What can we do to break the financial challenges in Cambodian higher education?

piggy bankAdequate financing determines the success, or the lack thereof, in Cambodian higher education. Since financial resources remain limited, the higher education sector needs to find ways to ensure operation and quality improvement. A difficult question to answer is how they can do that.

Cambodia can learn many useful lessons from countries around the world. Among other things, it can encourage every higher education institution to engage in income-generating activities and meanwhile to increase efficiency and use the existing resources more productively. Many public universities have already actively involved in such action; that’s a positive step forward, but improving efficiency and use of funds is something that all institutions need to do so they have more resources for institutional development and quality and access enhancement.

Cambodian higher education institutions that have not yet done so can provide consultancy services, contract research for companies/industry, short training courses, and renting facilities. Or they can establish and expand their collaboration with companies or enter into business ventures with the aim of generating their funds. A few words of caution though. A clear guideline should be set up to ensure that all income-generating activities are in line with each institution’s strengths, capacities, and mission. For example, a university with a mission to train teachers should never offer a business program just to make extra income.

Following the example of many developing countries, the Cambodian government can urge the higher education institutions to become more efficient and productive by using performance funding as a basis for allocating public funds to them. This funding tool, as TFHES (2000) points out, will help the higher education sector to improve accountability and internal efficiency as higher education institutions must operate under full management control to be judged for the allocation of funds.

In my study of the issues and challenges in Cambodian higher education financing, some of my participants expressed a positive outlook about a student loan. They believe Cambodia should follow the other countries in adopting the student loan program for higher education. Nevertheless, a student loan program is not a likely option based on the country’s current social and economic context. In the future, given Cambodia already implemented a cost-sharing policy, it may be considered to provide people with an option for financing their education. But the program should be considered very carefully due to the challenges in implementation in other countries involving employment conditions, living standards, student default, high administrative costs and difficulties in assessing student need.

I believe Cambodian government is not in a good financial position to start a student loan program yet. For a practical student loan program, the government needs a sizeable fund and will bear the risk of financial loses if students are not able to repay the loan. Moreover, the implementation requires capable human resources that know how to deal with loan scheme administration and cost recovery. Also, an efficient tax administration system and an institutional framework appropriate to allow workable collection of student loans needs to be put in place to implement the student loan program. Thus a student loan program should be a long-term goal.

In conclusion, Cambodian higher education institutions could have more available resources for development and operation if they are encouraged to be involved in income generating activities which include, but are not limited to, providing short training courses, consultancy services, contract research, and other activities mentioned above. More resources could also be obtained if each institution uses existing funds more responsibly, efficiently, and productively. The government can also assist them in establishing and expanding collaboration with local industries with the aim of generating their own funds.

Reference: Task Force on Higher Education and Society. (2000). Higher education in developing societies: Peril and promise. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

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