Fourteen years after the introduction of the prestigious Chevening Scholarship to study in the UK, a group of scholars and fellows in 2007 formed the BCAAC (British Chevening Alumni Association of Cambodia) to bring together all of those who had gained higher education through the institution, or been part of a senior management exchange programme. “Currently we have 96 Chevening scholars and fellowship alumni,” explains Oum Syvan, the president of group.
“The purpose of the association is to keep networking among our members in country and outside the country, to promote public understanding of the benefits and participation in the programme, to facilitate and to coordinate among Chevening members with other alumni associations, government institutions, investors from UK and in the country and to participate in social activities that serve the community.” Syvan said the BCACC actively maintains communication and keeps graduates who return to Cambodia with one eye on international options.
It’s estimated some 650 Cambodian students study in France each year, with 100 scholarships provided by the French government and its partners, or through private sponsorship.
The Chevening alumni are not alone, however, with other similar clubs forming over time. One of the more recent to launch, France Alumni Cambodia, in November 2015, is for all Cambodians who have studied in France. It is backed by the French government, with 70 inter-university partnerships currently in place between the two countries and an estimated 7,000 Cambodian students enrolled in French-speaking curricula around the world in 2015.
Plans for the partnership between France and Cambodia looking forward have changed, according to Michael Gras, head of research and higher education at the French embassy’s Service for Cooperation and Culture, with the focus to shift away somewhat from large scale projects to focus more on “offering tools to support Cambodians and let Cambodians lead the changes, with the embassy supporting where possible.”
It’s estimated some 650 Cambodian students study in France each year, with 100 scholarships provided by the French government and its partners, or through private sponsorship. Gras says the alumni network was serving as a tool for Cambodians to connect among themselves after returning home, and for them to maintain contact with their professional network in France, or wherever they had studied. “Opportunities will arise through the online groups and the site will have a dedicated magazine with fresh content, which will help new students coming to study in France.”
The rise of the number of alumni groups in the country can quickly be assessed by looking at the participating groups at the Global Alumni Convention (GAC) in Phnom Penh this January, where stakeholders lined up to exhibit and speak. The convention was “designed around the themes of reconnecting with learning, knowledge-sharing, and being inspired to fulfil education, professional, and business potential,” says the event website.
Vinich Vireak, a recent graduate of Royal University of Phnom Penh’s department of foreign languages, became a member of YSEALI: Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative and of FUSAAC: Fulbright and Undergraduate State Alumni Association of Cambodia in 2013 after returning from a YSEALI-sponsored six week trip to the US for a climate change programme. She said that getting involved with these groups had created untold benefits.
Alumni members benefit from an intricate network system that allows them to see all available employment opportunities and get strong recommendations from a group or from individuals that are familiar with the candidate through the alumni network.
“For me, the networking and opportunities to develop working relationships, identify people in networks and seek advice are great, as is having access to mentors for new graduates.”
But while alumni groups are a great platform for candidates to network and develop skills through mentoring, they do not equate to guaranteed employment, according to Sereyleak Prom, managing consultant at Saint Blanquant & A. “Employment really depends on the skills you can bring to the table.” Alumni members do, however, “benefit from an intricate network system that allows them to see all available employment opportunities and get strong recommendations from a group or from individuals that are familiar with the candidate through the alumni network,” she adds.
Gras speaks highly of the alumni groups, urging students to make the most of their international education by registering to be a member as soon as possible and utilise the network from the moment they arrive. “Don’t wait to come back to register with alumni, as soon as you are in France use the network and share information on where to go, where to eat, and network with other alumni to will help lessen culture shock. You can use it to get advice from peers who have been through it all.”
Words by Steve Noble | Illustration by Hamid Saatchi