Cambodian student enrollment in higher education increases every year. Unfortunately, a large number of young Cambodians from rural areas and low socio-economic backgrounds remain under-represented. A significant reason for their low participation is closely associated with the geographic locations of higher education institutions (HEIs). Today, well over 90% of HEIs in Cambodia are concentrated in the capital or provincial cities. This deprives thousands of high school graduates of their right to enrol in tertiary education and has created an enormous disparity between the rural and urban people.
Widening access for poor/rural students is essential to ensure a more socially acceptable balance among the various socio-economic groups within Cambodian society. The creation of a non-university sector should help Cambodia expand access for those people. It is less expensive than regular university education due to the shorter length of the study programs. Thus it can provide access cost-effectively. Cambodia can also reap other benefits from this sector (see my last post.)
An important question to ask is where these non-university institutions should be built. In many countries, the decisions about the location of the non-university institutions seem to be based on a range of factors. In British Columbia (Canada), the selection of the site for the establishment of two-year colleges was proposed to be dependent, among other things, on the total population of the area targeted and the size of the student pool within and around the location concerned. In Poland, the main reason involved an attempt to “revive” disadvantaged regions (Macukow & Witkowski, 2001). Vietnam decided to set up many community colleges in the Mekong River Delta because the education network there was less developed in comparison with other regions despite its large population (Dang & Nguyen, 2009).
Cambodia should make decisions about the location of such facilities very carefully to ensure maximum benefits for the Cambodian society and so that young people in the rural areas have an opportunity to attend post-secondary education. So yes, that is right. They should be built in the provinces where most disadvantaged students reside.
I suggest the government set up a coordinated body to identify locations for non-university institutions that best serve the country. Also, the agency should be tasked to conduct needs assessments, identify gaps in the existing training programs, plan relevant programs, and discuss strategies and measures regarding enrolment, issues of management and operation, possible partnership, and the ways and levels of integrating existing training centres into the non-university sector. This national body can help Cambodia to avoid redundancy, or overlap, in responsibilities and functions within the higher education sector. And since a central purpose of the possible development of non-university institutions is to promote education access in remote/rural areas or provinces, their participation in the policy dialogues and the implementation process would be vital.
Macukow, B., & Witkowski, M. (2001). Non-university sector of higher education closer to the labour market: The polish experience. European Journal of Engineering Education, 26(3), 241-246. doi:10.1080/03043790110054391
Dang, B. L., & Nguyen, H.V. (2009). The development of the community college model in Vietnam at the time of the country‘s reorganisation and international integration. In R. L. Raby & E.J. Valeau (Eds.), Community college models: Globalization and higher education reform (pp. 91-116). New York: Springer.