More than 400 Cambodian students hoping to study in the U.S. flocked to meet representatives from 27 American colleges at the U.S.-Cambodia Education Fair on Saturday in Phnom Penh.
“There’s a lot of thirst,” said Adam Parker, an admissions counselor for the University of Iowa. “This middle class is going to grow pretty dramatically between now and five to 10 to 20 years from now. I think they’re going to grow into a major market.”
Before that happens, Cambodia has some catching up to do. Beyond scholarships and financial aid—the main topic on students’ minds—there are gaps that need to be filled.
“The general everything is not going to be good enough—the English as well as study skills as well as general knowledge,” said Ruwan Hulugalle, who founded and organized the annual event, which began in 2012.
Even if the students are prepared to go to the U.S., the systems to get them there are not. At last year’s education fair, several students showed an interest in applying for a full-ride scholarship to Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy.
But they were required to take a standardized English-language test, the TOEFL, and by the time the education fair came around, they had missed the deadline to sign up for the test, which is only offered twice a year.
“There is an interest in grad school, but the mechanisms are slowly getting into place,” said Melinda Van Hemert, the assistant dean for admissions and student services at Pepperdine.
But Ms. Van Hemert saw these changes come to Thailand and believes it is only a matter of time before Cambodia catches up. She visited the country eight years ago with another education fair and can already see changes.
“The difference is the hunger for advancing Cambodia and to be a player in the real world,” she said. “They have a young population that they want to get trained to be competitive with the rest of the world.”
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