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Cambodia’s Legal Education

The following is a guest post by Pichrotanak Bunthan, a legal research fellow with the Law Library of Congress, who is working under the supervision of Sayuri Umeda, a foreign law specialist covering Japan and other jurisdictions in East and Southeast Asia.

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo by Flickr user Daniel Mennerich. Oct. 20, 2016. Used under creative commons license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

History and Background of Higher Education in Cambodia

Cambodia’s education system, including legal education, had to be reinvented after 1979 as it was completely destroyed, along with the legal system, as part of the Cambodian genocide period (1975–1979) under the Khmer Rouge regime. After that period, several pre-genocide institutions have reopened and new institutions have been established. All higher education institutions were public and without tuition fees until 1997, when the government permitted private investment in the education industry, giving rise to a proliferation of private universities. At the same time, tuition fees were introduced at public universities. (William et al., pp. 169 & 175.)

To safeguard the quality of education, in 2002, the Cambodian government issued a sub-decree that introduced requirements to incorporate a new university. This was later supplemented by a Prakas issued in 2007 by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS), a primary regulating body for education in Cambodia. In addition, the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia, established by a royal decree in 2003, operates and manages the accreditation system for all higher education institutions in Cambodia to ensure that they conform with international standards. As a result of a reform in 2005, which was intended to provide students with general knowledge in different areas, all universities must adopt a year-long foundational program. In this program, students take similar courses in their first year of all four-year bachelor programs regardless of their majors. (William et al., p. 171.)

With these development efforts, Cambodia currently has 128 higher educational institutions (48 public and 80 private), according to a 2021 report by the MoEYS. About 80% of these institutions are concentrated in Phnom Penh as it is the nation’s capital and the most populous city, also the country’s economic, industrial, and cultural center. The oldest and most well-established universities are public institutions, which tend to focus on, and thus are strongly recognized for, a specific sector. (William et al., p. 169.) For example, Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE), a public university established in 1949 and the first law school in Cambodia, is widely recognized as the country’s leading law school. Other public institutions, such as Royal University of Fine Arts, Royal University of Agriculture, Royal University of Phnom Penh, University of Health Sciences, and Institute of Technology of Cambodia, are also reputable in their respective fields.

Enrollment requirements depend on each university and each program. In most cases, high school graduates can enroll in any program at any university of their choice. However, due to the high demand, a few distinguished programs require applicants to sit for an entrance exam before being selected for admission. For example, the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, Institute of Foreign Languages, and University of Health Sciences have very competitive entrance exams. Applicants also need to take a foreign language test if classes are taught in a foreign language.

It is quite common for some students to undertake more than one program simultaneously at the same or different universities. (William et al., p. 174.) This is possible because of the way Cambodian universities structure their class schedules. Generally, when a student enrolls in a program, the student can choose to take the morning session or the afternoon session. Some programs are also offered in the evenings to accommodate people who work full-time.

Legal Education

Currently, legal education in Cambodia starts at the undergraduate level, where more than 20 law schools provide four-year Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree programs. Almost all of them are private schools with only a few public universities. In the 2019-2020 academic year, there were around 18,400 enrolled undergraduate law students, accounting for approximately 7% of all undergraduate students in the same academic year. (MoEYS, pp. 102 & 104.) Among all law schools, only about eight universities offer Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees, and about four universities offer Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degrees. Class sizes vary from school to school and program to program, but lectures are the adopted teaching method in most programs.

Law Programs in Foreign Languages and Dual Degrees

While most programs are conducted in the local Khmer language, several institutions offer law degrees with foreign languages, such as English, French, and Japanese, as the languages of instruction. Some law programs also award students with dual degrees, allowing students to receive an additional degree from a university abroad. The partnership universities may dispatch visiting professors to teach students in person in Cambodia for a full semester or more. Alternatively, a visiting professor may stay in Cambodia for a few weeks and complete an intensive course schedule. A professor in Cambodia and another professor from the partnership university may jointly teach a class in person and online, respectively.

For example, RULE has a variety of foreign-language law programs, such as the prestigious English Language Based Bachelor of Law (ELBBL) program. RULE also offers various dual LL.B. and LL.M. degrees in French and English with many European universities, including France’s University of Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas and University of Lyon 3 Jean Moulin. The National University of Management (NUM), Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia (PUC), and University of Cambodia (UC) also have English-language law programs. The American University of Phnom Penh (AUPP) has an English-language dual-degree Bachelor of Arts in Law with the University of Arizona.

Active Participation in International Moot Court Competitions

A few universities have international moot court programs in which students may participate. For instance, Cambodian teams have competed in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition (Jessup) since 2009. I participated in the Jessup competition when I was attending the ELBBL program at RULE, and the ELBBL program has achieved numerous awards, including awards for an octo-finalist (top-16 team) and the second best-combined memorials. Cambodian law schools, including RULE-ELBBL and NUM, also participate in other major international moot court competitions, such as the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration moot, Willem C. Vis (East) moot, ICRC International Humanitarian Law moot, IBA International Criminal Court moot, Jean-Pictet, Nelson Mandela World Human Rights moot, Nuremberg moot, and Oxford International Intellectual Property moot.

Clinics and Centers

Some universities, including RULE, NUM, PUC, and UC, have legal clinic programs for students to practice their lawyering skills. Further, a few universities also have research centers, such as RULE-ELBBL’s Center for the Study of Humanitarian Law.

Tuition

Tuition fees in Cambodian law schools are much lower than those in other countries, especially the United States. For example, the tuition fee for ELBBL, the most expensive undergraduate law program at RULE, is only about USD 800 each year. Private school AUPP’s dual degree in law is probably the most expensive undergraduate law degree program in the country, costing about USD 9,000 a year. On top of having low tuition costs, most universities offer scholarships for students, with some variations in form, such as needs-based or merit-based scholarships and full or partial ones.

Teachers Training College, Royal University of Phnom Penh. Photo by Flickr user antjeverena. Jan. 12, 2011. Used under creative commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

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