The recent boom in private universities and educational institutes will strengthen the education system, Ministry of Education officials said last week. But the universities and institutes say increased competition is leaving them with fewer and fewer students.
Western University has received fewer applications this year than in the past “because there are a lot of private universities, and fewer high school students passed the exam,” university rector Te Laurent said. “The ways to attract students are to lower costs and strengthen educational quality,” he said.
Build Bright University rector In Veracheat speculated that both state and private universities would take fewer students this year. He also blamed the decline on fewer students passing their high school exams and the rise in private universities.
BBU, which charges students $390 a year for tuition, enrolled 4,000 students for the 2002-03 academic year. This year, In Veracheat says he will be happy if more than 3,000 enroll.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome and international conflict “have lowered people’s living standards,” he said. “That is why fewer students have applied.”
He said that he is undeterred by the increase in private universities.
“There will be a lot of high school students in the 2004 to 2005 academic year,” In Veracheat predicted.
Although some private institutions are wary of their own proliferation, the Ministry of Education is optimistic. “Private universities and institutions are helpful partners to the Ministry of Education,” Roth Sokha, director of the higher education department at the ministry, said last week.
“They have their own branches in the provinces so students don’t have to spend money traveling to Phnom Penh,” Roth Sokha said. “This will help the government to reduce poverty.”
More than 14,000 students apply to study at the country’s six state universities and five state institutes each year, but only 2,100 to 2,300 students are accepted, he said.
The first private university opened in 1997. Today there are 10 private universities and 13 higher education institutes recognized by the Ministry of Education, Roth Sokha said.
A university grants bachelor’s and master’s degrees, while an institute grants diplomas or certificates.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said last week that new private universities and institutes don’t reach sufficient standards. “If we take a snap shot, we will admire the recent development in the private sector,” he said. “But the newly formed private universities and institutes don’t comply with pedagogy and will spoil human resources.”
“Some students only come to class for tests and then they stop,” he said, adding that rectors of some private universities and institutes are only interested in making money.
“They only formed to do business,” Rong Chhun said. “They don’t care about education quality.”
Roth Sokha defended the licensing process for private institutions. Licensing officials inspect an institute’s curriculum and the credentials of its teaching staff, he said.
He described the standard that universities have to achieve as “a mixed standard that the ministry imitates from America, Australia and England.” Before the Ministry of Education allows a university or institute to grant a degree, they will examine the curriculum, he said. “If they don’t comply with the ministry’s standard, we will publicly announce the name of the university or institute so no students will apply to study,” he said.
In addition, the government is creating an accreditation process for private institutions, which it currently lacks.
Private universities and institutes should focus on education as well as making a profit, Roth Sokha said. “Those private universities and institutes have to train students to a qualified standard set by the Ministry of Education,” Roth Sokha warned. “They shouldn’t just think about taking money from students, but about educational quality also.”
Students should be able to find work after they finish their diplomas because they have spent a lot of money, he said. An average student spends more than $1,400 on private university fees, he said.
“Some parents have sold their land, rice, fields and cows to make the money for their children to study,” he said. “So after four years, students should have enough ability to work.”
Excessive competition will not cause private universities to close down, Roth Sokha predicted. “I think if the universities or institutes are qualified, a lot of students will apply to study. But if those universities and institutes aren’t qualified, they will collapse,” he said.