Ian Findlay: Striving for an Ideal Cambodian Future

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Image: Ian Findlay: Striving for an Ideal Cambodian Future

In an era where education is the foundation of development and progress, remarkable transformations in the educational realm can have profound impacts on society.

The preparation of a knowledgeable and flexible workforce depends on the never-ending quest for excellence, creativity in teaching and learning, and the alignment of educational outcomes with international standards.

The pursuit of progress not only amplifies personal prospects but also nurtures wider social progress, generating a cascade of effects that transcends national boundaries.

When educational leaders and institutions work to achieve these goals, their actions can set a powerful inspirational example for others, encouraging them to see the possibilities for improvement and transformation in their educational systems.

Professor Ian Findlay is a renowned name among these leaders. 

He was appointed President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Puthisastra (UP), Cambodia in August 2018.

Since then, and despite the huge hurdles of Covid and many universities facing financial ruin, UP university applications are up 55%, revenue is up 136%, total profit is up 1430%, Business value is up 250%, and total research papers are up by 465%. 

Setting Highest Educational Standards 

All of UP’s degree students now pass the National Exit Exams, the highest rate in Cambodia. UP is also the only Cambodian university recognized by the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) Ranking and the QS Ranking.

Additionally, it has become a Top 500 university for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – specifically SDGs 3 and 8.

In terms of employability, UP ranks 6th, 7th for learning and teaching, and 13th overall among private universities in ASEAN (Allied HE). Recently, UP received the International BIZZ Award for Business Excellence.

Furthermore, UP was awarded a Top 8 position for university leadership out of 76,000 Asian universities by THE – not just in the top 1%, but the top 1% of the top 1%. These are incredible achievements for a small university, especially in a developing country.

A Multifaceted Career

Ian has had a very successful career in health education, research, learning and teaching, and maximizing opportunities in business, research, vocational education, and higher education.

In health education, he has been Executive Dean, of Health for several major education providers.

Most recently Ian was Executive Director at one of Australia’s largest education providers where he managed 30,000 students, a budget of $81 million, and a $23 million Health Centre of Excellence.

He drove a 48% increase in enrolments, a 46% increase in revenue, a 79% increase in profit as well as a substantial improvement in learning outcomes.

In research, Ian has obtained prestigious ARC, NHMRC, and MRC grants, and has more than 50 publications in prestigious journals such as Nature, MJA, BMJ, Clinical Genetics, etc.

He is also the principal inventor on 11 patents primarily in the fields of forensics, molecular diagnostics, and RFID.

In learning and teaching, previously he was Pro-Vice Chancellor, Learning and Teaching leading L&T across 24 campuses and 40,000 students. Ian successfully introduced many key innovations, including flipped learning, to maximize learning and student employment outcomes.

In commercial life, Ian was Executive Director and CSO of the biotech spin-off of Healthscope, a $4.3 Billion Australian healthcare provider as well as Director of a major RFID joint venture.

He led the project from the initial idea, through proof of concept, to gaining substantial investment to create the biotech spin-off.

He has held Professorial roles (from the age of just 37) at the University of Queensland, the University of Sunshine Coast, Griffith University, and Central Queensland University.

Ian has also led an IVF lab from 2nd bottom in the UK to become the most successful lab within 2 years.

Ian has 10 world-firsts and his pioneering work in health molecular genetics, particularly in single-cell genetics led to him demonstrating the world-first forensic DNA profiling of single cells published in the prestigious journal “Nature” as well as the only DNA fingerprinting of “Jack the Ripper” letters. 

In 1998, he was awarded “Scientist of the Year” by the European Society of Human Genetics. 

In 2005, he was also awarded the “Bancroft Medal” the Highest award given by Australian Medical Association. Previous recipients include Sir Fred Schonell, Sir Gustav Nossal (Australian of the Year 2000), Dr Peter Hollingworth (Governor General, Australia, Australian of the Year 1997), etc. 

Having worked extensively in senior roles in higher education, the skills sector, research, and the commercial world, Ian is passionate about the need to achieve the best possible outcomes to fully equip work-ready students for a digitally-led 21st Century. 

