No doubt, Cambodian higher education has grown over the past decade. Stakeholders, nevertheless, continue to lament about its lack of relevance to the job market. Are there any ways Cambodia can do to improve? In this article, I raise a few points that may help Cambodia to assure that skills and competencies university graduates gained are appropriate to the broader social and economic needs.
Cambodian higher education institutions (HEIs) need to revise their curricula to meet the evolving workplace and societal needs. They should focus more on technical skills and core skills, which include decision making, communication, collaboration, computer skills, client-orientation skills, problem-solving, individual initiative, creative thinking, and fluency in international languages, especially English.
Faculty members must be involved in the process from the beginning as they are a significant player in the implementation. Indeed, the success, or lack thereof, of the curriculum implementation, as the Task Force on Higher Education and Society (2000) points out, depends on these people. Coordination and consultation with them should, therefore, be carried out to avoid content repetition and redundancy.
Meanwhile, it is crucial to integrate employers and the community representatives into the curriculum development/revision process. The views, perceptions, and contributions these groups bring to the table can offer new possibilities for student learning experiences and will ensure that the curricular are relevant to employment and social goals. Equally important, HEIs themselves should frequently review and renew the curriculum in anticipation of possible changes in the skills needed in the labour market.
In line with the international practices, Cambodia does need a reliable labour market information system to produce, update, and distribute information on current and future skill demands. Such information plays a critical role in strengthening the connections between higher education and the labour market, but it is not yet available. Timely information about labour market outcomes and employment requirements can be obtained by conducting surveys of graduates and employers. These people can provide feedback about the workplace relevance of the higher education courses and programs that can help policymakers to decide which to offer and which to close. At present some public and private institutions have conducted graduate tracer studies. Tracer studies should, however, be widely promoted within the higher education sector to monitor graduate supply and demand and destinations of graduates from different disciplines.
Cambodia should also mobilise resources to establish career guidance in secondary schools to help students make decisions about their field of university study for those students, as many stakeholders in my recent research suggest, often have inadequate knowledge and unrealistic expectations about the job market.
Task Force on Higher Education and Society. (2000). Higher education in developing societies: Peril and promise. Washington, DC: World Bank Publishing.