambodian institutions. After three months of
meditation the same students were re-tested and scored (on average) 21% higher
than students in Phnom Penh University similarly tested.
In addition to
an overall increase in intelligence scores of 28%, MVU students showed reduced
levels of depression and stress. In the same period, students at Phnom Penh
University and the Institute of Economic Science who participated in the study,
showed no significant change in intelligence.
MVU officials said claims
about the relationship between meditation and intelligence, the benefits of
traditional forms of medical diagnosis and treatment and natural modes of
agriculture were supported by hundreds of scientific studies conducted at
hundreds of universities.
Jim Shield, an architect over-seeing continuing
construction at MVU, said: "We are not a religious institution and we do not
teach a religion as such. However, the development of inner potentiality is
connected in some minds to spirituality."
"The students have the choice
to come to the University or not," he said. "The Ministry has agreed with our
curriculum. If they do not like the university and its curriculum, that is
beside the point. The students' complaints have not been rational at all. The
students have been very disruptive, our problem is discipline and cheating, not