Following the intervention of Prime Minister Hun Sen, first-year medicine, pharmacology and dentistry students at Phnom Penh’s University of Health Sciences will be allowed to start their second year at the school even after failing parts of a national exam, officials said.
The students had been protesting since Wednesday after the Council of Ministers’ National Exam Committee decided to only allow those students who passed all four components of the exam—anatomy, biology, embryology and chemistry—to go on to a second year.
According to the students, the NEC had changed the rules after the exams were taken without properly informing students. On an Oct 16 notice from the NEC, 1,180 out of 1,481 students would be eligible for a second year, but when the results were released Nov 25 only 369 students were listed as eligible.
Attempting to find a solution, a meeting was held Friday between University Rector Oum Sophal, Health Minister Mam Bun Heng, Education Undersecretary of State Sean Borath, Accreditation Committee of Cambodia Secretary-General Tech Samnang, and six student representatives. An agreement was reached to allow an additional 507 students to enter the second year, but the students were still not satisfied and appealed to Hun Sen, according to Sean Borath.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed [with the students] and allowed the NEC to choose students in accordance with the announced number [of 1,180],” Sean Borath said by telephone.
National Exam Committee Director Seng Lim Neou said that the decision to exclude students who failed one portion of the exam was made too hastily this year, but he added that in the future no student who fails an exam section will be allowed to advance to the next year.
According to Tech Samnang, the new rules were meant to help maintain a high quality of education in medicine, pharmacology and dentistry. Tech Samnang defended the original NEC decision and said the students did not have the right to object after they failed exam components.
“I always say that the real quality is to rely on meeting standards. The NEC is setting a national standard [in line with] international standards,” he said.
Sean Borath wasn’t worried about the quality of the education at the university because, he said, the first year was only a foundation year. He added that standards in medical education would ultimately be improved by implementation of the stricter requirements in subsequent years.
Ka Sunbaunat, dean of the university’s Faculty of Medicine, said the result reached is not good for the quality of education at the university. He added that the university now has to find new methods to teach students in order to prevent such protests and high failure rates in the future.