The University of Cambodia and Human Capital Development

The University of Cambodia and Human Capital Development
Dr. Angus D. Munro (Vice-President for Academic Affairs)

Globalisation has meant that the ‘great divergence’ of the largely colonial period is being replaced by a ‘great convergence’
(O’Sullivan, 2011): developing countries are catching up with developed ones in terms of economic output, and thus their populations have rising expectations about social development.
A prime reason for this process of catch-up has been the developing nations’ advantage of cheap labour. This has allowed China, for example, to establish itself as a major player in the global arena; and also let Cambodia get her foot in the door regarding efforts to return to the world stage through the development of the garment and tourist industries (together with the construction sector as a necessary extra ‘pillar’) as an alternative to largely subsistence agriculture (fig. 1). However, this cannot be relied upon as a sustainable means of advancement: competition with other countries clambering up the development ladder means that there is the need for progressive development in order to avoid the risk of being left behind, trapped in low income-generating activities.
Thus the evolution of globalised open markets, with the resulting increased dynamism of an increasingly ‘knowledge-based’ economy, places a premium on competitiveness, including the capacity for innovation and the adaptation of global information to create local outputs through research and development (UNDP, 2011). As a result, the increasing mobility of jobs means that employees need to be adaptable and flexible to achieve their aspirations, with a ‘skill set’ of the necessary knowledge and various skills and behaviours to be effective in the 21st century (Playfoot and Hall, 2009).
Developing on this theme, the McKinsey Global Institute (Beardsley et al., 2005; see also O’Sullivan, 2011) has identified three main categories of jobs: transformational (manufacturing and construction), transactional (routine clerical work) and interactional (requiring ‘soft’ interpersonal skills: see below). Of these, only the last is relatively unaffected by efforts to reduce labour and other costs through automation and/or being moved offshore.

The following briefly summarises the major conclusions of two recent reviews: one by the UNDP (2011) on the higher education system in Cambodia in relation to the need for investment in human capital formation; and the other by the World Bank (2012a) on a similar study with regard to an analysis of low- and middle-income Asia (respectively Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam; and China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines and Thailand). Overall, both reports focus on public higher education institutions (HEIs), including those related to technical and vocational education and training (TVET), and reach similar conclusions regarding Cambodia’s need to invest in these in order to further evolve with increasing productivity and economic diversification – important for attracting further foreign direct investment (FDI).

Thereafter, it will be considered how programmes at UC (a private HEI) have anticipated these, and what we can do to further improve – especially now that we have moved to our new, much larger, campus.This will also set the subsequent set of articles in this issue in context.

I. Investment in education: the problem of money
By way of background, the UNDP report noted that much of the government’s investment in education to date has – of necessity – focused on lower levels of the education system. The amount of money available has been limited by other competing demands: in particular, the need to kick-start economic growth in the aftermath

Figure 1 The growth and transformation of Cambodia’s economy, in terms of percentage shares of GDP (left) and employment
(right); note that, although the share for agriculture has decreased in each case, absolute numbers in employment
have increased for all three categories (World Bank, 2009).

of the Pol Pot era through the resurrection of infrastructure and institutions. Thus the transition from a closed to an open economy has meant that the limited money available had to be diverted away from education and investment in the future towards the more immediate problems of promoting current growth, with migrants from the countryside serving as a source of cheap unskilled workers to sustain mainly urban, labour-intensive industrial growth.

This investment in the school system, to meet the demands of the baby-boom of the 1990s, has achieved much in terms of enrolment and completion of primary school, in particular (UNDP, 2011). However, despite additional investment in secondary schools, there has been a progressively increasing drop-out from successively higher levels of education (see also World Bank, 2009). The UNDP (2011) review considered that this was due to the lack of incentives in Cambodia’s largely informal economy: apart from family commitments, another major factor which they identified was that, although recent growth has created unskilled job-opportunities, low wages and the lack of promotion opportunities mean that there is little to gain from a secondary education. Additional factors include problems in the transition into urban secondary education programmes faced by children whose parents migrate to the cities, in part due to the increased pressure on the existing already-strained school system.

