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Tertiary education’s troubles

Tertiary education’s troubles

Dear editor,
Having read your interesting article “For many, it’s a matter of degrees” (Post, January 3), I would like to express my deep concerns about the quality of education in Cambodian higher education institutions HEIs).

As a Cambodian civil servant who has worked with HEIs for five years, I want to highlight several crucial problems that need to be urgently addressed, as they could aff-ect the quality of education Cambodian students receive, thus putting their academic success and employment opportunities at risk.

The first problem is the constraints on higher-education financing, which is limited by the government’s budget.

According to the World Bank, overall education expenditure accounted for only 1.6 per cent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product last year, and public higher-education expenditure a mere 0.05 per cent of GDP.

The second problem is admission requirements. The entry criteria for institutions of higher learning in Cambodia are not specific and are based on the results of high-school examinations.

The third problem is academic relevance. Public and private HEIs are competing to provide the same subjects – business studies, economics and IT – but what the nat-ion really needs are people who have studied science, mathematics, agriculture and health. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them.

The high rate of unemployment among university graduates is partly because many of them lack the skills needed in the labour market.

The fourth problem involves autonomy and academic freedom. Public HEIs remain under the control of a centralised bureaucracy, resulting in serious underfunding and low salaries for staff.

Academic freedom is in its infancy in the our tertiary-  education system because of political influence and a limited academic program.

The final problem is a lack of human resources, teaching quality and research capacity.

The Royal University of Law and Economics and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, both prestigious institutes of learning and members of the ASEAN University Network, have only 16 and seven PhD holders respectively on their staffs, according to the 2011  report of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

I agree with Mak Ngoy, general director of the higher education directorate at the Ministry of Education, when he says lecturers at public universities earn at least US$100 a month plus between $2 and $3 for each hour of actual teaching, but if their universities offer additional private classes, they can earn more than $500 a month.

But this raises the question of what percentage of teachers actually earn more than $500 a month. Teachers’ incomes depend on their universities’ specialisations and whether their professional skills fit with the needs of the courses they provide.

In Cambodia, the monthly salary for a full-time university lecturer is 55,000 riels (about US$130), which is insufficient to support a family.

Compare that with an academic’s average monthly salary of US$1,182 in China,  US$1,547 in India and US$3,107 in Malaysia.

Low salaries are definitely a problem in Cambodia, even though the government has increased them by 20 per cent every year.

Sam Rany, PhD candidate
Universiti Sains Malaysia

Send letters to: [email protected] or PO?Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length. The views expressed above are solely the authors’ and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

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