Cambodia lacks vision in developing its higher education institutions, officials acknowledged on Tuesday, with Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron ordering the Higher Education Department to identify skills and disciplines the country will need in the next five to 10 years.
Rey Sopheak, deputy director general for higher education at the Ministry of Education, said that there was a need to improve the quality of lecturers and research, and that the government is not adequately funding higher education institutions for STEM education, among other things.
“We don’t have a clear plan,” he said of the development of the higher education institutions.
And some private universities are not much better off, according to Chuon Naron, who gave an example of one university – which he declined to name – that was supposed to train PhD students in law but whose advisers were not legal experts.
“How do they produce a PhD in law?” he asked. “It’s a big problem. Higher education is not a place to make profit.”
More than 70 of the country’s 119 institutions of higher learning are private.
Chuon Naron called for an evaluation of what the priorities should be, asking, “Where do we want to go?”
He also urged all universities to evaluate themselves, noting that in other countries, government agencies would not hold their hand in doing so.
The ministry’s Sopheak said there was a planned $90 million higher education improvement project, but the funding is pending approval by the World Bank. If approved, the project would start in July.
“For this project, we focus on [the] quality of teaching and learning,” he said, adding that it would also look to strengthen governance as the ministry wants universities to be fully autonomous.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said he believes higher education needs to undergo robust reform due to its long history of poor quality, especially among private institutions.
Career counselling is also needed at the high school level, and there needs to be more guidance on accessing higher education, he said. Students, he added, currently just follow their friends’ decision on what majors to choose.
“It happens from year to year,” he said. “It leads to the wrong decision for the students. This is a problem.”