The ASEAN Journal of Education ASEAN Journal of Education

Maharishi Vedic University in Cambodia: A Study of Three Mature-Age Graduates

Lee Fergusson, Anna Bonshek, Maria Pau,


This study forms part of a 25-year research program begun by these authors in 1993 at Maharishi Vedic University (MVU) in Cambodia. Prior research includes eight published studies and two monographs on: the history of higher education and teacher education in Cambodia documenting areas such as curricula, enrolments, government expenditures, social and cultural contexts, and educational futures; learning and student attitudes; impacts of Vedic Science-based education on nonverbal intelligence and personality, including depression and anxiety; an assessment of the social and economic contributions of MVU compared to baseline national and regional data from Thailand, Vietnam and Lao PDR; and the reduction of socio-political violence and increased social coherence in Cambodia between 1990 and 2008. The present study, using standard case study techniques, investigates the lives of three former undergraduate management students of MVU and provides qualitative evidence of personal and professional experiences before, during and after studying at the university to test the proposition that participation in a curriculum of Vedic Science-based education in Cambodia is associated with long-term salutary benefit in the lives of students. Results indicate that as a result of studying at MVU, all three graduates, despite harsh and difficult upbringings in rural Cambodia, significantly increased their self-sufficiency, confidence, and health and healthy lifestyles, reduced stress, and enhanced their creativity, moral reasoning, and intelligence. This study contributes to an understanding of the general reconstruction of higher education in Cambodia since the early 1990s.

