Education In Laos Feels The Financial Squeeze As Premier Wants Booze Out Of The Mix
Some students in Lao universities and teachers in central Laos are feeling a financial squeeze as scholarship students are facing increased fees while some high school teachers are still waiting for paychecks, RFA’s Lao Service has learned.
Students in pedagogical college and the Souphanouvong University in Luang Prabang province are questioning why they are being required to pay the fees while they are on scholarships that are supposed to cover the costs.
“I do not understand why the scholarship students have to pay the annual fees,” said a student on scholarship who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to the student, freshmen on scholarships are now being charged 200,000 kip (U.S. $24.60); sophomores 400,000 kip ($49.20); juniors 600,000 kip ($73.80); and seniors 900,000 kip ($112).
In general students receiving a scholarship are provided with a 70,000 kip ($8.61) per month stipend to cover living expenses.
In addition, the scholarship students in the four-year Souphanouvong University pay annual fees of 500,000 kip ($61.50), but they receive stipend of 200,000 kip per ($24.60) per month.
Non-scholarship students in the Souphanouvong University and the pedagogical college pay the annual fees of almost 2 million kip ($246).
Education officials told RFA that the fees are necessary to offset the rising costs of education.
“They have to pay higher fees annually because the cost for a credit-hour has increased year by year,” explained a professor at one of the pedagogical colleges, who requested anonymity.
Deputy Education Minister Kongsy Sengmany told RFA that scholarship students aren’t paying an annual fee, but are being charged to cover the costs of registration.
“The scholarship students do not pay annual fees, but they must get paid a monthly living allowance,” he said. “They are charged only for registration costs in accordance with the principles.”
Teaching with no pay
While scholarship students are being squeezed with new charges, teachers in the secondary schools in the Nakai district of the central Lao province of Khammuane haven’t been paid since July.
“The problem is that we have not been paid salaries since July. Now it is October, which is the new academic year, and we do not know financial details,” said an official with the district’s education and sports office. “Finance officials tell us they are processing the documents, but sometimes they tell us that the documents [on salary payment] are incomplete.”
“We do not know where the documents are delayed because the officials of education and sports department throughout the district have the same problem,” the official added.
The pay problem isn’t confined to just the Khammuane province as local media report that teachers of primary schools in Soukhouma district in Champassak province have not been paid salaries since August.
No more booze in school
While scholarship students fret about higher fees and teachers worry about their pay, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith during a speech on Oct. 7 said he wants entertainment venues, beer shops and gaming machines removed from areas near schools.
“In Laos there are many entertainment and beer shops opened near schools throughout the country, and it is not unusual to find that beer and alcoholic drinks are available everywhere,” a resident of the Lao capital of Vientiane told RFA.
While the resident applauded the prime minister’s call, he wondered how it could be done without a government decree.
“The thing is, how can the relevant officials implement the measures to remove them?” the resident said. “To do that effectively, the prime minister should issue a decree or moratorium.”
Alcohol consumption in Laos is a huge issue as the country ranks at the top of all Southeast Asian nations for per capita alcohol consumption, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to a 2013 WHO study an average of 7 liters of alcohol is consumed per person per year in Laos.
Laos has many ethnic groups and each has its own traditions and culture but alcohol plays an important role throughout Lao society, the survey found.