Bridging Local and Global

Despite the huge challenges, including Cambodia having the worst education of all OECD nations, the University of Puthisastra is adopting international standards and engaging international universities to achieve three main goals:

  • Introduce the World to Cambodia. Ensure that Cambodia is not just known for genocide and Angkor Wat, but is seen as a place of potential and opportunity for research and investment
  • Introduce Cambodia to the World. To help inspire Cambodian universities, academic graduates, and students to achieve higher international standards and join the global academic community
  • Provide high-quality international educational opportunities for underprivileged Cambodian students. 

UP is the only university in Cambodia offering guaranteed entry to over 22 high-quality UK and Australian universities via its pathway programs.

Already 6 UP students have guaranteed entry to UK medical schools. UP also has direct guaranteed access to 35 health, science business and IT programs at Teesside University.

Ian has several goals for the university: 

  • Join the global academic community. This will help Cambodian educators and the Government see the value of high-quality education, high-quality Learning and Teaching, and high-quality research in common with other universities worldwide. To lift the workforce and attract foreign investment.
  • Develop more international level qualifications (currently only UP’s Science, IT, English/Business degrees are international level) as health degrees are subject to Cambodia’s ancient National Curricula. This should inspire other universities to also attain international standards and thus raise the bar across all higher education in Cambodia.
  • Training. Although UP is very fortunate that we have attracted many overseas-educated teaching staff, there remains a very high level of fundamental training required in content, modern pedagogy, and academic governance, especially in the health fields. 

Strive for a Better Cambodian Future

Despite more than 89% of high-demand jobs being in STEM fields, only ~20% of Cambodian students study STEM programs at university.

This leads to a huge oversupply of business graduates with low-quality degrees who cannot get jobs, whilst Cambodia has major skill shortages in STEM fields such as engineering, IT, and especially health – Cambodia has the lowest number per capita of doctors and nurses in entire ASEAN and almost no allied health care.

UP offers Cambodia’s only science (research) degree, allowing students to gain a wide range of science and research skills.

UP graduates will uniquely have the expertise, skills, and experience to embrace the research agenda strongly encouraged by Cambodia’s new Government and thus be in very high demand commanding higher salaries.

Reflecting the huge importance of STEM to Cambodia, almost all of UP’s programs are STEM programs from medicine, dentistry, nursing, midwifery, pharmacy, science, lab tech, and IT – with only UP’s internationally accredited degrees in English, Business, and Entrepreneurship being non-STEM. More than 99% of UP students study STEM programs.

Inspiring Hope and Opportunity

UP provides both hope and opportunity

Hope without opportunity is cruel – raising hope only to dash against the rocks when opportunities don’t exist is just cruel

Opportunity without hope where opportunities are available for others but not for me is similarly cruel.

UP aspires to ensure that it not only opens students’ eyes and inspires them, but also gives them the educational tools, job opportunities, and soft skills to both recognize and embrace the opportunity.

UP is already:

  • Top 8 in Asia for Leadership (from 76,000 universities) (THE)
  • The top University in Cambodia
  • The only Cambodian university in the prestigious Times Higher Education Ranking (THE)
  • The only Cambodian university in the prestigious QS Ranking
  • Top 6 private universities in ASEAN for employability (AlliedHE)
  • Top 7 private universities in ASEAN for Learning and Teaching (AlliedHE)
  • Cambodia’s leading research university with over 200 papers

UP already has global recognition – an amazing achievement for a small university in a developing country facing such huge challenges. 

Its aim now is to encourage other Cambodian universities to do the same – to inspire others that they too can join the global community of academic excellence.

Regarding academic offerings, it aspires that from very small beginnings, many Cambodian students join with us on their international journey. 

Currently UP provides international pathway programs for students to study at UP and then join a UK or Australian university.

The next stage that the university is currently working on is to allow students to complete an international UK degree fully online whilst remaining in Cambodia – finally opening up hope and opportunity and widening opportunity for those students who cannot go to expensive schools. 

The university aims to be an inspirational leader and role model for other Cambodian universities to join the global academic community.


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