Rethinking Cambodian higher education in three reform areas

To improve the Cambodian higher education subsector, I propose the government address three significant areas that can be most effective in terms of change. The first area deals with the kind of higher education institution that should be made available to serve Cambodia’s actual human resource needs. The second area focuses on funding; looking particularly at how Cambodian higher education institutions should be financed to ensure affordability and sustainability. The third area sets out strategies for quality improvement.

For area 1, it seems more appropriate that Cambodia focus on the non-university sector that includes all institutions that offer predominantly short-cycle programs (1–3 years in duration), as well as a hybrid of short-cycle and degree-level programs. I see great potential for this sector regarding bridging the gap between higher education and workplace needs.

For area 2, I encourage the Cambodian government to take four steps: 1) Mobilize new financing for higher education 2) Utilize resources efficiently 3) Promote student/parent contributions & 4) Encourage higher education institutions to generate extra income.

For quality improvement, I recommend that Cambodia improve the national accreditation authority, tighten licensing for both new and existing higher education institutions, and improve staff capacity.

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My recommendations are in no way meant to be inclusive. However, achieving the three approaches proposed here would provide Cambodia’s predominantly young population with opportunities to acquire skills and knowledge that benefit them, the labour market, and society. In turn, it would help Cambodia respond better to its social and economic development challenges.

To implement changes, Cambodia can learn from its own strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, it can draw from a wide range of international experiences. As Cambodia shares a fairly close social and cultural system with the Confucian tradition of the East Asian countries (Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Vietnam), it can adapt some of the characteristics of higher education in these countries. Higher education in these countries has moved forward rapidly and simultaneously in relation to participation, quality, and research, among other things.

In line with Collier (2007)’s argument about the importance of neighbours in development and growth, Cambodia can certainly benefit from positive events in its neighbouring countries in its attempts to create changes. Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos have experienced social, political, and economic development and growth for a long time now. Not so far away in the region, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia can also positively affect Cambodia’s efforts to reform higher education because of their more developed higher education systems. Successful practices and reforms in these countries can provide appropriate and useful insights for the future development and reform of Cambodian higher education.


Collier, P. (2007). The bottom billion: Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it? New York: Oxford University Press.

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