CAMBODIA has come a long way in rebuilding its education system, and there is widespread awareness that education is one of the keys to success. For those looking towards getting a master’s degree or beyond, options are few. Currently there are no PhD programmes that are internationally recognised being offered in Cambodia.
Luise Ahrens has been at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) since 1991 and has seen many changes take place in that time. The staff and facilities have steadily improved and the number of master’s programmes has grown. Currently RUPP offers 16 master’s programmes, including in IT, engineering, chemistry, education and biology.
According to Ahrens, there are not any Cambodian-based schools with masters programmes that have accreditation, though she has seen students who have received their masters from RUPP go on to PhD programmes in other countries. RUPP has partnerships with a number of universities abroad where students can go to pursue a postgraduate degree in places such as Belgium and Australia.
It is also the only Cambodian university that is part of the ASEAN University Network, which was established in 1995 to encourage collaboration in Southeast Asian higher education centres.
At the beginning, students may need to take intensive English classes to get them up to speed for the new university environment.
Learning math and the sciences in Khmer is standard, so the students need to know the terminology in English.
Ahrens said that RUPP has some very strong postgraduate programmes. “Besides the sciences, the master’s in development studies programme is quite strong. Flora and Fauna runs the master’s in conservation programme and they bring in highly-qualified people.
“The Institute of Finance and Banking is a true collaboration with a University in Australia. Their professors come here, papers are graded back in Australia and at their campus in Malaysia.
“The difficulty with post-graduate study in this country is that you want to have people who are both old enough and experienced enough to supervise doctoral research. There are about 12 to 15 now,” she added.
Ten years ago there weren’t any people qualified to supervise doctoral research, but in another decade, Ahrens predicts there will be 50 to 100.
“There are PhDs, but they’re just not old enough or experienced enough to do doctoral supervision,” she said.
“Having schools that give out degrees without having a legitimate programme really lowers the standards of education in Cambodia. Some people say anything is better than nothing, but I think you should really work towards quality and keep building it.”
Overseeing the development of the university system is the Ministry of Education, as well as the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia, which was established in 2003 to help universities reach international standards.
“For kids coming out of high school, when you are looking into which university to go to, make sure you find out the names of the lecturers who will be teaching your courses and the name of the university they graduated from. You can send an email to that university asking if the person did graduate from there. Universities have no problem sharing information like that – at least credible ones don’t,” she said.
“You shouldn’t just go to a school because your friend is going there, do a little research and make sure you’re getting the education you’re looking for – a licence is not the same as accreditation.”