Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Teachers' income slashed, others likely to follow

Teachers' income slashed, others likely to follow

Teachers' income slashed, others likely to follow

Q UALIFIED Khmers working for NGOs and aid donors in education are to have their

incomes cut - in some cases by 200 percent - by order of the Ministry of

Education.

NGOs - who have "topped up" the civil servant salaries of

Khmer foreign language teachers - are said to be happy with the decision because

it ensures uniformity of pay scales.

It is argued that competition will

stop richer NGOs and donors from "buying off" the best people.

Many

Khmers, however, are far from happy - though at between $80 and $130 a month,

they will still be paid much more than most.

One group of Khmer lecturers

in English at Phnom Penh university staged a one-day strike in protest at the

decision.

The ministry made the order, effective April 1, because it

could not afford to pay the inflated salaries.

The ministry will take

over many foreign-run education projects due soon to come to the end of their

term, and with them, the salary costs.

Sources told the Post that other

ministries with Khmers whose salaries are supplemented by foreign agencies "are

looking with interest" at the Education Ministry's moves.

The ministries

of health and agriculture, for example, have large numbers of foreign-run

projects, and staff whose salaries are "topped up" by foreign agencies. "They

too are interested in the guidelines just laid down by the Ministry of

Education," said one NGO source.

Problems, however, are feared. NGO

sources argue that the quality of education projects will be affected, and that

projects could become unsustainable. They say well-educated Khmers will find

higher-paying employment away from the education field, or be forced to take

secondary jobs, or resort to corruption.

"It is a difficult problem, a

vexed question," said one NGO worker. "It is only going to be solved when civil

servants get paid a decent salary. Generally though the reaction to the

ministry's initiative has been favorable."

The hardest hit is AusAid's

showpiece English degree (B.Ed) course at Phnom Penh University.

Senior

academics spoken to by the Post fear that B.Ed lecturers - who are paid $400 a

month - will pack up to find more lucrative employment.

Course director

Geoff Coyne said to prevent "student unrest and a drop in (lecturers') moral"

AusAid will continue supplementing salaries till the end of the academic year,

in June.

The Australian involvement in the course has been extended for

one year, till June 1996; mainly to find a solution to the problem and so the $3

million Australian taxpayers have spent on the course is not wasted.

From

1997 to the year 2000, the government's policy is to increase the education

portion of the national budget from eight percent to 15 percent, by which time

they could afford a bigger wage for teachers and lecturers.

"I know the

lecturers are very unhappy," said one senior academic. "Although they are young,

many support extended families."

Coyne said he believed the lecturers'

"obligations as well as expectations" had been built up, though they had always

been told their salaries were "under negotiation."

"There are 240

students who have yet to graduate," the source said, "what might happen to them,

we have an obligation" - indicating that the collapse of the course is the

worst-case scenario that could happen quickly.

A letter to the Post from

a fourth-year student said the axing of the salary supplement had caused

"emotional and ideological turmoil" among students and

lecturers.

Lecturers had lost motivation and students felt the course -

acknowledged as the best in Cambodia - is in decline, it

said.

International auditors have criticized UN agencies in the past for

paying salary supplements to people "for doing just what they should be anyway"

Coyne said, and that the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Rather

than lecturers engaging in corruption or "moonlighting", the alternative was to

charge student fees - a world-wide trend, but one in which Cambodian students

had demonstrated a capability and willingness to pay, Coyne said.

"It is

a revolution of thought and a break from the past for (Cambodian) students to

pay fees."

It is understood that on May 2, Coyne announced to students a

"plan" to charge them $190 a year to cover maintenance costs, for instance

electricity and equipment replacement. The students, the Post understands, are

anything but happy.

The university's English department could sell its

services privately to make money, something the Australians will help organize

during the year extension.

Coyne said: "We can't defend lecturers'

supplements to $400 a month to the ministry, its just regarded as too

extreme."

Coyne - who said the lecturers were "confused" rather than

angry - said they had been told: "It doesn't matter how much money is in your

pocket at the end of the month, think of the splendid opportunity for nation

building and career oportunities."

"In a country that has been so

devestated, where literacy is so low, and basic education so poor, how can you

justify spending so much money on a small group who are relatively so well off?"

he said.

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