German Education Ministry Recognizes UC Degrees
The University of Cambodia received its first international recognition this November through Germany’s Kultusministerkonferenz, a governmental organization that oversees educational issues. This notoriety, which equates a UC education with that of a German university, means more opportunities abroad for UC students.
In order to standardize the qualifications for foreign students who study abroad in Germany, Kultusministerkonferenz looks at the status of universities worldwide and rates the quality of their degree programs.
For UC students, recognition from this organization will allow easier access to German study visas and open opportunities to apply for German graduate programs, said Dr. Angus Munro, Vice President of Student Affairs. Although students might have to take a few extra classes before jumping into graduate studies at German universities, he said, with this recognition, they will not have to start at the B.A. level.
UC began the process proving their accreditation in September when UC alumnae Ly Sophanin, who received her Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Business Management, began looking into graduate programs abroad.
Thakral holds the deep conviction that university-educated Cambodians will propel Cambodia forward as a competitor in today’s global economy. "I am quite happy to see that the scholarship benefited kids not only from the city, but from the province too," Thakral said.
Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen, who has continuously underlined his support for the enrollment of students in universities nationwide, addressed the students during the morning ceremony. He encouraged them to continue learning and reminded them that lessons can come from a variety of sources, including one’s enemies.
The recipients are among the brightest students at UC. The scholarships were awarded based upon secondary school merits as well as a rigorous two-part exam that tested the students’ general knowledge and English fluency.
UC to Publish First Cambodian Encyclopedia
Cambodia has a rich, deep culture and history, but the country’s growing libraries still contain only bits and pieces of its records. In an effort to provide the nation’s schools and libraries with a complete reference source about Cambodia – from its history and art to its research and agriculture – Dr. Angus Munro, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and a UC committee has begun work on the Encyclopedia of Cambodia.
“The goal is to make it accessible to all of Cambodia,” Munro explained.
Currently in the beginning stages of this massive project, Munro said he has compiled an initial list of nearly 4,000 entries and is putting together a rough outline of the book’s layout. However, as he gathers more information, the topic list continues to grow. Soon, he will approach Cambodian and foreign contributors who will help write the encyclopedia’s content.
Once the encyclopedia is complete – an original deadline set for December 2009 – it will be printed in both a Khmer and an English volume.
“This will be used as an opportunity for our student interns to translate Khmer entries to English and English entries to Khmer,” Munro said.
The university plans to then distribute the first edition of the encyclopedia around the country, giving a free copy to all schools and libraries. The reference book will also be sold in bookstores and abroad.
Initial funding for the encyclopedia project was provided by the university with a $5,000 donation from the BG Group and in-kind support from Monument Books, but the university is still seeking supporters for the project. According to Munro, the project will not stop after the initial printing. In subsequent editions, UC will continue to revise and fill in gaps in the encyclopedia’s content.
Students Visit Garment Factory
“Most of the hard jobs are done with technology,” accounting major Chhit Chanleakhena observed. “The cutting of the cloth and the printing of the patterns – I expected people would do those jobs.”
The students equated the success of this particular factory with the way the management operated. According to Chanleakhena, Ross worked in an office in the factory where he could be easily approached by his employees. Kang Muy Theng, who studies finance and banking, also observed an air of congeniality in Ross.
“He is simple and modest,” she said. “He talks to everyone like they are friends or family.”
Even though the factory visit expanded the students’ views of the garment industry, most of them aren’t so sure they are ready for a job in the field. To them garment factory management seems overwhelming, with the number of tasks and products that have to be balanced.
“It seems impossible to do, but if you can do it, that’s good,” said Vanny.
Lopez said she would like to coordinate another factory visit with Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia (GMAC), who is funding the course, for the end of the term.
Janssen decided to perform her study here as part of her diploma thesis because there is a lack of research on mental rotation in smaller countries like Cambodia. She was also intrigued by the relative youth of the universities here, and when she selected the school to perform the study, she took into account that The University of Cambodia has only been in operation for five years.
UC’s students were eager to contribute to the study, and Janssen said she was overwhelmed by their volunteerism.
“In such a short time, it’s incredible,” she said. Three-hundred-ten student volunteers participated in the study, exceeding her goal of 300. “In Germany, the same sample would take three months to obtain.”
Upon her return to Germany, Janssen will give the same tests to a sample of German students and compare those results to the results of UC’s students. She then intends to publish the results in a German journal as well as a Cambodian journal.
Dr. Angus Munro, the Vice President of Academic Affairs, said that an article could appear in the Journal of Cambodia Studies, which is published by the UC Press, should the outcome of the study prove significant. However, he said neither Free University nor The University of Cambodia has made any formal commitment.
Students attending the concert (from left to right): Ou Dane, In Chan Bora, Kim Khemrin, Meak Chan Leakena, Tim Vutha, Nech Monika, Reil Rathsatya, Thang Lily, Sry Kimhong
Not pictured: Nhan Kongkearith, Lorn Lenghim, Rath Vathnak
CES Grows as Program Develops
When Mr. Pay Chheng How took over as the Center for English Studies (CES) Director in June 2007, the center taught less than 100 students. In the past year and a half, the number of students has increased nearly 10-fold, seeing more than 900 students each term.
Much of this increase can be attributed to UC’s scholarship program, which offered full, four-year tuition to more than 600 first-year students to begin their studies at UC in October 2008. According to How, however, much of the influx in the number of students can be attributed to the updated CES program, which has increased the center’s credibility and reputation. Since June 2008, CES has updated its textbooks, improved teacher qualifications, imposed stricter English language assessments and increased the hours of learning per student.
