Most schools and education institutions are commissioned by the government, but during these last few years, there’s been a shift in this tradition, as Cambodia sees a rise in privately built schools and education institutions. This shift is also evident in the rise of huge universities in Phnom Penh, such as Norton University, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Zaman University, and most recently, the American University of Phnom Penh (AUPP).
On international teacher’s appreciation day this month, Cambodian education minister Dr. Hang Chuon Naron announced in front of hundreds of educators that he wants all the public schools in the country to become a vital part of local communities, “schools for parents and guardians of students in every community,” which means that parents will also be encouraged to help look after the schools, to investment financially for their maintenance. Doing this will help to “strengthen and push forward the quality of education together,” said Dr. Naron.
He said that the government’s model New Generation Schools are getting better results than private institutions with much bigger budgets. “Private schools have a sum of capital, they invest a lot of money; therefore, their results will vary upon that factor. We only invest a little bit of money in public schools, and we get even better results than private schools. This is from an actual study on the newly established New Generation schools that the government established as a schools recently,” said Dr. Naron.
Puy Kea, acounselor for AUPP, stated that even though AUPP is a new university, only opening in 2013, the amount of support they’ve received from parents and guardians of students from one year to another keeps improving significantly, and this chimes with the founder’s long-term plan. Dr. Chea Vandeth’s vision is to establish “a university that exceeds all in the country and the region” – a university that adheres to high standards not inferior to those in the highly developed countries such as the United States and European countries. This is why the founder and the board of directors decided to invest in the huge AUPP building on its seven-hectare (17.3 acre) plot of land.
“The AUPP building has four storeys with an interior of about 20,000 square metres, but we’re planning to accept only 5,000 students,” said Kea. “This enormous construction is designed to serve as an educational institution for higher education, providing a great atmosphere for students to savor the experience, as well as optimizing the students’ ability to research and study.”
Kea continued, “Each classroom is spacious and has a tranquil feeling, but they’re all equipped with modern technology in accordance with the specific subjects, meaning that they’re organized to fit with the courses, because those who study at AUPP receives a dual degree – a degree from AUPP, and a degree from Fort Hays State University of Arizona, United States.”
Sok Udom Deth, provost and vice rector for academic affairs at Zaman University, told the Phnom Penh Post that, “The quality of education in a number of great universities in Phnom Penh can be compared to those in developed countries, because they in both cases they use English and have teachers with the same qualifications, but the universities here costs less to attend.”
Having had many years of experience studying abroad in many schools and across several continents, Sok Oudom made a comparison, “Normally, a student needs to spend about $20,000-$30,000 in order to afford overseas education, not to mention an additional $10,000 for food and shelter. However, if you choose to study in a university in Phnom Penh of the same quality, you’ll only need to spend about $2,500 to $4,000 a year.”
Sok Oudom stressed, “If parents or guardians can afford to send their children abroad just to obtain a bachelor’s degree, then they should reevaluate and consider the many great universities here in Phnom Penh, where the quality of teaching and the school itself can be compared to those in foreign countries; therefore, you can save a lot more money and your children will obtain a master’s degree or a PhD.”
Zaman International School opened their first university in 2010 in Khan Toul Kork, and up until now, have had an annual student admission limit of 300 students. In total, the university only has about 1,000 students, because the limit for each class is 30 people. Of these students, 90 percent are Khmer, and the rest are international.
One businesswoman aged 47, who lives in Tuol Kork district, said her family spends about $30,000 per year for her son’s education in China. “We didn’t receive any scholarships, because we’re just normal citizens.”
A high-ranking civil servant,aged 52, stated that, “I decided for my child to study in Malaysia, because the price isn’t ridiculously expensive and it’s easier to travel back and forth. All in all, we spend about $20,000 for our child to get the chance to study abroad like other people.”
Sok Oudom continued, “The country that most Cambodian students go to is Australia.” UNESCO statistics from 2016 say there are more than 4,000 students studying abroad.
Back to the university building, the construction is upon a site in an expensive location; however, Puy Kea and Deth Sok Oudom refused to reveal the total investment capital for buildings of this calibre, saying only that the site represents an investment of several millions of dollars.
Sok Oudom added that the mere presence of the university would spark commercial activity in the surrounding area. “The university itself will increase the market value of this location, and it will push this area to become an unexpected commercial zone. As a case in point, the area around Zaman University used to be quiet, but right now the area is bustling with business activity as evident from the construction of TK Avenue.”
Puy Kea explained that AUPP plans to design a garden on its school grounds, as well as a sports area including what he says will be the first FIFA-quality football pitch in Cambodia. The pitch will provide a facility for athletes competing in the Southeast Asian Games, which Cambodia will host in 2023. “AUPP anticipates that it will receive support from students both local and international; the university also hopes that when it opens for operation, which will be very soon, it will be able to attract many students to the country.”
Rous Salin, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport, could not be contacted to contribute to this article.