By Sam Rany
1. There is a jump in higher education in Cambodia, what do you see from this development?
Actually, I observe that the rapid development of Cambodian higher education institutions has provided both advantages and disadvantage for its current educational system. Remarkably, these higher learning institutions have played a significant role to develop human resources to serve in our labor markets as well as to compete with other country members in ASEAN’s labor market, and they have responded with the proportion of increasing numbers of high school students who want to enroll in their institutions.
However, this expanding may lead the confrontation of educational quality and the large number of educated graduates may not be equally matched with market demands. Presently, there are 91 Cambodian higher education institutions, comprised of 34 public and 57 private universities, in 19 provinces and in Phnom Penh, the capital. According to a report of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the total annual registration rate has increased dramatically more than four times from 57,828 to 246,069 between 2003 and 2012, with approximately 91 percent of students paying fees in the public and private HEIs. In particular, in the academic year 2011-2012, there were 1006 doctoral students, 14,127 master students, 207,666 undergraduate students, and 23,123 associate students.
2. Are you seeing the emergence of a new professional class? Skilled, educated or professional people in Kingdom?
Yes, I am interested in the emergence of our new development of the professional classes. I highly appreciate to the government that established new academic status for professional people in higher education, for example, assistant professor, associate professor, and professor. It really encourages people to fulfil their career with high quality and professional ethics. To compare with academic salaries in some countries, Cambodian academic monthly salary together with basic salary, functional, and subsidiary allowances (risk allowance, regional allowance, health risk allowance, pedagogic allowance, and family allowance) for a fulltime university lecturer can be as low as Riel 55, 0000 (approximately USD $130), which is insufficient to meet the daily expenses of a family (RGC, 2010), whereas overall academic average monthly salaries of some Asian countries are much higher: they range from USD 1,182 in China, USD 1,547 in India, USD 2,568 in Australia, USD 3,107 in Malaysia, to USD 4,112 in Japan (Rumbley, 2008). So far, we have seen a new professional status in health and agricultural sectors, but educational sector is under draft paper. Ultimately, the offering of these academic statuses should be considered whether they have transparency or not to meet the criteria of regional and international standards.
3. What do you think of quality standards of higher education in Cambodia? How can they be improved?
As a researcher, I think that the quality standards of Cambodian higher education are under well-developed. Even thought our higher education is not yet ranking in top 500 world class universities like other five countries in ASEAN including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Philippine, our undergraduate and graduate students are accepted to enroll in their postgraduate programs in developed countries as well as in world class universities. Why? Because our Cambodian students have succeeded in their postgraduate studies, they have enough foundation knowledge to compete with the native English speaker or foreign students. For instance, hundred Cambodian students have accepted to enroll in postgraduate programs through the international development scholarship including Fulbright scholarship, Australian Development Scholarship, New Zealand Development Scholarship, Japan Development Scholarship, ASEAN’s Scholarship, European Scholarship...etc..
To improve our educational quality standards, the government should take measures as following:
- The government should pay more attention on HEIs which expand public financial support for their academic functioning, and increase sufficient salaries and incentives; the government should effectively audit their expenditures with transparency and accountability.
- The government should put more effort to encourage higher education for reforming their institutional policies such as admission requirements, curriculum and extra-curricular activities, teaching methodologies, research methods, and practical skills that are demanded by labor markets.
- The government should allocate some national budgets to support unpopular courses and programs for the profits of the country.
- The government should provide adequate training courses related to educational planning and management, strategic management, and higher education administration for universities’ staffs and faculty members.
- The government should transform public higher education institutions to be the PAIs in order to make their own decisions in academic and non academic activities. Finally, the government should provide academic freedom for students, professors, and lecturers in accordance with the Cambodian constitution both inside and outside university campuses.