II. Supply-side constraints
The World Bank (2012a) considered supply-side constraints in Cambodia (as well as the region in general) in greater detail, and identified five ‘disconnects’ which are restraining the development of the higher education system to a greater or lesser extent (fig. 2), together with making proposals about how these could be ameliorated.

Figure 2: The five major disconnects which the World Bank (2012) has identified as affecting a university’s performance As noted in the preceding section, one major disconnect is on the input side. Apart from the quantity of children completing secondary education, there has been the question of variable quality of different schools’ output which may lead to misalignments between what is expected of a student and what was done at school. Family income is another major factor, further accentuating the urban-rural divide.

The World Bank identified a second disconnect as being the lack of communication amongst universities and TVET-providers, resulting in constraints on student mobility for example. They generalised this as raising the problem of the need for quality assurance, so that students, prospective employers and other stake-holders know what to expect (and what they are paying for, in the case of tax-payers and private students). However, the report does not acknowledge the efforts of the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia (ACC) and MoEYS to address these problems. Thus, like the report of the UNDP (2011: cf. its Table 2.10, which has an entry for ‘Foundation Year’), that of the World Bank overlooks the role of the ACC, a body set up in 2003 to oversee the structure and running of the first year of a student’s undergraduate studies at listed public and private universities (see also Munro, 2011a, b).

A third disconnect is the fact that most universities do little or no research, and do not have close relations with research institutions. This was attributed to low research capacity because of financial problems, including lack of infrastructural resources, and lack of qualified personnel (see also Kwok et al., 2010).

This in turn contributes to the fourth disconnect identified by the World Bank, and one of the two on the output side: universities play little role in research transfer, technology adaptation and upgrading. Apart from the constraints pertaining to the preceding disconnect, another contributory factor is the lack of communication between universities and employers regarding what is available and what is needed with regard to R&D and technology transfer.
Each of the foregoing affects the final disconnect, which also relates to the output side: the quality of the graduates produced in relation to what is expected by potential employers. This is considered in the next section.

III. The reported shortcomings of Cambodian graduate output
The UNDP (2011) analysis referred to a variable, generally low quality of output, the lack of standardisation and the problem of corruption, with consequences for the employability of various universities’ output. It is important to note that many of the problems mentioned in the UNDP report are not specific to Cambodia: they apply to much of the region (World Bank, 2012a), to developing countries elsewhere (Playfoot and Hall, 2009; IFC, 2011), and also to the developed world (Bishop, 2011).
Playfoot and Hall (2009) observed that an effective education for employment is the transmission of a ‘skill set’ of the necessary knowledge and the various skills and behaviours which are requisite to be an effective employee in the 21st century.

Complaints regarding graduates relate to both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills (see fig. 3).1 In the case of ‘hard’ (technical) skills – those specific to a particular job – the UNDP noted that many graduates with degrees in the field of business (where there is the greatest over-production in Cambodia: HR Inc. Cambodia, 2010) do not have the essential skills or practical experience that is expected by employers. Thus they have to undergo internal training at a
1 This is in addition to a third category: academic (UNDP, 2011).

company’s expense, with further frustration if the now-upgraded employees then move on to pastures new at a higher wage. Apart from problems related to disconnect 1 (specifically, the variable quality of high-school education and thus the need to start from a relatively low base-line) and the fact that (as elsewhere) the rapidity of change means that there is an inevitable time-lag so that students’ specific hard skills may be out-of-date by the time of graduation, the World Bank report highlights a third: the lack of any information about what exactly are the hard skills expected by employers of the recruits whom they want to hire (see also Playfoot and Hall, 2009; IFC, 2011).

the requisite skills for professional positions was also reported to be for the ability to solve problems and for leadership, according to more than half of Cambodian respondents; amongst the other categories, technical skills emerged as being a concern of about a third of respondents, whilst language skills were relatively unimportant (fig. 4: based on data from CAMFEBA, 2008).5
The CAMFEBA (2008) survey included a more extensive analysis of the employers’ responses, as well as a survey of students and employed and unemployed youth (although
unfortunately details of the questionnaires themselves were not Concerning ‘soft’ skills,2 there is the particular need to teach people how to learn and thus be adaptable – something which is impossible to measure and difficult to implement (being dependent on variables such as attitude and aptitude, the results of experiences from birth onwards: universities can only do so much in order to build upon what was established earlier) (Playfoot and Hall, 2009; UNDP, 2011). In the local context, the UNDP notes that these are more difficult to find than hard skills: for example, many employers complain about poor work-attitudes such as lack of punctuality, which may be attributable to the transition from rural agriculture. More generally, lack of the requisite soft skills is a major issue in relation to globalisation, reflecting a global disconnect between what HEIs provide and what public and private employers require.

