The Education Ministry has approved a request from youth political activist Thy Sovantha, who has failed the national Grade 12 exam twice, to open a university, a spokesman said yesterday, with the social media star tight-lipped about what courses will be on offer.
A request from Sovantha, 21, for a licence to operate a university was approved by the government on Monday, said ministry spokesman Ros Salin, but her institution will still need to submit its planned curriculum for approval before accepting any students.
“The licence has been granted from the government,” Salin said by telephone. “The government made the decision through a sub-decree dated October 3.”
“They applied complying with the procedures . . . so the government issued the sub-decree,” he explained. “The next procedure is related to the organisation of the majors and the skills [to be taught].”
Sovantha, who rose to fame as an opposition activist during the 2013 election campaign but has since become a ruling party favourite, declined to comment on the university, including what its name would be or what types of degrees would be on offer.
“For my plans to have my own university, I cannot detail you right now, but if it is a success I can detail you,” Sovantha said. “My assistants did [the application] . . . and when they tell me that it is a success, I will have a press conference to announce it.”
“We will connect to a Singapore university, so it won’t just be my university. Our plan is for 2018, and now we are just preparing the documents,” she added.
Cambodia is already home to a glut of privately operated universities, with cheating on exams rife and many employers complaining at forums that they often have to retrain – from scratch – new staff if they hire them straight out of university.
Counting 105 higher-education institutions operating in the country, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron even put in place a partial freeze on the establishment of new universities in April 2014 until better quality-control measures were put in place.
Chuon Naron could not be reached yesterday, and Salin, the spokesman, said only that Sovantha’s application followed the regulations. The 2014 freeze on new licences did not ban universities that offer courses in technology, the sciences or agriculture.
After one year of operating, Sovantha’s university would be subject to assessments by the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia – a body that has been a focus of Chuon Naron’s reforms since he was named minister – to ensure curriculum is up to standard.
Yet having not attended university herself, Sovantha’s decision to go into the higher-education business was surprising, and she may struggle to attract students, said Mao Pises, the head of the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students.
“There are too many universities already in Cambodia, but for a free-market economy everyone can do business. So if she opens up, that’s her freedom and her choice, but I don’t think she has enough credibility to open such a university,” Pises said. “Universities are higher-education institutions and it would supply embarrassment to people to know the founder of the university has a very low education like her, because she could not even pass Grade 12.”
As an 18-year-old in July 2013, Sovantha was launched to national fame as the face of the CNRP’s social-media-driven election campaign, later helping lead the party’s demonstrations calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to resign after the disputed ballot.
However, her relations with the opposition party began to sour later after a number of youth activists accused her of being a CPP sleeper cell intent on sabotage and the CNRP in January 2014 issued a statement distancing itself from her.
Earlier this year, she inserted herself into the government’s aggressive campaign against deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, suing him for $1 million over comments he made about her during a leaked telephone conversation with an alleged mistress.
On July 3, she earned praise from the prime minister for her work against illegal logging during a speech in Kampong Speu province, and in turn began praising him on her prominent Facebook page and expressing regret for her past support for the CNRP.