Minister No Longer Signing University Degrees

The Minister of Education will no longer place a validating signature on the country’s university degrees, and schools of tertiary education will soon be audited, and properly accredited, for the quality of their education, officials said Monday.

Universities whose courses and degrees fall below par will be shut down entirely, or ordered to take serious remedial action to improve their level of teaching, an education ministry official said.

“Starting from this time, the Education Minister will not sign certificates like before,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday in a speech to more than 4,000 National University of Management graduates at Koh Pich Conference Hall in Phnom Penh.

“All universities must sign [their own degrees] and be responsible for the education quality themselves,” Mr. Hun Sen said, explaining university deans will sign the degrees themselves.

“If [students] apply for a job and are not accepted, they can no longer blame it on the Education Minister,” Mr. Hun Sen said, without elaborating.

Ros Salin, chief of newly-appointed Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron’s cabinet, said handing over the responsibility of signing degrees would force the nation’s 104 universities to raise their standards as the Ministry begins evaluating the quality of education in the institutions.

“We must now evaluate the curriculum and governance inside each university to ensure that they meet the standards to allow them to sign the degrees,” Mr. Salin said.

“If they do not conform, they can be shut down,” he said. “This is the beginning of the restructure of the education system and will force institutions to ensure that their graduates are prepared for the international labor market.”

An accreditation committee is being formed, though Mr. Salin could not give a start date. Along with the perception of corruption in the education sector, a lack of proper oversight in the accreditation process has led to criticism that some universities are merely degree mills, which spew out certificates to anyone willing to pay course fees.

Um Samphea, a 24-year-old recent graduate from Human Resources University, said students will still want the Education Minister’s signature on their degrees.

“Some companies may not accept graduates without the Education Minister’s signature,” he said.

Without the minister’s signature, future employers may not trust the quality of a university degree that is only signed by the rector of a  school, Mr. Samphea said.

“They will worry that the students have colluded with the university to get higher credit,” he said.

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