Working Papers   136

A Quantitative Study on Entrepreneurial Intention of University Students in Cambodia

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Entrepreneurship is crucial to advancing the economy of Cambodia and fostering the development of society. The Royal Government of Cambodia has recognised the importance of entrepreneurship and included the promotion and entrepreneurship education in multiple policies and strategy. Universities and higher education institutes have been more active in providing entrepreneurship education (EE) as well as services and facilities to support startups in recent years. However, to date, there is very limited research on how young people in Cambodia perceive and prepare for entrepreneurial careers. 

This quantitative study draws on the survey data collected from 834 students in 19 higher education institutions (HEIs) to, first, understand how undergraduates in Cambodia plan and prepare for entrepreneurial career choices and, second, identify the factors associated with their intention to become entrepreneurs. The students in the sample were mostly in their third and final year of study; about half of them were completing a degree in business, management, marketing and related services. The quantitative data collected were analysed together with a review of academic literature on EE as well as policy documents and reports on innovation and entrepreneurship support in Cambodia. We believe that the data and the findings of the study can help the government and HEIs promote entrepreneurship more effectively and efficiently. 

The study finds that most students had very promising attitudes towards the career choice of being an entrepreneur. Eighty-two percent of them responded positively to the statement “I will make every effort to start and run my own firm” and 61 percent of them planned to have their own companies 5 years after graduation. 

Around one-third of the students already had the experience of forming and/or operating a business, most of which were in the trade sector (wholesale and retail). A large majority of these students gained their business experience fairly recently, within the last 12 months at the time of the survey. 

The study also collected data on whether the students received EE, which included both formal academic education programs and training workshops offered by other organizations. Most of the students in the sample (70 percent) had attended EE programs at some point. It also finds that the EE was largely effective in boosting students’ motivation, knowledge, and skills in starting a new business. 

EE notably comprises not only the learning of theories and knowledge; and, in recent years, the government, HEIs and other stakeholders have been promoting start-up programs and other opportunities for students to gain practical experience. The data showed that the level of participation in such programs and activities was generally low, although most of them acknowledged that they were aware of the programs or activities. Workshops or training on entrepreneurship were the most popular activities, in which about 50 percent of the respondents took part. Entrepreneurship promotion events and business start-up programs ranked second and third, with 30 percent and 26 percent of the respondents said they participated, respectively. Very few students had been engaged in mentoring, consultation, business plan competition, and start-up programs. This was the case despite students’ relatively high interest in setting up their own businesses; in other words, there appeared to be an “intention-action gap”. 

Regarding the factors associated with the students’ intention to become entrepreneurs, the study reviewed academic literature and identified nine influential factors. The nine factors are on three dimensions: individual, family and social, and entrepreneurship-related education.

The study used multiple linear regression to test whether these nine variables are associated with the students’ entrepreneurial intention. 

The study finds that, on the individual dimension, students who identified themselves as Cambodian Chinese (Cambodian with Chinese ancestry) tended to have higher entrepreneurial intentions. Students with higher personal attributes like innovativeness, risk-taking propensity, proactiveness and critical thinking were also more likely to have a stronger entrepreneurial intention. Previous studies have found that these attributes were significant predictors of entrepreneurial intention, and this study confirms that such correlation remains valid in the Cambodian context. However, the study could not find any evidence to support the gender-based difference in entrepreneurial intention. 

Regarding the factors on the family and social dimension, the study finds that family income and perceived appropriateness were two variables that significantly predicted entrepreneurial intention. Such findings are in line with previous studies, indicating that family financial support and positive perception of entrepreneurial career in Cambodia greatly influenced students’ intention to start their own companies. 

All the three factors related to EE are found to be strong predictors of students’ entrepreneurial intention. There are significant even after controlling for other factors in the model. These factors are participation in start-up programs and related activities, doing a business major, and having a positive perception of higher education support. These findings reconfirmed the importance of EE in Cambodia in increasing students’ intention to become entrepreneurs. 

The study also points out that three of all the factors included in the analyses seem to be most influential in determining entrepreneurial intention. They are: personal attributes (innovativeness, risk-taking propensity, proactiveness and critical thinking), perceived appropriateness of entrepreneurship for society, and perceived support from higher education institutions. Based on the findings, the study puts forward three recommendations for the government, HEIs and other stakeholders on the provision of EE. First, it is advisable that HEIs provide students with more opportunities to gain “hands-on experience”, including internship and entrepreneurial activities. This would help further increase students’ entrepreneurial intention and close the intention-action gap. Second, there is a need for providing and strengthening startup-supporting programs in universities, as they help students act on their intention and foster innovation. HEIs with less resources may want to consider making use of the existing startup support network in Cambodia. Third, HEIs should continue to provide courses and learning activities that develop the four positive personal attributes that contribute to increasing entrepreneurial intention (i.e., innovativeness, critical thinking, proactiveness and risk-taking propensity). Also, it is advisable to start building these competencies early on at a lower level of education, as such attributes tend to take a long time to form.

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