Cambodian education is a fast-growing sector. Almost every year, new schools and/or universities are added to an already long list of education providers. Until the time of this writing, for higher education alone, there are 121 public and private institutions spreading across the country. The number is impressive given the size of the Cambodian population of just a little over 15 million. But as well qualified academics are the most significant resource of any higher education institutions, we should take a look at who is actually teaching at those institutions, what qualifications they hold, and what the Cambodian government aims to achieve regarding academic staff capacity 10 years away.
Academic staff: quick facts
According to a 2017 report by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport, 12,916 Cambodian nationals were teaching at higher education institutions in the 2015-2016 academic year (there were also 586 foreign teachers working in Cambodian universities, but let us just focus on the local faculty for now). Out of the total number, 2,990 hold bachelor’s degrees, 8,985 hold master’s degrees, and 941 hold doctorates. Male faculty members have the most master’s and PhD degrees; only 12.50% and 9.74% of female teachers obtained those degrees respectively.
Universities with most faculty holding highest qualifications
The most updated information about where most faculty members with the highest qualifications teach is not available. But based on a study published by Rany, Zain and Jamil in 2012, a few large public universities based in Phnom Penh employed the most faculty with doctorates. The National University of Management had the highest percentage of teaching staff with PhD degree (16%). The Institute of Technology of Cambodia took up the second spot with 10%. Surprisingly, the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the largest and “most prestigious” public university in Cambodia only had 3.5% of its entire teaching staff holding a doctorate. Many other public universities did not even have a single faculty member with a PhD degree. A reminder though, the data which I am referring to is already five years old today. Those institutions may already employ more qualified faculty these days. An updated figure regarding the faculty composition at those institutions would be a useful area to investigate further.
How about private higher education institutions…?
The percentage of faculty members holding each type of degrees currently teaching at private academic institutions is hardly attainable (I contacted some university managers for this information but to no avail, except Zaman University). According to Dr. Deth Sok Udom (Rector), Zaman University currently has 12 full time teaching staff with PhD degrees, four PhD candidates, and 8 with master’s degrees. Also, Zaman University has 25 adjunct teaching members with doctoral degrees.
For many private institutes and universities (number in close to one hundred), it may be safe to assume that given their drive to compete and to be successful as profit-oriented institutions, hiring qualified teaching staff should be among their high priorities.
Government’s strategies to build academic staff capacity
To develop and promote the qualifications of faculty, two key policies have been recently adopted. The Education Strategic Plan 2014-2018 still has another year to achieve all those targetted objectives covering from governance to quality to access. As far as staff’s capacity development is concerned, a principal aim is to add 1,000 faculty members with master’s degrees and 250 with PhD by 2018.
The other one is a longer-term plan-Cambodian Higher Education Roadmap 2030 and Beyond- released by the Education Ministry in August 2017. In the roadmap, the ministry has laid out some strategies to upgrade faculty members to hold PhD degrees and also create and implement mechanisms to retain high-quality staff and to attract staff from industries into the teaching profession. Below are key pointers from that plan.
For higher education institutions in Phnom Penh: half of them will have full-time academic staff with a PhD degree by 2022, 75% by 2027, and 100% by 2032. For higher education institutions based in the provinces, the ministry aims to ensure that half of their academic staff will hold bachelor’s degrees by 2022 and 100 % by 2027. By 2032, all provincial higher education institutions will have no academic staff holding bachelor’s degrees (the roadmap does not explain what, if not bachelor’s degree, staff must obtain to be able to teach at provincial HEIs from 2030).
Everyone involved in Cambodian higher education agrees that the higher education sector continues to be diagnosed with an acute shortage of qualified teaching staff members; a considerable number hold low qualifications. Higher education quality cannot be much improved without a strong pool of well-educated faculty. This is a significant concern for the country’s human resource development agenda. Ministry of Education correctly acknowledges that the production of quality human resources to serve Cambodia’s evolving social and economic needs will be hard to achieve without highly qualified staff members working and/or teaching at higher education institutions.
Building staff capacity is a must-do for Cambodia. Even though the strategies put in place to achieve the objectives are a bit unclear and ambitious, at least they are out there for implementation. The only thing we should worry at this moment is not doing anything. I want to end this in total agreement with Education Minister, Hang Chuon Naron: “The future of Cambodian higher education depends on how and how well this well-designed policy will be implemented.”
Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport. (2017). Cambodian Higher Education Roadmap 2030 and Beyond. Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.
Rany, S., Zain, A. and Jamil, H. 2012. Cambodia’s Higher Education Development in Historical Perspectives (1863-2012). International Journal of Learning and Development, vol.2, no. 2, pp. 224-241.