Dressed in a red academic cloak and large, floppy cap, CPP tycoon Senator Mong Reththy stood proudly beside his wife in the prestigious English university town of Cambridge.
The moment of honor was celebrated this month by his own Mong Reththy company, which took out a full page advertisement in local newspapers announcing that the senator had received a doctorate in business strategy from none other than the “Irish International University of Europa.”
The construction and palm oil magnate is not the first Cambodian politician to receive an award from the institution that bills itself as an Irish university.
At an April 2004 ceremony in Phnom Penh, Irish International bestowed an honorary doctorate on Prime Minister Hun Sen himself.
Mong Reththy explained that he was not required to sit any courses or complete any assignments at Irish International University, and, he added, the doctorate is not honorary.
“They gave it to me through looking at [my] previous working leadership,” he explained.
“I didn’t spend anything, only for a flight on the plane,” to the award ceremony in Cambridge, he said.
In April 2005, Irish International University formed a partnership with Cambodia’s largest private higher education institution, Build Bright University, which officially made BBU in Phnom Penh the Irish International University’s “Asian Campus.”
Next year, BBU expects to start awarding up to 100 Irish International doctorates to Cambodian candidates.
BBU Vice Rector of Academics Dy Davuth said Irish International has no shortage of academic know how.
“We have a lack of human resources, so we bring in these experts from Irish International to help us,” he said.
But students who fork out the $4,500 for an Irish International University doctorate will get just that.
Irish International University’s degrees are not recognized in Ireland, where IIU claims it is based. Nor are the degrees recognized by the government of Britain, where the group also has offices.
Last year, the Irish ambassador to Malaysia asked Malaysia to close IIU, according to media reports. E-mails last week to the Irish Embassy in Malaysia were answered by Lesley Hoh, who directs the Aedumus educational consulting agency, which is affiliated with the Irish embassy.
The Irish embassy “has been concerned for some time about the activities of the so-called Irish International University (“IIU”) and other such enterprises,” Hoh wrote.
“IIU is not recognized as a university in Ireland and its ‘awards’ have no academic standing there,” she added. “IIU has a business address only in Ireland.”
According to the Irish Examiner newspaper, in 2001 IIU was registered at a false Dublin address as a real estate business.
Irish International has told BBU that it is accredited to deliver university degrees in the UK, BBU Rector In Viracheat said.
But the UK Department for Education and Skills, which officially recognizes institutions that can award degrees, does not list IIU on its Web site.
“Only those organizations on the above lists are permitted to award UK degrees or offer provision that leads to a UK degree. If an organization is not contained on one of these lists then it is NOT offering a recognized UK degree,” the department’s Web site states.
“It is an offense in the UK for any organization to offer a degree qualification which could be taken to be that of a recognized UK institution…. Such organizations will be reported to the appropriate Local Trading Standards Department for investigation which could lead to prosecution,” the Web site warns.
Chan Roth, director of the Education Ministry’s department of scientific research, who is in charge of masters and doctorate programs in Cambodia, said that Dy Davuth had assured him of IIU’s ability to grant degrees.
“I will conduct the investigation,” he added.
Dy Davuth said that awarding life experience degrees, like that received by Mong Reththy, is academically legitimate.
He also said that BBU received no funding or budget from Irish International, and that IIU management first approached BBU in 2004. BBU charges between $200 and $300 per year for its doctorate programs, but ups the fee to $4,500 total for a “twin” doctorate from BBU and Irish International, he added.
In an e-mail Tuesday, Marie-Ann Kyne-Lilley, an official at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, where IIU says one of its subsidiaries offers classes, said that Cambridge does not accredit any degrees or “qualifications of any kind” awarded by Irish International University.
Questions e-mailed to IIU Executive President H Sandhu were returned by an assistant who referred all questions to IIU’s Web site.
That Web site claims that Irish International can award degrees based on a proposed European Union European Qualifications Framework. According to the EU Web site, the framework has not yet been adopted by the EU.
In 2004, after awarding an honorary doctorate to Hun Sen, Sandhu told reporters that IIU “is a private education institution based on the concept of an open university in the European University, and we are not in a position to comment on any other matters.”
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said Monday that there are deep problems in Cambodia’s regulation of private universities.
“Higher Education is a disaster in this country,” he said.
“The government needs to establish a body to carefully monitor the curriculum and training that these private universities are offering.”