Education Key for Cambodia, Says UK Envoy

In a recent interview with Cambodianess, Williams said the UK was ready to cooperate with Cambodia in other potential areas such as financial services and insurance, which are important areas for UK expertise to strengthen the economy. Photo: Chhorn Sophat

PHNOM PENH – Education is the key to Cambodian development and an important sector which could boost ties with the UK, British Ambassador to Cambodia Dominic Williams says.

Strengthening STEM and agriculture could also help Cambodia move forward as it plans to become a middle-income country in 2030.

In a recent interview with Cambodianess, Williams said the UK was ready to cooperate with Cambodia in other potential areas such as financial services and insurance, which are important areas for UK expertise to strengthen the economy.

He said middle-income status represented a challenge for Cambodia as it would eventually lose some preferential trade treatment it enjoys as developing country. Cambodia needs new investment and the population needs knowledge, he said.

Britain could help with scholarships, financial assistance for development and with the private sector to boost economic activities in sectors including industry and agriculture.

Williams believed that Cambodian investment in education is a must in this global economy along with the promotion of what are already high-quality agricultural products.

“I think Cambodia should invest in STEM education, technical education,” he said adding that Cambodia should also find ways to add more value to its agricultural products.

Cambodian fruit and vegetables were of good quality but the country lost revenue because it did not have its own processing plants.

“If Cambodia has the capacity and technology to process fruits and vegetables, it can sell to the world at a higher price, then generate higher income.”

Agriculture and financial services potential

Cambodian and Britain established diplomatic relations in 1953 and next year the relationship turns 70.

The ambassador said the two countries had maintained good relations over seven decades, with Britain supporting Cambodia in peacekeeping missions, financing demining activities and providing assistance for the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders.

“Currently, we have a deep relationship and I think the two governments give priority to strengthening trade relations between the two countries,” he said.

He also thanked Cambodia for helping Britain become an ASEAN dialogue partner in 2021.

Two-way trade reached 811 million pounds (over $994 million) in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022. Of that, the UK exported 174 million pounds (more than $213) and Cambodia exported to the United Kingdom 637 million pounds (more than 780 million dollars), according to a report by the British Department of International Trade in November.

On boosting trade, Williams noted the potential in financial services, education, infrastructure, agriculture and insurance. He said the UK has many companies with a lot of experience in infrastructure around the world, while Cambodia needs to develop this sector.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities in the financial services sector,” he said.

“The United Kingdom is a world power in financial services. We have a large financial market and extensive experience in insurance and other services. And we can work with Cambodia to strengthen this economic sector in Cambodia, because at present, financial services in Cambodia are not very developed.”

In addition, he would like to see Cambodia able to process high-value products for export to European and US markets, as well as cooperation in the field of electric vehicles and machinery.

Education a priority

In the interview, Williams has repeatedly stressed the importance of education in Cambodia's development and in strengthening cooperation. When asked what the UK could do for Cambodia in this area, he said education was a top priority for his mission.

“The UK has a world-renowned reputation for education. We have many good quality educational institutions.” There were three education areas in which Britain can help Cambodia.

Britain had many scholarships, such as the Chevening and British Council scholarships. Every UK university has its own scholarships for foreign students. In addition, British educational institutions in Cambodia give young Cambodians a chance to get a standard English education. These include The King's School, Canterbury and Shrewsbury School.

Private British companies also provide educational products and services.  The Cambodian government can work with experienced British companies to strengthen the sector.

‘I want the Cambodian people to remember me as an ambassador who loves Cambodia’

Williams presented his credentials to King Norodom Sihamoni in November. His dream is for Cambodian people to remember him as an ambassador who loves Cambodia and works on issues that are important to them.  

He also wants strengthen trade and economic ties between the countries, as this would provide more jobs and income for the Cambodian people. He supports the rights of all people, especially children, women, LGBT, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

“Finally, I want to increase the reputation of the United Kingdom in Cambodia and the reputation of Cambodia in the United Kingdom as well,” he said.

Williams arrived in Cambodia in March after studying the Khmer language for 18 months. In addition to regular classes, he studied by watching Khmer documentaries with English subtitles and listening to radio broadcasts in Khmer on VOA and VOD.

After arrival, he went to Siem Reap to continue studying Khmer before officially taking up the job. It was there that he sharpened his language skill.

“I had the opportunity to practice with many Cambodians in the cafeteria, at the learning center and on the street. I have the opportunity to apply what I have learned before,” he said.

Speaking Khmer would help him stay in touch with the Cambodian people, be able to talk to them in person and learn more about their culture.

On social media, he often uses the Khmer language in his posts or short videos.

He also knows about the news in Cambodia and says there is a difference between English and Khmer versions. 

“I received a warm welcome when we met. They found that I could speak Khmer and everyone wanted to talk to me in Khmer. I think it helps me a lot in my work to strengthen the relationship between the two countries,” he added.

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