Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday used the occasion of a graduation ceremony to lambaste opposition leader Sam Rainsy for claiming that Cambodian university degrees were “worthless,” telling those in attendance not to forgive the CNRP president for the slight.
During an hourlong speech to graduates of Western University in Phnom Penh, Mr. Hun Sen said he had a different opinion about the value of domestic university degrees.
“Although these degrees have been looked down upon as valueless degrees, in my eyes the degrees I hand out today and have handed out previously are very valuable for Cambodian children,” he said.
“Do not pardon [those] who insult you by saying the degrees are worthless,” he said. “I hope every student who receives a degree from me considers it as the result of our sweat and blood, our families’ sweat and blood, the university’s sweat and blood, the professors’ sweat and blood, and society’s sweat and blood.”
Mr. Hun Sen said that Mr. Rainsy’s comments were an insult to all university graduates since the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
“It’s a serious insult against education institutions, former students who have graduated after 1979, and all students receiving degrees today,” he said.
In a video posted to his Facebook page earlier this month, Mr. Rainsy criticized the quality of the nation’s universities and the degrees obtained in them. Asked in an interview to expand upon the post, Mr. Rainsy said that a university education was meant to secure employment for graduates, and that Cambodian degrees were “worthless and useless” because “many degrees do not help you get a job.”
Political analyst Ou Virak said that both Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Rainsy were using the issue of education to score political points.
“I think Hun Sen’s reaction is an strategic move to try and gain the support of teachers and those involved in the education system,” Mr. Virak said.
“The degrees are not worthless, but there is definitely a quality issue at all levels of education that needs to be addressed with policy reform.”
(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)