We now know more and more about the growth as well as issues and challenges that come with it within the Cambodian higher education sector. For example, we know the sector is growing very fast. Many higher education establishments are now present in many provinces across Cambodia. Young people, as a result, have a chance to get post high-school education where they live, without a need to travel to Phnom Penh anymore. We also know that the teaching and learning are of poor quality, academic programs are not responsive to the needs of the labour market, access needs improving to ensure social justice and inclusive development, reform policies are not effective, and actions are needed to develop and promote research capacity and activities.
We know that these limitations resulted from several key factors. As evident, essential resources for higher education remain inadequate. The system lacks qualified teachers, administrators, and planners to run higher education institutions. In the meantime, most higher education institutions are short of resources such as laboratories, libraries, furniture, equipment, buildings, and computers, to support their mission and the scope of the programs and services. These difficulties are not helped with a relatively low national expenditure on higher education and a currently predominant profit-oriented higher education operation.
Along with the shortage of resources, there is still a lack of policy direction and vision although more strategies and development plans have been recently introduced. The fact that Cambodia, with some 15 million people, is having more than one hundred higher education establishments (most exist in the capital, Phnom Penh alone) reflects a shortsighted policy development. Some policies also lack mechanisms to enforce implementation. The policy on research is one among these.
The governance of higher education also has a significant share of the issue. The coordination among the higher education institutions is confusing and ineffective because of the involvement of too many different ministries. The absence of an effective coordination is posing a massive challenge of Cambodia as individual institutions are making fragmented decisions that focus on their profits and survival, not the national social and economic needs. Problems involving institutional autonomy, appointment of university leaders, staff participation and commitment also hinder the effectiveness of higher education governance.
Also, while stakeholders such as faculty members, students, parents, and private sector representatives can provide constructive input concerning many policy areas that affect the effectiveness of higher education operation such as curriculum, methods of instruction, extracurricular activities, and research, their participation is not promoted nor encouraged.
What then does Cambodian higher education sector need to do to overcome the challenges? Dealing with problems in these different areas (relevance/curriculum, governance, financing, equitable access, quality, and research) is not an easy task. Nevertheless, we all agree that there is something we must do to improve. Do you have an idea? Please share your suggestion in the comment section below.