Compared with other countries in the region (fig. 3), Cambodian employers considered that the most important soft skill for professionals3 is the ability to solve problems, followed by leadership, then work attitude, communication and English skills; in contrast to many other countries, technical skills were not rated highly.4 The greatest difficulty in finding qualified candidates with
2 For example, thinking capabilities, such as being critical, logical and creative; and positive behavioural ones, including responsibility, self-discipline and teamwork, as well as basic IT competency and a willingness to learn. Being generic and thus less related to a specific job, they are thus ‘transferable’, albeit difficult to measure (Playfoot and Hall, 2009).
3 A professional staff was defined as “a person who works independently, performs a variety of tasks and requires a high level of skill or understanding” and includes “managers, supervisors, accountants, IT staff, administrative staff …” (CAMFEBA, 2008).

4 It is not clear whence the Cambodian data (Appendix figure F1.i : World Bank, 2012a) were obtained: it would not seem to be from CAMFEBA included). Thus, one general feedback from employers (fig. 5) was the need for the right attitude – presumably including the need for good time-keeping, keeping to deadlines, etc.

5 The CAMFEBA (2008) study was based on a survey of senior management in 220 companies, mainly in Phnom Penh, but broadly representative from small (< 10) to large (> 100) workforces, being equally divided between local and foreign-owned; 71% were private, and the rest NGOs; a professional staff was defined as “a person who works independently, performs a variety of tasks and requires a high level of skill or understanding” and includes “managers, supervisors, accountants, IT staff, administrative staff …” (CAMFEBA, 2008).

Also identified as important were:
doing voluntary work in order to learn practical skills ÔÔ(according to the CAMFEBA survey, almost half of respond ing employers said that they had internship openings); and
choosing appropriate courses (which presumably means ÔÔparticular degree programmes at specific universities): it is interesting to note that only about 10% of employers recommend students to complete more than one degree (fig. 6).

Another feedback was to educators at all levels. Of the six specific recommendations listed (fig. 6), the third was the need for educators to seek inputs from employers about what they needed. Logically, this should be the first, and then only as a half-component (employers should also take the initiative and provide such feedback to educators). It is a good illustration of the World Bank’s fifth disconnect (see Section II), and the need for an increased dialogue between universities (and other HEIs) and potential employers as stakeholders. However, as noted elsewhere (Playfoot and Hall, 2009; IFC, 2011), there is the problem of a lack of information about what employers, individually and more particularly as sector-related groups, actually expect regarding the profiles of qualities looked for in prospective employees.

In conclusion (IFC, 2011), there is the need for information transparency, so that it is possible to ‘match-make’ education providers and students with each other and with employers. Whilst employers can complain, they need to make sure that they are part of solution through working together as an industry to co-shape curricula with HEIs and provide career-counselling. This will help HEIs to produce work-ready employees, and reduce the costs of the in-house training (where this is provided, rather than just expecting new employees to learn by themselves on the job) and retention of an effective workforce. It will also help to provide career guidance for students, and thus minimise the costs and risks of ‘mis-recruiting’.

