The Russian government has been struggling to find enough qualified students in Cambodia for available university scholarships, an educational official said this week.
“Before we had many scholarships but today there are not many who are capable of the level of study,” said Sergei Kolesov, director of the Russian Scientific and Cultural Center in Phnom Penh. “It’s a problem of specialism in the university system here in Cambodia. The level is not very high.”
The Russian government had 30 scholarships to offer this year, for six years of study at Russian universities. The program, however, had problems finding students to fill the places and 17 recipients, or more than half, had to be recruited within Russia.
Most students will study engineering but some will study medicine, economics, accounting, journalism or other subjects.
A Cambodian official denied students are not good enough, but said affordability is a problem.
Since 1996, scholarship recipients had to pay their own transportation costs, said Kan Neary, the deputy director of the scholarship department of the Ministry of Education. A round-trip ticket between Phnom Penh and Moscow is about $1,300, she noted.
“Our students are poor,” Kan Neary said. “The allowance is also too small. Students need another $100 per month more to live in Russia. It’s not enough.”
According to Kan Neary, 13 master’s and doctoral-degree level students were recruited through the Education Ministry.
The 17 other Cambodians, who were already in Russia, were recruited through the embassy in Moscow. “They are already in Russia and do not have to pay for an airfare,” she said.
Cambodian students also may be less interested in studying in Russia in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a diplomat acknowledged.
“There are economic problems in our country,” said Alexei Tchernov, third secretary at the Russian Embassy in Cambodia. “They also want to take their studies in other countries where they can speak English.”
The former Soviet Union has a long history of contributing to the education of Cambodians including the donation of equipment to Royal University of Phnom Penh in 1994 and the funding of education in Russia of thousands of students through the 1980s.
Instability in the former Soviet Union ended the program in 1992. Russia re-introduced scholarships in 1996.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun and Rachel Watson)
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