Nineteen senior officials, lawmakers and businessmen were awarded doctoral degrees yesterday morning by Isles International University, an organization that appears to be an international diploma mill with strong links to the discredited Irish International University.
At a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen, officials including CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun, and CPP Senator Mong Reththy received PhDs in subjects ranging from political economy to agricultural development science.
In a short speech yesterday, Mr Hun Sen praised University Chancellor Hardeep Sandhu for helping develop human rights and democracy in Cambodia.
Mr Sandhu was also the president of Irish International University, which was exposed as having no links to Ireland’s education system in 2006, after having awarded honorary degrees to a number of politicians, including the premier himself.
In August, the Malaysian daily newspaper The Star included IIU on a list of “degree mills and bogus universities,” reporting that Irish International University had changed its name to Isles International University after being blacklisted by Malaysia’s Higher Education Ministry.
The former Web address for Irish International University now takes visitors to one of several websites for Isles International University, which is also known as Isles Internationale Université.
Mr Yeap said in a speech at yesterday’s conferring ceremony that the degrees were a “great honor” for the awardees and for Cambodia.
“This success truly occurs as a result of our physical and mental efforts in hard work, struggle, industriousness, study and research, and [with the] participation from all walks of life,” he said.
Reached by telephone, Mr Yeap said he had studied online for over three years to earn a PhD in political economy from IIU. His studies were free, he said, but he paid $20,000 to have his thesis translated from Khmer to English.
“It is my second PhD and it was not easy to get,” Mr Yeap said. “I am a hard-working student.”
Mong Reththy said he had also paid $20,000 in the process of earning the doctorate, his third such higher degree. To earn his doctorate in agricultural development science, Mr Reththy studied online, and a professor from IIU visited his company, Mong Reththy Group, to learn about his business.
“I did not go to the university but I practiced agricultural investment for nearly 14 years,” he said. “I studied for about six months online with the university and then the university professor and inspector came here.”
In an information sheet distributed at yesterday’s ceremony, Isles International University claims to have been “approved by the Minister of Education in the Brithsh Isles of Grea Brivtain,” in an apparent reference to Great Britain. However, IIU’s name does not appear on a list of accredited, degree-awarding universities provided yesterday by the British Embassy in Phnom Penh.
On its website, IIU claims to be certified by the “EU Analogue Standards Certification Committee,” though no such committee appears to exist.
The university also says it has an “academic staff and faculties office” at the European Parliament building in Brussels. A spokeswoman for the European Parliament said yesterday that she was unaware of IIU’s presence in the building where she works.
“In the 10 years I’ve worked here, I’ve never heard of that,” she said by telephone from Brussels. “I’d be really surprised if this university existed in this Parliament.”
Calls made to IIU’s international office in Malaysia went unanswered yesterday.
In an e-mail sent yesterday, opposition leader Sam Rainsy criticized what he described as “mercantile” diplomas from dubious universities.
“I think the quality of education is too important and too serious a matter for the country to become the topic of a joke, especially on the part of political leaders,” he wrote of the degrees.
“All over the world, responsible leaders are promoting the knowledge society based on real knowledge, modern technologies and creative thinking. Cambodian leaders should be worried about growing unemployment, which is a social time bomb given the demographics and the country’s inability to create enough jobs for the 300,000 young people reaching the job market every year.”
“In order to promote such a knowledge society, we need to build up a quality education system catching up with international standards in basic and some specialty fields.”