During the 30-year period between the 1960s and
early 1990s, little or no reliable research was conducted
or published on pedagogy or educational outcomes in
the Royal Kingdom of Cambodia. This situation was
largely due to primary and secondary schooling, higher education, and teacher education being significantly
disrupted by internal political strife, civil war, and
regional conflict leading eventually to social carnage
under the Khmer Rouge (KR) until January 1979.
The 1980s through to the October 1991 Paris Peace
Accords and first free election in May 1993 were thus
largely dedicated to the reconstruction of educational
infrastructure and the re-design of credible curricula and
the training of new teachers. It was during this period
that teachers and students were enticed back to primary
and secondary education, but higher education and
teacher education lagged and were not materially
developed until the 1990s. This lamentable history has
been previously outlined by these authors (Fergusson,
Le Masson, & Bonshek, 1995; Fergusson & Le Masson,
1997) and others (e.g., Ayers, 2000; Kallio & Westerlund,
2016; King, 2018), and the role of international
organisations in this broader educational initiative, which
was carried out by the State of Cambodia (SOC) in the
1990s, has been explored by Duggan (1997).
As a part of the SOC’s educational reconstruction
effort, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education,
Youth and Sport (MoEYS) of the Royal Government
of Cambodia, Maharishi Vedic University in the
Netherlands, a non-government organization in
Australia, and educators from France and India, the first
two authors of this study launched Maharishi Vedic
University (MVU) in January 1993. Maharishi Vedic
University was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and
its curriculum was designed to complement standard
modern academic disciplines with the principles and
practices of his Vedic Science drawn from the ancient
knowledge of consciousness, healthcare and education.
The relationship and complementary nature of
modern science-based education and Maharishi Vedic
Science-based education have been the subject of
previous discourse (e.g., Maharishi European Research
University, 1979; Maharishi Vedic University, 1985,
2005), and MVU has been examined in two previous
accounts which address the history of higher education
in Cambodia from 1953 to the present and provide a
comprehensive description of the motivations, origins,
developmental arc, and curricula of MVU (Fergusson &
Bonshek, 2013, 2017).
Centered initially on a purpose-built campus in
Kamchay Mear village, Prey Veng province (Khmer for
‘long forest’; see Figure 1 for the location of MVU),
about 125 km east of Phnom Penh (all regional college
and university campuses were levelled in the 1970 Tet
Offensive bombing), but expanding later to include
branch campuses in neighbouring Prey Veng city and
Kampong Cham city, MVU sought to provide higher
education degrees in management, agriculture,
architecture and medicine and was the first MoEYSaccredited
regional university outside Phnom Penh to
begin operations since the 1960s (Fergusson & Bonshek,
2017). Elements of Vedic Science-based curriculum in
Cambodia included standard academic disciplines and
skills training according to an agreed internationally
recognized but tailored program for students drawn from
diverse educational backgrounds, such as from refugee
camps on the Thai border, along with the study of
Maharishi’s Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI, an
interdisciplinary program of fundamental principles or
laws of nature found in humankind and nature).
Included also was the study of Sanskrit and the
Vedic Literature and their relation to Khmer culture,
Maharishi Ayur-Veda (an internationally recognised
system of healthcare deemed important in the context of
then Cambodian collective health and well-being
[Maharishi Vedic University, 1986, 1987]), practice of
the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program,
a verified program incorporated into the curriculum to
encourage the self-development, self-esteem, and health
of students (Maharishi Vedic University, 2008; Nystul
& Garde, 1977; Orme-Johnson, 1995; Rasmussen, 2002),
and other Vedic pedagogical components, including a
‘block system’ of program organisation. Many of these
educational features have been discussed in more detail
elsewhere (e.g., Maharishi International University, 1977,
1981) and were supported by MoEYS as a holistic
curriculum for the full development of students,
particularly given the unsettled backgrounds of many
university-age students at that time.
However, teaching at MVU was not without its
challenges, a comprehensive explanation of which can
be found in Fergusson and Bonshek (2017, pp. 195-197).
These included communication difficulties of teaching
in multiple languages (at the time MVU was established,
French was the lingua franca of Cambodia although
English would displace it during the 1990s),
re-establishing the importance and centrality of Khmer
culture in the curriculum of higher education, developing
a working understanding the basic principles of
Maharishi Vedic Science and SCI, and the establishment
of sound governance and codes of practice. One of the
primary challenges faced during the early years of MVU
related to the removal of corrupt practices from highereducation and the paying of bribes in exchange for
passing grades.
In parallel to the first cohort of 550+ undergraduate
students beginning a preparatory curriculum in 1993, the
authors also initiated an empirical research program on
student, educational, and social outcomes of which the
present study forms an integral part. Beginning with
initial testing, observation and data collection during the
early stages of MVU, the authors conducted a large-scale
study of learning and student attitudes to Transcendental
Meditation (Fergusson, Bonshek, & Boudigues, 1994)
and two controlled, quasi-experimental studies on the
impact of Vedic Science-based education on non-verbal
intelligence (Fergusson, Bonshek, & Le Masson, 1995)
and on personality, specifically the investigation of
anxiety, depression, self-confidence, and mental and
physical health (Fergusson, Bonshek, & Boudigues,
1995) when compared to educational outcomes at the
Institute of Economic Science (IES, now the National
University of Management) and the Royal University of
Phnom Penh (RUPP).
More recent Social Impact Assessment (SIA)
research has considered the social and economic
contributions of MVU over a 15-year period (i.e., 1993-
2008) compared to baseline national and regional data
from Thailand, Vietnam and Lao PDR for the period
1980-2016 (Fergusson, 2016a, 2016b) based on
Maharishi’s proposition that group practice of the
Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program has
a sociological effect of coherence and harmony, as
evidenced elsewhere in other contexts (e.g., Maharishi
Vedic University, 2005). Longitudinal explanatory mixed
methods research using time series analysis and content
news analysis of 18 years of monthly internal conflict
and socio-political violence data has revealed that
practice of the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi
program at MVU was associated with a 96% decline in
violence over a 15-year period when compared to a
three-year baseline period (Fergusson & Cavanaugh,
2019). A controlled mixed methods quasi-experiment on
the impact of the Transcendental Meditation program on
health-related quality-of-life indicators in faculty and
staff at University of Management and Economics (UME)
and controls at Cambodian University of Specialties
(CUS) in Kampong Cham and Chea Sim University of
Kamchay Mear (CSUK) is currently being conducted to
supplement and extend this 25-year research effort.
While much of this research program has centred
on student outcomes while attending MVU, one aspect
of the history of the university not so far included in the
published literature is the long-term impact of MVU on
personal and professional life. In order to document this
dimension of MVU’s history, the present study asks the
following descriptive question: what do graduates report
about their personal and professional experiences before,
during and after their enrolment in Maharishi Vedic

Key words: Cambodia, Maharishi Vedic University, higher education, graduate student.
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