Today, a worldwide trend in higher education (HE) governance is leaning toward a shared responsibility. That is, the governing board, faculty, students, professional staff, administrators, and the academic or education council, as Cramer & Mozlin (2013) points out, participate in the development of policies and in decision-making that affects the institution. These people are given a role in shaping national higher education policy at the system level as well as a meaningful voice in determining policy at the institutional level (ADB, 2012).
For Cambodia, the good news is that it has already begun to decentralise HE governance to some extent. It has, for example, transformed universities into public administrative institutions. Some higher education institutions also set up a governing board to oversee the institution affairs. These are essential positive steps. However, as many participants in my recent study reflected, the leadership/management in Cambodian HE sector continues to still base firmly on the value and thinking of the patronage and hierarchical system. Many leaders often make decisions without consulting with or listening to their subordinates (staff and faculty). To borrow Blunt’s words, “leaders analyse, decide, and inform” (2003, p. 12). An unspoken rule in Cambodia is the staff and faculty members are expected not to get involved in any decision-making process. Furthermore, they are not to challenge their leaders. Khmer proverbs and sayings reflect and reinforce this idea that the inferiors must not go against the superior. A commonly known proverb that Cambodians know is “Don’t hit a stone with an egg” (Literally means it is pointless for the weak/inferior to oppose the strong/superior).
So, if governance reform is to be successful, one among the most critical and urgent struggles will have to be against this practice. Otherwise, such thinking/behaviour will continue to be concentrated in the leadership team and will prevent individuals in inferior positions from taking any initiatives and sometimes even from discharging their duties for fear of threats and disagreements. Institutional leadership and management should engage every stakeholder in both the operation and management of HE. Their commitment should be sought and promoted, and their voices heard and respected. All that can be possible if Cambodian society has a determined willingness to break away from that mindset.