Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cambodia’s sinking higher education system

That development in Cambodia is lagging behind much of the world is not a claim but a fact. While there are real signs of progress toward many of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which set minimum standards for health and education to be met by 2015, others have been adjusted down. Regardless, the indicators themselves convey the reality that Cambodians are striving for a quality of life that was achieved decades ago by many developed countries, and is now taken for granted by most of the modern world.

Cambodia is still struggling to even approach true equality between boys and girls in primary-level enrollment, a ratio that was achieved by most European countries early in the 20th century. In fact, in 2007, Cambodia was yet to reach 90 percent (meaning that there are nine girls enrolled for every 10 boys), while the world as a whole had a ratio of 96 percent.

The importance of Cambodia’s faltering education system is mounting. Up to 70 percent of the Kingdom’s population could be considered youth, and it is this part of the population that will inherit the responsibility of lifting Cambodia onto the international stage. In order to do this with respectability, the young leaders who will soon become the face of Cambodia need to have an education fit for their task. They will require a comprehensive academic experience of the sort that simply does not exist for the vast majority of Cambodians today.

While raising the Kingdom’s ailing education sector won’t be easy to execute, there is a fairly simple first step to bringing life back to Cambodian academia, and that is investing more federal funds in schools and educational institutions. Sure to follow will be qualified, responsible and aspiring educators who will be the cornerstone of future development in society and a more diverse and robust economy.

According to the most recent summary report on education, youth and sport, there are 91 higher education institutions (34 and 57 private), located in 18 provinces and Phnom Penh. Compared with 20 years ago, when these figures were effectively 0, this seems like a healthy higher education system.

However, if we take a serious look at what is actually being offered in the buildings of these “universities”, it is easy to see that, more often than not, it is not what a modern academic would recognise as post-secondary education. This is the greatest stumbling block on the path to producing capable human resources in the Kingdom. These business institutions use the guise of academics to attract tuition money, and as such they count success in terms of the bottom line, ignoring the service of schooling they purport to provide and the country so desperately needs. 

What the country is left with is a rapidly expanding quantity of graduates, with much slower rises in the quality of youth entering the workforce. With no real qualifications being passed on with their degree, even the best-intentioned graduates often have little to offer in terms of moving the country closer to global legitimacy.

Some higher educational institutions have very good policies on paper (like the government they work under), but this rarely results in good practice. Uniformly, cheating is not allowed in exams, but it still happens and students continue to resort to this sort of behaviour, believing it to be a legitimate strategy for scholastic success.

Higher education institutions call themselves centres of research, but often lack adequate bandwidth, computer terminals, subscriptions to academic journals, up to date laboratories or any of the other expensive, but essential, tools for today’s top students around the world. 

Internships, which are seen as an integral part of professional preparation in any sector, have yet to be built in to the curriculum at most schools and career counselors or academic planners, essential resources for any student lost between high school and adulthood, are virtually non-existent. 

While it is easy for the government to plead poverty when pressed on the widespread failing of higher education in the Kingdom, they make a different statement each year when the national budget is debated, and passed, with education receiving a much too small slice of the fiscal pie. The call from the capital is loud and clear. They don’t care about education. 

Less than 10 percent of 2011 federal spending will go to education, US$223 million of the total $2.4 billion budget. A quick sampling of the world shows just how pathetic this is. Mexico, whose fight against drug lords is costing billions in security spending and draining the tourism industry, uses 24.3 percent of its budget on education spending. Iran, a country facing rampant unemployment comparable to Cambodia, spends 17.7 percent of its allocated budget on education. South Africa, whose population is suffering from HIV/AIDS at the highest rate in the world, is still able to spend 18.5 percent of its budget on schools. Even Russia, which regularly faces international criticism for being a failed state run by a small group of oligarchs, easily beats Cambodia’s education spending with 11.5 percent of their budget flowing into academia. 

The government is not wholly responsible of course. The private institutions (most of which are owned by power brokers who also hold an official position in the government) are also to blame for luring students to their buildings, which they call universities, and failing to make good on their end of the deal. They too can save face by claiming to be short on funding, but if that is the problem, perhaps the best option is shutting the doors before teenagers and their mostly middle-class families fork over hundreds of dollars hoping for future returns that will never be realised.

