Fifty-six students were dismissed by the Technical School for Medical Care in Phnom Penh in February after officials at the Japan International Cooperation Agency expressed concerns about overcrowding, school and government officials said Tuesday.
A handful of student representatives staged a rally outside the National Assembly on Thursday to protest their dismissal and to call on Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow them to return.
School and Health Ministry officials said that the students, who were admitted in January, midway through the school year, which began around October, were dismissed on Feb 3 after JICA officials said the school was overcrowded.
JICA officials responded to the claims by releasing a letter Tuesday evening that had been sent in January to the school’s management containing their concerns that students had been admitted to the school and four other regional training centers outside the official admissions process.
Huy Sovat, director of the Technical School for Medical Care, said facilities and equipment at the new $6.2 million building, paid for by JICA, can accommodate only 149 students.
The 56 students were asked to leave because JICA officials were concerned that the extra admissions would make the school fail to meet international standards, he said.
“As I understand it, the school cannot accept more students because it is affecting the quality of learning because the Japanese JICA, who sponsor the school, worry about overcrowding,” said Ouk Monna, secretary of state at the Health Ministry.
“Diplomatically they say it is not their responsibility but unofficially they pay attention,” she said.
However, in a letter dated Jan 23, JICA expressed deep concern about the Ministry of Health’s “additional intake of students after the official recruitment.”
If the admissions were allowed to stand, the letter said, “we are sure that [the school] will not be able to provide the satisfied quality of co-medical education.”
The letter also asserted that in addition to the school’s original 120-student capacity, the Health Ministry had also accepted 29 nursing students “who had not been properly selected.”
Some of the 56 students dismissed in February, the letter said, “had not taken the entrance exam and some had the low scores at the previous entrance exam.”
At the protest on Thursday, students handed out a Jan 12 letter to the school signed by Ouk Monna, which stated that Japanese Ambassador Fumiaki Takahashi had expressed no objection to admitting the students but said that their admission was not his responsibility.
“We are angry with the school management for keeping us out of school,” said Proeung Minea, a 22-year-old former nursing student from Kompong Cham province, with tears in her eyes. “They admitted us and took our $650 tuition. How come they stopped us in the middle?” she asked.