Aiming to address a skills mismatch in the Cambodian economy, the government has put a hold on new licences for higher education courses in the fields of business and finance.
In response to a growing need for science and engineering skills, as well as trade-qualified workers, such as mechanics and electricians, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport released a statement to Cambodian universities in December attempting to curb what the government says is an oversupply of business graduates.
“So far, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has noticed that students’ registration at higher education is heavily focused on business sector,” the statement, a copy of which was obtained by the Post yesterday, reads. “To enforce the reforms in higher education to respond to demand in the job market and current economic development, MoEYS would like to announce to the public that the ministry will temporarily suspend giving out licences [to existing universities] to launch courses in Management, Accounting, Banking and Finance,” the announcement continues.
Contacted yesterday, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said Cambodia’s economy is moving into more sophisticated manufacturing, like electronics and auto parts, and reforming the education system is part of that transition.
“Currently, there are around 220,000 students studying at university … about 50 per cent are studying their majors related to management, law, accounting, banking and finance, which is driving a surplus of human resource in this field in job market,” he said.
“We want to see more students studying in agriculture, engineering, technology, industry and mechanics,” the minister added.
The restriction on new business courses will help address quality issues, too, Naron said, with some universities launching new courses in business to simply fill class rooms without having the proper resources to teach those subjects.
There are 105 high-education schools in Cambodia, a figure Naron called “too many”.
“[Those higher education institutions], if they wish to expand their operations, they can expand on providing courses that respond to the market demand,” Naron said.
“We did job consulting and seminars for students about the demand in the market, so that they can be well-prepared. If they choose to still study in the service field, there will be no job for them,” the minister added.
The skills shortage continues to be a major hurdle for Cambodian business. The World Bank in October released its 2014 Investment Climate Assessment for Cambodia and named a lack of skilled labour in manufacturing industries as a key constraint hampering the Kingdom’s productivity and ability to tap into regional supply chains.
“The gap between supply and demand and job mismatch is occurring due to the changes in the country’s economic development and structure,” said Heng Sour, spokesperson of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational training.
“It is part of government policy to promote the industrial sector as well as our ambition to become a middle income nation by 2030. It is important for us to prepare the labour force in line with the direction where our economy is heading,” he said.
Although agriculture and the garment industry are contributing a large share of Cambodia’s GDP, Sour said, the government plans to expand the Kingdom’s economic base, through its National Employment Policy to more sophisticated industries that demand more technical skills.
The draft version of the policy is expected to be signed off before the end of June, Sour said.
But Seng Bun Thoeun, vice rector of the National University of Management, said that students would continue to favour business courses as light-industry remained underdeveloped in Cambodia.
“We need to look at the level we are standing. Cambodia is not a production-based country. Those graduated with engineering or mechanic degree can only work to repair,” he said.
Still, Thoeun welcomed the government’s push into broader fields of study, although it would take more than restricting a university’s curriculum to steer students away from business, he said.
“Most students would prefer to work in an air-conditioned office rather than under the hot sun,” he said.
“Their career choices are sometimes influenced by their parents or relatives who promise to secure a place for them if they graduate with the same [business administration] fields,” Thoerun added.