CES, which operates on a system separate from the regular UC academic schedule, is a required supplemental certificate program that UC students must complete to prepare them for the English used in their Bachelor's degree courses. Composed of six levels that cover the basics of speaking, listening, reading and writing, the program takes a year, or six two-month terms, to complete. Upon completing the certificate, students should be able to operate fluently in English.
The stricter attendance guidelines, as well as the increased requirement on the number of tests and quizzes that the teachers must give, has seemed to benefit the center, with about 90 percent of the students graduating successfully from the program.
“When there are tests, students work hard,” said How.
But much work has gone into improving the overall quality of the program. Here is a look at the ins and outs of CES.
A Focus on the Basics
Reading and writing are essential skills needed to become fluent in the English language, and in the past year CES has made these two aspects a priority, said How. Once students master the speaking and listening skills that are taught in the first two levels of the program, they move onto improving their reading skills.
“We always encourage students to read,” said How. In the intermediate levels, students are required to read six selections from Asian, European and American literature, such as Robinson Caruso. To complement the readings and aid in the students’ understanding, the students also watch DVDs of the stories.
Then the students move onto academic writing in the final two levels of the program. CES recently introduced a new textbook series, “Effective Academic Writing,” which has better facilitated both the students and the teachers during the learning process and has bridged the gap between basic English and a B.A. program.
“When we first introduced writing skills, it was difficult for both teachers and students,” said How. “Now the teachers are more comfortable with it, and it’s something that the students have to learn.”
The Language Lab
As part of required class assignments, students spend time in the language lab to improve their comprehension and pronunciation. They use two programs, the American designed “Rosetta Stone” and “Tell Me More About English,” which focuses on British English.
“The [computer] programs not only improve their listening skills, but improve their confidence in doing audio and visual exercises,” How explained.
CES introduced “Tell Me More About English” to the language lab during the October 2008 term in order to offer a larger variety of exercises to the students. It has become a favorite among the students, he said.
In addition to the normal English program, which heavily focuses on academics, CES also offers a 16-month business English program, geared toward people working in NGOs, in businesses or with the government. There has yet to be a student enrolled in the program, but How said the center hopes to have its first student starting in the December 2008 term.
The program offers coursework that teaches a more formal style of writing and speaking that can be implemented in workplace situations. Students will learn the correct way to write business documents such as faxes, e-mails and memos, and how to conduct telephone conversations and interviews using formal English.
With classes taught mainly native English speakers, students will engage in group discussions and perhaps visit businesses outside the classroom in order to put their formal English into practice.
“This is one of the most important offices of the university because if we fail accreditation, we cannot run foundation year and can only accept second year students,” said AFD Director, Dr. Y Ratana.
In January 2009, UC will begin the next review process for the foundation department, where the ACC will scrutinize the curriculum, facilities and human resources as well as interview students and faculty. In the past three years, the department has improved the program, such as making revisions to course syllabi, by taking into account ACC recommendations.
As the department administration focuses on improving the program for the next three years, students Chin Vathana and Thang Lily offer their impressions of UC and university life during their first year at UC.
When Vathana began his first year at UC this October, working toward a major in Business Management, he already had two years of English Literature training from Pannasastra University under his belt. However, leaving his family in Kampong Cham Province, he has learned to adjust to city life. Not only has he met new friends and rented an apartment, but he has learned to use the technological conveniences not found in the provinces.
“I’m from the countryside, so I never used the Internet before,” he said, explaining this has made his class assignments that require Internet research a challenge. “I’m learning to use the computer.”
He has found the computer science course, one of the five compulsory courses in which foundation year students must enroll, particularly helpful and important in preparing for his Bachelor’s program.
During the students’ foundation year, UC also provides numerous opportunities outside the typical coursework that encourage the students grow intellectually and, as Lily puts it, “learn about society.”
Pursuing her degree in International Relations, Lily said she hopes to one day work in Cambodia as a diplomat. Having the opportunity to attend various ceremonies as well as the Asia Economic Forum, has expanded her knowledge about her country and the world.
The Foundation Year Experience
Ranked in the top three universities in Cambodia, UC has presented many opportunities to new students, including offering full-tuition scholarships to bright students proficient in English and hiring faculty with an extensive knowledge base to help guide their learning.
But with these opportunities comes personal challenges that the students must overcome. The rigor of the coursework and high expectations from the professors leads the students to question their abilities. Lily, for example, said she often finds it difficult to remember all the points she needs to make when giving oral presentations, and Vathana finds it intimidating to answer questions in front of a class of nearly 200. Add to that, all the coursework being done in their second language, English, and university life proves to be a huge adjustment.
“In foundation year, you learn basics that will help you get your Bachelor’s,” said Lily, cueing in on why the first year at UC is so important. During their first two terms, the students sharpen skills such as public speaking, research and studying, that will help them during their four years at UC.
Vathana found in-class group work particularly helpful in meeting study partners and learning about new cultures. As difficult as the coursework can be, he refuses to give up.
“It’s difficult, but if I want to be successful, I must study hard,” he said. “I never give up.”
There’s no denying that the cramped quarters of UC’s current facilities are becoming even tighter as the UC student body grows each term. While the new Phnom Penh campus is being constructed at Sangkat Touk Thla and is expected to be completed by the end of 2010, UC’s newest students have taken note on how the current site has affected their learning.
“This afternoon when we were studying, an ambulance went by and distracted us,” Vanthana said. He commented that the current building seems much smaller than other universities and because it sits so close to the road, the noise of traffic causes a disturbance as it filters into the classroom.
Both Lily and Vanthana also noted that with such large class sizes and with no facility to support the numbers, it’s difficult to get one-on-one time with the professor and the room gets hot.
“Everything will be up to date and modern in the new building, which will help,” said Lily. “And hopefully there will be classes of less than 100 students.”