But, of course, the government is also responsible for oversight of the private sector, so regardless of who is steering the country’s hollow private universities (there are some good ones out there, just not many), the buck stops with the regulatory boards and watchdog agencies, overseen by the council of ministers and education ministry, which have received millions in the past few years to bring accountability to a university network that is run not by educators but by backroom brokers and businessmen, who were most likely subject to the same copycat education, if they had the luxury of formal schooling at all, that they are now profiting from. 

If Cambodia’s government truly wants to set up the Kingdom for a better future, it will happen in classrooms where students are taught to be critical thinkers and innovative, productive members of society. Counting the number of degrees handed out in the hollow halls that label themselves as universities means nothing. Cambodia’s government needs to lead the way in improving the country’s attitude and ethics around education. First by giving schools enough money to provide the essentials of a modern-day education and then by raising teacher salaries so that education can actually be a career choice, rather than the last resort. 

Education drives progress in all parts of society. The government must begin to refuel Cambodia’s empty tank or it will suck its own people dry.
(source from phnompenhpost newspaper, 
WEDNESDAY, 20 APRIL 2011 15:01
 TIVEA KOAM AND COLIN MEYN) 

Helicopters Cambodia purchased


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Photo Supplied
A helicopter sporting the branding of Helicopters New Zealand sits on the tarmac.

Hopefully it will result in an upgrade of our business


A Canadian firm announced it will buy the parent company of Helicopters Cambodia for US$126 million, a move one company official hoped would result in an upgrade of the business.

Canadian Helicopters Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian Helicopters Group, negotiated a deal during last week with the ailing South Canterbury Finance for its Helicopters New Zealand subsidiary, which included its subordinate business Helicopters Cambodia.

Kevin Treloar, General Manager at Helicopters Cambodia, applauded the deal, saying his company now had access to CHL’s broad base of equipment and expertise, which included 122 helicopters and a flight training school.

That in turn could help to improve Helicopters Cambodia’s operations, he said.

“We’ll be exploring any opportunity, and hopefully it will result in an upgrade of our business,” he said, but adding that it’s “too early to tell” how those upgrades may play out.

Treloar also pointed to the “very positive synergies between the two groups,” namely their complementary seasonal operations and extensive histories as utility helicopter services companies.

CHL operates in Canada mainly between May and October, but now the company will extend its business throughout the year thanks to HNZ, which has bases in Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia and Laos, he said.

Both companies have been flying at least 50 years, according to their websites.

Canadian Helicopters President and Chief Executive Officer Don Wall called the acquisition a “transformational investment” for his company.

“Acquiring HNZ will assist in providing greater stability as it extends the arm of CHL’s existing operations in Canada, the United States and Afghanistan,” where it supports United States efforts there, he said in a statement.

“HNZ … will be a significant part of CHL’s growth plan as we look to the future,” he said.

HNZ owns 33 helicopters and serves a number of industries, including oil, mining exploration and tourism. In the twelve months ending December 31, 2010, the company earned NZ$28 million (US$22.1 million) before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation, according to a statement from CHL.

The sale comes as South Canterbury Finance sells assets as part of a receivership set up by the New Zealand government, which brokered a US$1.26 billion bailout for the lender back in August.

According to a statement from McGrathNicol, receivers of South Canterbury, CHL was selected “through a competitive sale process” that started after the receivership was established.
(source from Phnompenhpost newspaper, 
WEDNESDAY, 20 APRIL 2011 15:01
 TOM BRENNAN) 


At the time the receivership was announced, Kevin Treloar said his company was unaffected.

Yesterday, he reiterated that point, saying that beyond the potential benefits of the deal he sees no downside for Helicopters Cambodia.

“It’s basically business as usual,” he said.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Royal Group receives right to launch first Cambodia satellite

ROYAL Group received a concession to launch Cambodia’s first satellite into orbit, creating what the company sees as another integral step forward for the ASEAN economy, officials said yesterday.

Cambodian Satellite 1 is set to launch in the first quarter of 2013, and cost between US$250 million and $350 million to build and put in orbit, serving phone, television and other multimedia customers, Royal Group Chairman Kith Meng said yesterday.

“It’s trade in the sky rather than trade on the ground,” he said, adding the satellite will benefit ASEAN as a whole, as member states will be able to lease satellite services from the Kingdom, further driving the region’s economy.