V. UC and Human Capital Development
In the setting up of UC and the subsequent fine-tuning of our degree programmes (including to meet the requirements of ACC and MoEYS: see e.g. Munro, 2011a, b), we have pre-empted many of the institutional recommendations made by both the UNDP (2011) and the World Bank (2012a). Furthermore, our Strategic Plan goes further towards meeting these recommendations.
1. Regarding the first disconnect – the transition from school to higher education – we have taken various steps.

a. Whilst we cannot directly help to further diminish the problems of pre-university education which MoEYS has been addressing, our General Education programme aims to provide our undergraduate students with courses outside their major, to broaden their knowledge and increase their flexibility when it comes to looking for jobs.

b. We have sought to expand access to higher education through the offering of competitive scholarships (e.g. see p. 3). This aims to partly overcome two of the three barriers to entering a HEI: the cash-constraint (‘liquidity’) barrier due to being unable to meet immediate costs; and the debt-aversion barrier, where there is no desire to incur debts even if there are expected to be long-term returns.6

2. To facilitate greater communication between HEIs (disconnect 2) and the broader issues covered by the World Bank (2012a) there-under, we have:
a. met the ACC’s requirements regarding our Foundation Year (see Munro, 2011a), as well as preparing to meet their forthcoming university- wide Nine Standards;
6 World Bank (2012): the third is the cost-benefit barrier, where expected returns in investment are presumed to be less that immediate
costs (see Section I).

b. sought to be transparent about our course descriptions and syllabi and the criteria for accepting transfer edits (in contrast to other universities), and thus facilitate both student choice and student mobility;
c. made sure that our examinations are professionally run, to minimise problems of cheating (Munro, 2009); and
d. sought to encourage QS-type external evaluations (see Munro, 2011b), with the ultimate aim of introducing national qualification frameworks for public and private HEIs.
3. To promote a research ethos (disconnect 3):
a. we expect all graduate students to do courses whichgive them the basic groundings in doing research in methodology, statistical design and analysis and writing research papers;
b. we expect all graduate students to do a serious research paper to use the skills learned in the foregoing courses;
c. we have progressively introduced similar courses into our undergraduate programmes (including one on Research Methodology, to be taken by all Bachelor's students), to the same end;
d. we also provide all students with a good grounding in the effective use of our library and e-library facilities;
e. we are planning the launch of our Institute for Research and Advanced Studies, together with other measures to build up an active and vibrant research community at UC, as a necessary counterbalance to our existing teaching strengths which will help to refocus and further reinforce the latter.
4. To encourage the transfer of research and technology to employers and others stakeholders (disconnect 4):
a. we are expanding the activities of our UC Student Sen ate and UC Alumni Association to promote a dialogue with faculty and others;
b. we make our library and e-library facilities open to the general public for personal research;
c. we plan to use the large, newly-equipped computer and IT labs at our new campus to run non-degree (TVET-related) courses on specific software technologies (see p. 32);
5. To anticipate the problems of the transition to the work-place (disconnect 5), our Curriculum Development Committee is expected to function as a component of the Internal Quality Assurance system and:
a. further develop courses on leadership, to be taken by all undergraduate and graduate students, so that they can be active participants in the further develop- ment of society (cf. figs. 2, 3);
b. continue to seek feedback from local employers and other stakeholders about their needs – and provide feed-forward information about what is available–through further development of existing activities (e.g. seminars organised by the UC Student Senate: see p. 8), and others (e.g. workshops) organised by the UC Alumni Association and individual Colleges all important vehicles to bridge the gap between the ‘ivorytower’ and the work-place (Playfoot and Hall, 2009; Bishop, 2011);7
c. use these inputs as the bases for continued efforts to regularly review and upgrade existing programmes, as well as introduce new ones; and thus both
d. require that syllabi ensure that students of a particular course acquire the appropriate up-to-date ‘hard’ skills, as appropriate; and also
e. encourage the judicious use of different teaching techniques and approaches (individual and group assignments, including class presentations; other lecture-based strategies) to encourage the augmentation of existing ‘soft’ skills;8
f. extracurricular workshops and other activities will be offered to further augment students’ skills in, for example:
resumé-writing and interview techniques; i.
entrepreneurship and being self-employed; ii.
the need to take responsibility for one’s own iii. future, continually upgrade one’s skills and acquire new expertise in a time of rapid change in an increasingly fluid labour market (Bishop, 2011)– something that UC can help with through short courses and workshops, etc., for graduated students.
g. we are exploring furthering the possibilities of providing students with opportunities for internships and work placements during their studies, although the present transition to a fixed-degree plan means that this is difficult to include in existing programmes (but see footnote 8);
h. In addition, the General Education programme will be further fine-tuned to the same ends, as well as to make our graduates more flexible and adaptable–essential for today’s workforce (IFC, 2011);
Also, as noted by the World Bank (2012a), internationalisation allows HEIs to better meet the latter four disconnects (that related to the input side is less direct). To this end, UC has been actively seeking to establish meaningful connections with other universities overseas. Examples include:
Ohio University (USA)1.
Inha University (South Korea)2.
Bansomedejechaoproya Rajabhat (Thailand)3.
Chosun University (South Korea)4.
Dongseo University (South Korea)5.
Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (India)6.
7 And thereby encourage employers to build up specific profiles of what is expected of new recruits, to the benefit of all: it will thus also help in career guidance for students, and thus minimise the costs and risks of ‘mis-recruiting’ (Playfoot and Hall, 2009).
8 Case-studies and other approaches provide a much broader foundation than does on-the-job training (UNDP, 2011).

