A Lao Ministry of Education official says only 1,700 secondary school graduates will be able to pursue higher education at the country's three national universities in the 2008-09 academic year, out of more than 24,000 students who took the entrance exam.
Mr. Phetsamone Khounsavath, Vice Rector of Laos' National University, adds that the 1,700 freshmen will be spread out as follows: 1,000 going to the National University at Dong Dok, Vientiane, 300 going to the campus in Champassack province, and 400 to Souphannouvong University in Luang Prabang.
He also says some 45,000 students graduated from high schools across the country in the 2007-08 academic year, which means that the majority will have to content themselves with public vocational schools or study in private colleges and universities. According to Lao education authorities, some 13,000 graduates will have no opportunity to pursue higher education because they cannot afford to or there is no more room to accommodate them in any of the higher learning institutions.
Minister of Education Somkot Mangnohmek says his government is well aware of the problem and is planning to expand educational opportunities to Lao youth at all levels in the 2008-09 scholastic year, aiming at an increase rate of 14.6% for pre-schoolers, 87.9% for elementary students, 67.6% for junior high school students, and 44.2% for high school students. Overall, the government is aiming at raising the student/population ratio to 1,122/100,000.
At the same time, the Minister acknowledges the low quality of the nation's education system due to budget constraints and myriads of chronic problems - among them, lack of transparency in examination, certification fraud, corruption among officials who take money from students, as well as substance abuse among young students.
Listen to Songrit's report for more details in Lao.