The satellite is set to be launched by Royal Group subsidiary Royal Blue Skies, after receiving the concession from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications on Wednesday.

Kith Meng said the government is “fully supporting” the project, adding Prime Minister Hun Sen had lent his approval to the efforts.

Royal Group Chief Financial Officer Mark Hanna said that country-to-country business was part of the company’s overall plan for the satellite.

There will be a huge demand for bandwidth coming out of Asia in the future, driven by high-definition television and the internet, and the added capacity via satellite will help meet that demand, he said.

The firm plans to first sell services into the Cambodian market, and then branch out into Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and other ASEAN nations.

“We see it as very positive for the future, but it’s going to take time,” he said.

The satellite’s launch was touted as an important development for Cambodia.

“It gives the country security over its international transmission, communications and everything. So it is very, very important for the country,” Mark Hanna said.

Kith Meng declined to provide details of the satellite itself citing security reasons, but he did confirm that Royal Group was working with a number of manufacturers to build it.

The potential costs would depend upon the final build, he said, adding that Royal Group is working with different sources to generate the necessary financing. A second announcement will be made once that process is complete.

Kith Meng said the satellite will offer Cambodia some autonomy, allowing the Kingdom to operate its own satellite rather than lease services from other providers.

And with Thailand and Vietnam having their own, and Laos intending to launch one, there’s no reason for Cambodia to not have one as well, he said.

“I think it’s the right time for Cambodia to shoot its own satellite in … orbit,” he said.

“It’s good for Cambodia as a nation that we have the ability to launch the satellite. Not just for [Royal Group] but also for the country,” he continued. “And we should all be proud of that.”

Minister of Post and Telecommunications So Khun confirmed yesterday that the concession had been granted, but declined to discuss the matter further. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THET SAMBATH

(source from Phnompenhpost, ROYAL Group received a concession to launch Cambodia’s first satellite into orbit, creating what the company sees as another integral step forward for the ASEAN economy, officials said yesterday. 

Cambodian Satellite 1 is set to launch in the first quarter of 2013, and cost between US$250 million and $350 million to build and put in orbit, serving phone, television and other multimedia customers, Royal Group Chairman Kith Meng said yesterday.

“It’s trade in the sky rather than trade on the ground,” he said, adding the satellite will benefit ASEAN as a whole, as member states will be able to lease satellite services from the Kingdom, further driving the region’s economy.

The satellite is set to be launched by Royal Group subsidiary Royal Blue Skies, after receiving the concession from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications on Wednesday.

Kith Meng said the government is “fully supporting” the project, adding Prime Minister Hun Sen had lent his approval to the efforts.

Royal Group Chief Financial Officer Mark Hanna said that country-to-country business was part of the company’s overall plan for the satellite.

There will be a huge demand for bandwidth coming out of Asia in the future, driven by high-definition television and the internet, and the added capacity via satellite will help meet that demand, he said.

The firm plans to first sell services into the Cambodian market, and then branch out into Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and other ASEAN nations.

“We see it as very positive for the future, but it’s going to take time,” he said.

The satellite’s launch was touted as an important development for Cambodia.

“It gives the country security over its international transmission, communications and everything. So it is very, very important for the country,” Mark Hanna said.

Kith Meng declined to provide details of the satellite itself citing security reasons, but he did confirm that Royal Group was working with a number of manufacturers to build it.

The potential costs would depend upon the final build, he said, adding that Royal Group is working with different sources to generate the necessary financing. A second announcement will be made once that process is complete.

Kith Meng said the satellite will offer Cambodia some autonomy, allowing the Kingdom to operate its own satellite rather than lease services from other providers.

And with Thailand and Vietnam having their own, and Laos intending to launch one, there’s no reason for Cambodia to not have one as well, he said.

“I think it’s the right time for Cambodia to shoot its own satellite in … orbit,” he said.

“It’s good for Cambodia as a nation that we have the ability to launch the satellite. Not just for [Royal Group] but also for the country,” he continued. “And we should all be proud of that.”

Minister of Post and Telecommunications So Khun confirmed yesterday that the concession had been granted, but declined to discuss the matter further. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THET SAMBATH
(source from phnompenhpost newspaper, 
MONDAY, 18 APRIL 2011 15:00
 TOM BRENNAN)

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