UN Funding Cut Cancels Classes for Some Arts Students

Architecture and archaeology classes at the Royal University of Fine Arts have largely been suspended after the programs lost UN funding this year, depriving students of the majority of their instructors—both foreign and local—a Ministry of Culture official said on Thursday.

Since the UN Educational, Sci­entific and Cultural Organi­zation stopped paying their sala­ries, ma­ny professors in the two faculties refuse to come to classes. Others show up but stand idle and don’t teach, said Kim Sophat, an undersecretary of state in the ministry responsible for the faculties.

“I ask Unesco to offer the teachers’ salaries regularly, or else they will stop teaching altogether,” he said.

Unesco Country Represen­tative Etienne Clement said Unes­co on­ly supplied teachers through the now-expired program and was not in charge of the university.

“This is a sovereign state…. Higher education is in the hands of the elected government, not Japan, not Unesco,” Clement said.

But by appointing most professors for the last eight years, Unes­co had de facto control of the faculties, Kim Sophat said.

Unesco also uses its control of salaries to push for administrative changes, said Proeung Chhieng, dean of archaeology and deputy rector of the university.

“They told us that if we do not appoint a new dean of architecture they will stop supporting us,” he said. That position has been vacant since May 2001, when student protests forced Sisowath Kolchat to resign.

Clement said the vacant dean’s position was not the only reason an agreement had not been reached to renew funding, but he did not deny it was a factor. “A university needs to have a head. That is common sense,” he said.

Unesco, with funds from Japan, supplied an average of 37 instructors in the two faculties over eight years, Clement said.

The program originally began because there was a near-complete dearth of trained Cambodian experts in the two fields, he said. Now, “the university still needs international support, but the situation is no longer desperate.”

Unesco, Japan and Cambodia are negotiating to extend the program once again.

This year’s students will not be victims of the break in funding, Clement added. “I am quite confident that we will reach an agreement very soon.”

 

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