4. Are people studying the fields where the jobs will be?
Currently, most Cambodian students prefer to study in social science and business studies that mismatch with the actual social needs of the country. According to the report of UNDP, Cambodia still has an unbalanced disciplinary structure to link with market demands. Approximately 70 percent of students are studying in the social sciences, business administration, economics or law, whilst fewer students are studying in agriculture, natural science, and technical and professional occupations. Furthermore, some research finding pointed out that most universities offered only business studies and social science rather than natural science and technology because of their own commercial profits. They don’t want to spend budgets for laboratories, experiential activities, and other facilities.
5. What are the deficits in Cambodia? Does government concern on quality of higher education? More spending budget on it?
Our current educational system is seen an educational crisis to be urgent reform to integrate in ASEAN community. There are several crucial problems could be considered as the deficits need to be urgently addressed that could impact on the quality of education in Cambodia HEIs.
- The first problem is the constraints on higher education financing, which is limited by the government’s budget. The overall education expenditure accounted for only 1.6 percent of Cambodia’ gross domestic product and public higher education expenditure was only 0.05 percent of GDP (WB, 2012). Because of these shortages of annual budgets, Cambodian higher education institutions cannot implement their institutional policies to equip modern and adequate facilities to effectively support the academic and non academic services for student academic successes such as libraries, workshop, accommodation, laboratories, and classrooms. Corruption and non transparency of public expenditures in HEIs are also considered as serious problems. The government has not yet created regulations or policies on public financial management within public and private higher education institutions. They should be required to broadcast their annual financial statements for the public. Controversially, some universities are actively involved in selling diplomas, and bribes are paid for degrees, academic assignments, and thesis writing (Shane, 2012).
- The second problem is lack of admission requirements. Most Cambodian higher education institutions are not setting the specific admission policies and criteria to recruit qualified students to attend in their institutions, and they mainly depend on the results of higher school examinations. Consequently, they have competed in attracting the numbers of enrolments for the purpose of their commercial benefits. Especially, English or other foreign languages are not required by most public universities as entrance requirements.
- The third problem is lacking human resources, teaching qualities, and research capacity. There are few full time academicians who hold PhD’s degree in Cambodian universities because of insufficient salaries and incentives; especially, educational experts and policy makers who have qualified experienced and skills to restore Cambodian educational system to meet the requirements of world class universities. On the other hands, the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia has not enough qualified assessors and experts to evaluate the training activities and to assure the education quality of higher education institutions. In addition, Cambodia is still not policy on academic profession ranking so that it is not encouraging people to work in academic careers. Similarly, most universities have problems with research capacity. For instance, a study of five prestigious Cambodian universities had found that only 6 percent of university lecturers hold PhD’s degree and about 85 percent have never published any academic papers (Chen, 2007).
- The fourth problem is academic relevance. The Cambodian government has not yet policy on curriculum and extra-curricular activities to linkage with the labour markets. Presently, the high rates of unemployment among the university graduates are due to their lack of professional skills to respond to the demands of labour markets. For example, most of Cambodian higher education institutions are providing most disciplines in business studies, economics, and IT, whereas current Cambodian labour markets are demanding in natural science, engineering, mathematics, agriculture, and health (Noch, 2009).
- The last problem is autonomy and academic freedom within the public universities. The government has policies to provide HEIs a legal status as quasi-government institutions or public administration institutions (PAIs), but the implementation is inactive because of political motivations and pressures. Currently, there are twelve specialized ministries and agencies to supervise and to provide higher education services in Cambodia (Sam, 2012). As a result, political parties and parent ministries have rights to interfere in making decisions of higher education institutions as well as in nominating high academic ranking officers based on political interests rather than academic qualifications. Furthermore, academic freedom is so strict in Cambodian democratic society; for example, the freedom of expression related to politics, human rights, democracy, corruption, transparency, good governance, and social justice debate are prohibited by governments within the HEIs.
In fact, the government is really concerned over the quality of higher education through adopting many educational policies and regulation. For example, the Cambodian government and higher educational institutions have strived to establish numerous policies, strategies, regulations, institutions and academic support services for promoting the education quality. The government has also implemented three main national strategies including the Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency, the National Strategic Development Plan Update 2009-2013, and the Educational Strategic Plan (Education for All) 2006-2013. Especially, the Privatization Policy has permitted private sectors to invest in tertiary education. As a result, the numbers of Higher Education Institutions have been dramatically expanded to more than three times from 28 to 91 between 1997 and 2012.
