Reinforcing National Capacity for the Conservation of Cultural Monuments: The Project of Assistance to the Royal University of Fine Arts

In partnership with the Government of Japan and the Toyota Foundation, UNESCO supports the Faculties of Archaeology and Architecture and Urbanism of the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) with an aim to develop the existing human resources for the preservation of cultural heritage. Since 1993, UNESCO has worked with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to improve teaching quality and enhance student learning. Increasing attention is being paid to modernise existing management system with the long-term objective of assisting RUFA to attain a greater level of self-sustainability.

This institution was originally established in 1917 as the "Khemarak School of Arts" and then transformed into the Royal University of Fine Arts in 1965. Closed in 1975 at the beginning of the Khmer Rouge Regime, it re-opened in 1980 as the School of Fine Arts, regaining university status once again in 1988. It has five departments (Architecture and Urbanism, Archaeology, Choreographic Arts, Music and Visual Arts) although the majority of higher education degree-level students are in the two faculties of Archaeology and Architecture. The student body numbers approximately 1400 students.

As part of international efforts to assist Cambodia in reconstructing its social fabric and institutions, the UNESCO/Japan Funds-in-Trust project for the capacity building of RUFA originally began in October 1993 as a training project for the Department of Archaeology. The courses taught during this first phase of the project focused on conservation sciences and museology.

After a one-year break, the project re-started with the addition of a programme for the Department of Architecture and Urbanism in the 1995-1996 academic year and, from October 1995 to September 1998, a new project was conceived and implemented each year. In the 1996-97 academic year the project saw a new arrangement, involving collaboration with the Toyota Foundation (Japan) and the Japan Foundation Asia Centre (Japan) for recruitment of teaching staff, and monitoring and evaluation of the project. In the 1997-1998 academic year, the localisation of the project was further promoted by increasing the number of Cambodian teaching staff employed. In 1998, it was felt that a long-term strategy was required to achieve significant and sustainable improvements in the academic standards of the University.

Then, at the request of the Japanese Government, UNESCO prepared a new project covering three academic years, from 1998 to 2001. The three-year project plan sought to address the existing long-term needs and consolidate the progress achieved over the previous four years. It was also intended to complement the programmes established by the national authorities in close co-operation with other donors. The total contribution of the donor for the 1998-2001 period was USD 1,487,668. The number of students who benefited from this project was around 370 per year. After the completion of the three-year project, the Japanese government approved the extension of the project for one more academic year (2001-2002) in the same form.

Over the last years, the project has contributed to improve teaching quality and enhance student learning through the recruitment of qualified international lecturers and teaching assistants. In 2001-2002, six international lecturers, sixteen national lecturers, eleven teaching assistants, two department advisors, two department co-ordinators, one language co-ordinator and one library advisor were recruited. Subjects are taught in a preparatory year followed by level one, two, three and four, the final year consisting of a dissertation presented under supervision by international lecturers. Students undertake 36 hours of class contact per week in a wide variety of subjects such as art history, pre-history, cultural artefacts, laboratory sessions, field study preparation, construction and design, urban renewal, site management, drawing, sculpture, portraiture, anthropology, research methods, history of Southeast Asia, philosophy and sociology.

In addition, in the framework of the project, UNESCO has provided in-house workshop training for the staff of the Royal University of Fine Arts, particularly national lecturers, teaching assistants and administrative staff. Funds have been also provided for the organisation of foreign language courses both for national staff and students, for field training, and for the acquisition of books, journals, teaching materials and equipment.

It is worth noting that the project was assessed from 11 to 24 March 2002 in the form of an independent evaluation. The evaluators noted that the performance of the students at the end of their studies is remarkable. In particular, many RUFA graduates are taking important roles in the conservation programmes of Cambodian cultural heritage. The evaluators also made a number of recommendations to increase the effectiveness of the project in future years, especially with the view of ensuring the greater sustainability of the Royal University of Fine Arts. Following the finalisation of the last project, negotiations are presently being held between the three main stakeholders, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the donor and UNESCO, for the formulation of a new project document. It is expected that the project may start a new phase for the academic year 2003-2004.

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