Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Politics delays higher-education dreams

Politics delays higher-education dreams

Politics delays higher-education dreams

Education officials said the World Bank has deferred a $30 million loan to

regulate higher education after changes to the draft legal framework effectively

politicized a proposed higher education body and rendered it

ineffective.

The changes were made on February 21 by the Council of

Universities (CoU), which is chaired by Senior Minister Sok An. The draft

regulations are to determine the rules under which the accreditation-issuing

body would operate. There are currently no standards regulating the country's

higher education system.

The World Bank sent a team to Phnom Penh in late

February to appraise the status of the legal framework to create the

Accreditation Committee of Cambodia, which has been stalled at the CoU since

May.

"The World Bank thought doing what the CoU proposed would make the

committee more political," said the Ministry of Education (MoE) secretary of

state Pok Than. "It would undermine the professionalism and the technical

capability of the committee."

The amendment to which the World Bank and

the ministry most objected was one that named CoU chairman Sok An to the

position of Permanent Vice-Chair of the Accreditation Committee.

That

proposal, said Than, had essentially stripped the body of its

independence.

The $30 million loan was to be spent on allowing hundreds

of teachers to obtain graduate degrees, equip all university libraries with

books and internet capability, and provide financial management and curriculum

development courses.

But Cambodia first had to pass a law establishing a

competent higher education accreditation committee in order to secure the

funds.

Another objectionable change to the draft made it optional rather

than compulsory to invite two experts in accreditation to sit on the committee.

The third disputed change, said Pok Than, was that the body would have three

additional members on the committee: representatives from the ministries of

agriculture, health and culture.

The amendments to the draft has

disheartened many within the MoE.

"It is truly stuck," said Fran

Kemmerer, an advisor to the MoE's education department. "The law that was given

to the Council would create an independent, professional and transparent

accreditation body to review all institutions of higher education, public and

private."

When asked why the CoU made the unpopular amendments to the

draft, Sok An said he did not "want to make any comments at the

moment."

MoE officials said it was now too late to receive the loan this

fiscal year. Pok Than said he had asked the CoU to wait until after the general

election in July before it sent the law to Prime Minister Hun Sen, but was

unsure if that would happen. "I'm disappointed. I thought it was going to be

smooth sailing," he said.

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