Osaka International University (Japan)8.
Payap University (Thailand)9.
Tulane University Freeman School of Business (USA)10.
Houston University (USA)11.
Jenderal Achmad Yani University (Indonesia)12.
Tsinghua University (People Republic of China)13.
V. Conclusions
Given the emerging economic situation, the UNDP report identified the need for a ‘Human Capital Development Roadmap’ – a structured strategy to plan for the future with a long “gestation period” which should anticipate not only the needs of industry but also of government and of research and development, including information and communications technology, with the need for life-long learning. Such a roadmap requires a comprehensive approach which includes the government, private enterprises and civil society to identify skills-gaps and mismatches between supply and demand, in the public as well as in the private sector (e.g. HR Inc., Cambodia, 2010; ILO, 2010; Maclean et al., 2012; World Bank, 2012b), and thus devise policies to correct things.
The UNDP’s proposed Roadmap would seem to be as yet undefined, and is laudable in theory. In practice, there are problems: the stated gestation period means that there is the presumption that Cambodia must remain in a state of limbo until the roadmap is realised.
Nevertheless, UC has already sought to start to put the essential components of such a map into place and, as the following articles in this volume of the UC Bulletin indicate, there have been an acceleration in the continuing efforts of governmental bodies to do likewise. 
Beardsley, S. C., J. M. Manyika and R. P. Roberts (2005) The next revolution in interaction. McKinsey Quarterly Report, November:
Bishop, M. (2011) The great mismatch: Special report on the future of jobs. The Economist 10th September.
CAMFEBA (2008) Youth and employment: Bridging the gap. Phnom Penh: Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations.
HR Inc. Cambodia (2010) Higher Education and Skills for the Labor Market in Cambodia. Phnom Penh: HR Inc. Cambodia.
ILO (2010) Youth Employment: Why is it an issue for Cambodia? //
International Finance Corporation (2011) Education for employment: Realizing Arab youth potential. //
Kwok K. W., S. Chan, C. Heng, S. Kim, B. Neth and V. Thon (2010) Scoping study: Research capacities of Cambodia’s universities. Phnom Penh: Development Research Forum of Cambodia.
Maclean, R., S. Jagannathan and J. Sarvi, eds. (2012) Skills Development for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth in Developing Asia-Pacific. Asia Development Bank and Springer
Munro, A. D. (2009) The examination system and quality assurance at the University of Cambodia. UC Bulletin 3(3), 6-7.
Munro, A. D. (2011a) Recent changes in the UC Foundation Year Programme. UC Bulletin 13, 12-13.
Munro, A. D. (2011b) The need for professional benchmarking of standards in Cambodian Universities, in light of UC’s Australian Experience. UC Bulletin 13, 13-15.
O’Sullivan, J. (2011) A game of catch-up: Special report on the world economy. The Economist 24th September.
Playfoot, J., and R. Hall (2009) Effective education for employment: a global perspective. //
UNDP (2011) Human capital implications of future economic growth in Cambodia: Elements of a suggested roadmap. Phnom Penh: United Nations Development Programme, Cambodia.
World Bank (2010) Providing skills for equity and growth - preparing Cambodia’s youth for the labor market. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
World Bank (2012a) Putting higher education to work - skills and research for growth in East Asia. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
World Bank (2012b) Matching aspirations - skills for implementing Cambodia’s growth strategy. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

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