PHNOM PENH - Not enough priority is given to research in Cambodia, threatening its longterm development, economists and other experts say.
Larry Strange, executive director of the Cambodian Development Research Institute, says the country cannot plan for major reform, build its economy, or reduce poverty without proper analysis of its ongoing challenges.
“Good research is fundamental to policy-making and implementation,” he told VOA Khmer.
But the research that is necessary is missing those who might take it on, experts say.
“At the individual level, we don’t have many human resources that are interested in research,” ‘said Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association.
The low quality of Cambodia’s educational institutions, especially in higher education, along with limited investment in them, are also factors, Strange said.
“The quality of tertiary education is still very uneven in Cambodia,” Strange said. “We have some very good public and private institutions, but they mostly focus on teaching, but not on building research skills.”
In neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, research institutions receive funding from the government, which helps decision-makers, Chan Sophal said. “However, the Cambodian government has not yet reserved any funding for research institutions and researchers.”
Cambodia’s investment in research is so low that it is not ranked by the World Bank. But according to government statistics, about 275 post-graduate students, about 2.2 percent, are currently studying research and development. This includes research in economics, agriculture, the environment and good governance.
Mak Ngoy, general director of the higher education department at the Ministry of Education, said that despite low government investment, it is committed to pushing for more research, and that funding has increased in recent years. That includes a World Bank project of $3.2 million to improve higher education and fund 31 research proposals from public and private universities.
There are some universities, like Puthisastra, that focus on research. Chou Heng, a lecturer there, said that 30 percent of the university’s curriculum is dedicated to strengthening research, including in the sciences.
But some Cambodian students still say they are not getting enough quality education in research.
Oungty Keithya, a fourth-year student at Pannasastra University, told VOA Khmer that research studies there are too basic to apply to the field. “My lecturer also told me that previous graduate students also have limited knowledge and skills in research.”
Much of the research being done in Cambodia is funded through donors, via local institutions like CDRI or the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. But even then, research topics are limited, and projects that might be critical of the government are self-censored, analysts say.
The Royal University of Law and Economics, for example, recently banned students from researching 14 different topics, including drug abuse, land disputes and claims of territorial loss to neighboring countries. All of these are politically sensitive topics, and are often where the most research is needed.
Chan Sophal, of the Cambodian Economic Association, said that quality research in Cambodia will require more freedom for students and academics. “There should not be political pressure on them, so that they can think and analyze critically,” he said.