Beside these strategies, the government has cooperated with development partners and country donors to create various projects and plans for the enhancement of higher education quality including the Master Plan for Research in Education Sector 2011-2015, the Higher Education Quality and Capacity Improvement 2010-2015, and the Development Grants for Cambodian Higher Education Institutions. In addition, three prominent institutions have been established to facilitate these strategies and policies and to assure the educational quality that comprised of the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia, the Supreme National Council of Education, and the Directorate Department of Higher Education.
As I mentioned, Cambodian HEIs need more financial support from the government to facilitate their academic programmes. For example, they need to spend much more budgets for engineering and science majors’ laboratory experiments, and salaries.
6. How do you see the future of human resource in Cambodia?
I think that our human resources will increase dramatically in term of quantities and qualities in the near future because of the rapidly increasing of high school students and higher education institutions every year. For example, in the academic year 2011-2012, there are 11, 0000 students will take the high school examination, and then they will enrol in higher learning institutions. Nevertheless, our concern is the educational quality of Cambodian graduates to compete with other country members in common markets of ASEAN community in 2015. Compared with neighbouring countries in the Southeast Asian region, Cambodia ranks 139th of the 187 countries, in the area of human capital, with Singapore at 26th, Brunei at 33th, Malaysia at 61st, Thailand at 103th, Indonesia at 124th, Vietnam at 128th, Laos at 138th, and Myanmar at 149th respectively (UNDP, 2011). Thus, we need potential human capitals who have qualified experts and professional ethics to serve in our public and private sectors.
7. How can students be sure they are getting good value for money- a good education?
As long as they have a good education, they can get well paid salaries. Hence, students need to improve their personal capacity of professional skills (disciplines), additional skills, languages, and Information Technology. Students should be clearly aware of their educational quality and career prospective to participate in competitive markets since they had studied in high school. In this regards, teachers, parents, and mass- media should be actively involved in spreading these messages to all students.
8. Is the education system giving students the skills they need to be competitive? Especially after 2015 (ASEAN community)?
I think that our current educational system is on the right way to equip Cambodian students with the skills that could be competed in the regional and international levels. Many policies and projects are initiated by government and country donors to enhance the educational quality of HEIs. For example, the World Bank has provided five years granted project namely the Higher Education Quality and Capacity Improvement 2010-2015, and the Development Grants for Cambodian Higher Education Institutions. I, personally, have an optimistic that Cambodian students will have enough capacity to compete with other ASEAN’s country members after the year of 2015.
9. Is the accreditation in Cambodia strong enough? What should be done?
I found that Cambodia accreditation is not strong enough because of its infancy and resources. Especially, the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia (ACC) is an independent institution that supervised by the Council of Ministers, and it has been functioning as an external quality assurance body to evaluate the educational quality of all HEIs throughout the country. It is so difficult to fulfil its mandatory duties in assuring and monitoring the quality of higher education instructions; it has faced some obstacles to carry out its effective tasks because of human resource and financial support constrains. The ACC’s budget is only supported by donor countries and international development organization.
Therefore, ACC should be reformed as follows:
- ACC should be employed more PhD or expert staffs who have high qualified experiences to assure and monitor the educational quality of Cambodian higher learning institutions.
- ACC should be granted enough financial supports to facilitate its effective functions.
- ACC should be working closely with other regional and international accreditation bodies to be the internationally recognized Cambodian HEIs.
- ACC should be cooperating closely with relevant ministries that provide higher education services.
- ACC should be an independent professional body as an external quality assurance and it could be avoided conflict of interests with public HEIs in particular.
- ACC should be clearly aware of suitable skills in responding to social needs and labour market demands, and it can advise higher learning institutions to modify their curriculum and extra-curriculum
- ACC should encourage HEIs to be integrated into their institutional policies to become the world class university