Higher education stakeholders in Cambodia provide some mixed responses about the types of higher education structures most appropriate for Cambodia.
One camp, particularly those from the private sector, believes Cambodia today needs a higher education system that provides a range of practical and technical skills for local small and medium-size businesses and Cambodia’s mostly undeveloped rural areas. These people argue that most Cambodian enterprises are small and the country has excellent potential in agriculture. They were, therefore, confident that Cambodia could compete with the other countries in the region by tapping into this potential if higher education institutions offered more skills-oriented programs that those sectors need.
Employers of medium-size companies based in Phnom Penh, for example, strongly favoured the skill-oriented programs. They very much needed staff to be able to perform what they are hired for and suggested that schools provide students with skills and knowledge that match their needs. They said they would support any plan that shaped Cambodian higher education institutions to focus on producing skilled labour for the local needs because the required skills were often in short supply.
They added that to complement training, higher education institutions should prepare programs for students to learn practical skills through internships, volunteering, or part-time work. At the same time, they urged universities to establish links with secondary schools to improve curriculum, teacher qualifications, teacher experience, and teacher quality, and to ready high school graduates for university studies.
Despite agreeing with the significance of vocational and technical skills, some stakeholders argued that a higher education scenario that focused on producing skilled labour for the local businesses was not going to work in Cambodia. They pointed out that Cambodian public universities are under the leadership of different parent ministries and those schools never want to be a vocational and technical institution because of its low status; they would not offer skill oriented programs. These opponents also argued that many Cambodian students do not want to study vocational/technical skills; they don’t want to be skilled labourers.
There were also other stakeholders who insisted that Cambodia would benefit long term from a higher education system in which universities were oriented towards providing top quality teaching, training, and scientific research at the same time. This group did not want to see Cambodian higher education institutions become a training ground that only involves training skills for jobs and doesn’t encourage critical thinking.
What do you think Cambodia’s higher education institutions should look like?