Sunday, August 9, 2015

Barriers of Doing Research in Cambodia

From my experience in fieldwork activities to assess the research environment in Cambodia (5 HEIs and various ministries), most academics and government officials I interviewed are eager to learn and conduct research, but face a host of challenges and are prevented from doing research due to various constraints.

The most often cited barrier is the lack of funding freely available for research purposes. The government ministries and the HEIs rarely receive funding for any research projects. This leads to limited resources, lack of necessary facilities, and creates financial constraints, especially for academics who are unable to invest a lot of time for research, as they must teach long hours to support themselves. The department head of research that I interviewed at one university teaches seven classes.

The second dominant constraint is the lack of research capacity. While many of those I interviewed expressed enthusiasm for research, they did not know how or where to even begin to conduct research. For example, World Bank research projects often require a lot of cumbersome paperwork and rigorous rounds of applications. This lack of capacity is especially difficult to address as it requires higher education institutes to emphasize research methodology in their curriculum and to provide more guidance about research to its students. Most lecturers, deans, and department heads are not fully trained in doing research themselves.

The third strain is the lack of English skills. Most of the key informants I spoke to admitted that they are not proficient enough in the English language to write competitive proposals, do literature reviews and produce good reports. This study pinpoints the fact that the country needs more resources to help non-English speakers so the people are better equipped to do meaningful research. One of the vice presidents at Pannasastra University of Cambodia confirmed the importance of the English language as the international language of research and higher learning: “In the Cambodian language, we do not have enough vocabulary for technology, for research, teaching material, the Internet library – so we need the English language.”

It is clear to me that a strong culture of research is missing in Cambodian higher education institutes and government ministries. This is not because of a lack of desire, but due to the lack of opportunities provided by the current system. Cambodian society in general does not give priority, importance and value to the potential of doing research. Furthermore, students at the university level are trained in and taught to conduct research only to fulfill their graduation requirements rather than being encouraged to develop intellectual curiosity and explore the benefits of research, which is unlimited in terms of creativity, innovation, and sustainable development. One of the key informants I spoke to highlighted the significance of doing research: “No research, no development.”

To improve the overall doing research environment in Cambodia will not only require just funding, capacity building, and English language proficiency but also economic and institutional solutions to the many barriers to access.