Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University (SBU), the oldest higher education institution in Cambodia, plans to offer a Pali language doctoral programme in the near future in order to boost the education of students of Buddhism.

Venerable Yorn Seng Yeat, vice-rector of the SBU, told The Post that thanks to the number of graduates returning with PhDs from universities in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, SBU may be able to offer a doctorate to graduates of its Master’s degree programme.

SBU has recently stepped up its engagement with educational institutions abroad.

On March 15, it signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Somaiya Vidyavihar University in Mumbai, India. The agreement aims to establish a study forum that will improve the capacity of both students and lecturers, in order to support the overall development of a quality and modern education system.

The two signatories will focus on student exchanges, faculty visits, cross-institutional studies – and the promotion of courses and pathways – as well as sharing information and services.

Seng Yeat said he is considering making similar agreements with several universities in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar for Theravada Buddhism. For Mahayana Buddhism, he is currently in talks with universities in Korea, China and Taiwan.

“There are also several universities in the US that we are in communication with.

“When we sign MoUs with foreign schools, we focus on our core competencies – training in Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhism. We collaborate in other areas, but primarily we want to work with other Buddhist specialists,” he said.

Venerable Sem Chhunly is a Cambodian monk who graduated with a doctorate in Pali from Sri Lanka last year, and currently serves as president of the newly established Pali Support Association.

“SBU has accepted two intakes of Pali Master’s degree students, the first of them will be defending their theses at the end of April,” he said.

Chhunly, who is also deputy director of the SBU Postgraduate Office, explained that many of the Pali students had obtained Bachelor’s degrees in other subjects, but after teaching Pali for years had qualified to pursue their master’s.

“From an academic perspective, we are ready to accept doctoral students, but there are still legal procedures that need to be followed, and of course a doctoral programme requires a large budget,” he said.

Quach Mengly, a prominent businessman who runs private companies in education as well as other fields, told The Post that he had provided more than $20,000 in scholarships for Buddhist monks to study at SBU.

“The purpose of the scholarships is to strengthen people’s understanding of Buddhism, as well as encourage the study of Khmer literature. Our national religion provides the foundation for our nation, after all,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Cults and Religion, at the end of 2022, Cambodia had a total of 5,133 pagodas with a total of 68,967 monks.