The First Buddhist Higher Educational Institution in Cambodia

Ven. Prof. Preah Tepsattha Khy Sovanratana (M.A.), Vice-Rector, Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 Historical Background

            Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University was founded on 1st July, 1954, under the royal patronage of King-father Norodom Sihanouk, then the King of Cambodia. It was the only educational institution providing higher Buddhist education to monk students. It was the third oldest Buddhist University in the world. Its first Rector was Venerable Huot Tath, who held the ecclesiastical title Samdech Bodhivamsa (Rajagana First Class), and who was also the Director General of Buddhist Education.[2] The founding of this Buddhist University was the direct result of the Venerable Huot Tath's proposal to the King about the re-organizing of Buddhist education after the country regained national independence on 9th November 1953.

            The Buddhist University began by providing Buddhist upper-secondary education to monk students and continued to offer Bachelor's degree courses while still maintaining the former. With the admission of only 40 students for each academic year, the University was able to maintain high academic standard. The graduates possessed so good knowledge of Pali that some of them had also played an important role in the Tripitaka Translation Commission which undertook the herculean task of translating Pali Tripitaka into Khmer language. However, the translation was successfully done in 110 volumes, one page in Pali and one page in Khmer. The publication task which was undertaken by the Buddhist Institute, Phnom Penh, was completed in total in 1969. The translation was highly regarded by intellectuals and scholars, and Cambodia was the first country to have a complete translation of Pali Tripitaka into its national language.               

Unfortunately, after civil war broke out following the coup d'état on March 17, 1970, the Buddhist University, like other institutions in the country, faced unexpected hardship and difficulties. Its allocated budget was not provided and in due course conditions became so dire that it had to be closed down in 1972. During the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), the Buddhist University met with the worst period of its existence; it received heavy losses and destruction.

            The present structure of the University started in 1997, eight years after the first Buddhist primary school was re-established. The University began by offering the Buddhist upper-secondary education, and proceeded to offer Bachelor's degree in 1999. For the first three academic years, it was able to maintain only one Faculty, the Faculty of Buddhist Studies, for which a competitive entrance examination was conducted to select 50 students each year.

            In response to the demands of the yearly increase in the number of applicants, the University created the Faculty of Education Science in 2002. This also selects 50 students annually. Therefore, from 2002, a hundred of students are selected for each academic year.

            On January 23, 2006, Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University was upgraded by a sub-degree of the Royal Government of Cambodia to be a full-fledged university, with the addition of two more Faculties and a Center[3]. Consequently from academic year 2006, the University was able to select 200 students each year.



            The main objectives of the Buddhist University are as follows[4]:

            1. To provide Cambodian Buddhist monks with in-depth knowledge of

    Buddhism, Pali and relevant fields.

            2. To train Cambodian monks to become qualified teachers and leaders, who

    have wisdom and skills to provide guidance and counseling to the people

3. To train Cambodian monks to become intellectuals and scholars who would

    form an important part of the national human resources.

            4. To uplift morality and peace among communities and nations.

            5. To preserve and promote Buddha's teachings in Cambodia and abroad.

            6. To encourage the practice of Buddha's teachings in people's life.


Organizational Structure

            Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University is headed by a Rector and five Vice-Rectors, who are responsible for different sections:

1.  Vice-Rector for Administration

2. Vice-Rector for Finance and Planning

3. Vice-Rector for Academic and Students' Affairs

4. Vice-Rector for Public Relations and Research

5. Vice-Rector for Technical Work


Currently the Buddhist University consists of four Faculties and a Center as follows:

1.  Faculty of Philosophy and Religions

2. Faculty of Education and Information Technology

3. Faculty of Khmer Literature

4. Faculty of Pali-Sanskrit and Foreign Languages, and

5. Center of Teacher Training

Each Faculty is headed by a Dean and Deputy Deans. It consists of a few Departments.

At present, there are 35 non academic staff members and 48 academic staff members[5].



            The Buddhist University is offering students Bachelor's degree courses in four majors of study, namely, Buddhist Philosophy, Education, Pali Language and Khmer Literature. For all these majors, Vinaya Pitaka, Suttanta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka are compulsory subjects, especially in first year and second year. Besides the subjects according to the majors, other relevant subjects are also taught. They are: Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Sociology, Introduction to Economics, Introduction to Political Science, Introduction to Psychology, and Introduction to Law, English Language and French Language.

            The Buddhist University has paid serious attention to Pali studies. Therefore, in 2006, a Bachelor of Arts degree course in Pali was started with the aim to produce Pali teachers and scholars to cater to the increasing demands of Pali teachers from Buddhist secondary and upper-Secondary schools.

            The Credit System has been followed by the Buddhist University in conformity with the rules and regulations of the Ministry of Education. Students are required to complete the amount of Credits in order to graduate from the University. Should any student fails any subject, he/she will have to repeat the same subject or sit for a qualifying paper.

            As stated above, all applicants for a Bachelor of Arts degree has to pass the competitive entrance examination in order to be admitted. The examination consists of four papers, namely, Buddhism, General Knowledge, Pali and English.

The Buddhist University has now 403 monk-students studying in the four Faculties. Meanwhile, 115 students were already graduated with Bachelor of Arts degree in Buddhist Philosophy and Education from the University. Some of the graduates have now become teachers at Buddhist secondary schools. Some others are pursuing their Master degrees at various universities both in the country and abroad. For the academic year 2007-2008, it will conduct entrance examination to select 440.

As the number of monk students who complete the Buddhist upper-secondary education is increasing year by year, the Ministry of Cults and Religion has plan to establish branches of the Buddhist University in three major provinces, i.e. Kompong Cham in North-eastern Cambodia, Battambang in Western Cambodia, and Kompong Chhnang in Central Cambodia.

The University has a plan to offer Master of Arts program in Buddhist Studies  in the near future.



            Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, with its long history, is the first Buddhist University in Cambodia. Before it was closed down in 1972, it was the premier University in the country and its educational standard was well recognized nationally and internationally. Buddhist monks from Laos and Vietnam came to study there.

            With regards to the present structure, it was reopened in 1997 and started to conduct Bachelor of Arts degree only in 1999. This makes it one of the newest Buddhist higher educational institutions in the region. However, right now the university is progressing very well under the state support. The number of staff and students are also increasing significantly all the time. We hope that it will become once again an important seat of learning and practice, and be able to contribute to the promotion of Buddhism, and to the social development in Cambodia.    

[1] Presented at the International Conference of Theravada Buddhist Universities held at the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, Yagon, and at Poppa Mountain Resort, Pagan, Myanmar, 9th - 12th March, 2007

[2] Toasanavadey Buddhika Siksa (Buddhist Studies Journal). 1959. Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, Phnom Penh, p. 14

[3] Source obtained from Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University. 2006. Phnom Penh

[4] Chhorn Iem (2000); The Curriculum of the Preah Sihanouk Raj Buddhist University (Unpublished), Phnom Penh

[5] Annual report of Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, 2006-2007, Phnom Penh