While Cambodia’s higher education sector has expanded rapidly the last decade, seeing an almost ten-fold increase in education institutions since 1997, research capacities among these institutions has hardly developed, with very few universities conducting their own scientific research, a new study found.
Kwok Kian-Woon, associate professor from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said yesterday most universities-public and private-do not see research as an objective and universities primarily function as teaching institutions, churning out ever-greater number of graduates, but hardly producing academic knowledge or building up research capacity among its staff or students.
“Universities must not just be 100 percent teaching institutions, in a good university teaching and research go together… to make the work of the university even more effective in society,” he said during a presentation at the 2010 Development Research Forum held at Hotel Cambodiana in Phnom Penh.
Mr Kian-Woon said most research in Cambodia is currently being conducted by international development organizations, government research centers and the private sector, and speakers at the forum said these institutions formed a robust and varied research community in Cambodia.
According to the study “Research Capacities of Cambodian Universities,” which Mr Kian-Woon conducted with several Cambodian researchers, the higher education sector had seen “phenomenal” growth, with the number institutions growing from 8 in 1997 to 76 institutions in 2010, mainly through growth of private institutions, which currently number 43.
He said so far the government had allocated very little budget for higher education-only $1.8 million out the total $24.5 million reserved for education in 2010-and the private sector had filled the fast-growing demand for higher education.
Mr Kian-Woon said it was “understandable” that the government prioritized reserving its limited funds for lower and secondary education, but he added the current policy for higher education “has to be thought of very seriously, this has to be reviewed because this [higher education] sector will become more and more important as Cambodia moves into higher gear in the next few decades.”
In addition to allocating more government funds to improve academic salaries and research facilities, universities leaders also needed to offer more support to develop a culture of research, Mr Kain-Woon said. He added there were some bright spots, such as the Royal University of Phnom Penh, which was actively expanding its research activities.
Ly Somony, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, said by telephone he did not share the study’s findings, adding he thought most university staff in Cambodia frequently undertook academic research.
“I do believe all professors do research, but some do much and some do little,” he said. “It is important and necessary to do research,” Mr Somony said. “We always advise professors and also the students to do research.”
Om Romny, director of the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, a public institution, said he could not judge the research capacities among other institutions. He said however, that at his institute, “professors join training, research and exchange knowledge,” while also actively pursuing research in cooperation with foreign universities.