Working Paper   135

Faculty Engagement in Cambodian Higher Education Internationalisation

Published: 20-Dec-2022
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Internationalisation is known to contribute to higher education development, particularly through the integration of international, inter-cultural or global dimensions into the purpose, functions, or delivery of higher education institutions (Knight 2004). Within this inter-connected world, higher education institutions are pressured to produce quality human resources with global citizenship characteristics. Students have benefited greatly from this process as they can have access to international/regional standards of education services and the opportunity to be exposed to other countries, people, and cultures. Academics likewise benefit as they are able to exchange knowledge and experience with their peers in other countries and have chances to collaborate with them on research projects. At the institutional level, four rationales lead higher education institutions to internationalise themselves. They are: academic (to improve education service delivery), socio-cultural (to discuss local cultural identity, intercultural understanding, and global citizenship), political (to support foreign policies and international technical assistance) and economic (to generate extra revenue and to compete globally). With these stated benefits, it is crucial to have active participation from all relevant stakeholders, especially the faculty members, whom Childress (2018, 37) recognises as the “steward[s]” of the teaching, research, and services of the institutions of higher education. Therefore, it is the purpose of this study to explore the engagement of Cambodian faculty members in higher education internationalisation. The specific objectives of the study are to examine faculty members’ attitudes toward internationalisation, to identify internationalisation activities that they have been engaged in, and to explore factors influencing their participation in those internationalisation activities.

This study employed a two-stage purposive sampling technique to recruit the participants. First, the research team identified target higher education institutions using reputational sampling and information on the institutions’ websites and social media pages. Then, the team requested the participating HEIs to nominate their faculty members and administrators for the study. The participants should have international experience and have at least two years of working experience at the current institution. Between May and July 2021, interviews were conducted virtually with 26 faculty members and 23 university administrators in eight HEIs in Phnom Penh, Battambang, and Svay Rieng. The interviews were recorded and transformed into text data using the edited transcription technique. Data were then imported into NVivo 12 for reflective thematic analysis.

The study finds that faculty members have a positive attitude towards higher education internationalisation as they perceive it as bringing benefits to the institution, particularly to teaching, learning, and research. However, their understanding of higher education internationalisation is limited to their roles and experience engaging in internationalisation activities and mostly focused on outbound mobility. Not many mentioned on-campus or inbound activities. A variety of faculty international engagements were reported throughout the study, and they have been categorised into three distinct types: capacity development programs, internationalising curriculum and teaching, and international research collaboration. Although there are various types of activities, the most visible is the capacity development program, particularly through short-course training or scholarships for post-graduate studies. The internationalisation of curricula has also been raised by the respondents, with a limited scope related to the use of foreign languages and the integration of international context into teaching and learning. Although research collaboration with foreign partners exists in Cambodia’s higher education, it is still scarce, considering that it is mainly concentrated in public higher education institutions. Further, this study grouped factors that determine faculty engagement in internationalisation-related activities into individual factors, institutional factors, and Covid- 19-related factors. The individual factors consist of intrinsic motivation, faculty employment nature (full-time or part-time), competencies, and demographic characteristics (gender and age). The institutional factors found in the study include leadership, institutional policies, human resources, and the type of institution (public or private). Last, the Covid-19 pandemic strongly affected internationalisation, as it caused a majority of activities to be cancelled or postponed, affecting faculty’s internationalisation activities. However, respondents also noted that Covid-19 helps reduce the time and costs required to implement internationalisation.

Faculty engagements in internationalisation are still limited in Cambodia. It is vital that both the government and HEIs put more effort into promoting internationalisation if the internationalisation goal and targets set in the Higher Education Roadmap are to be realised. MoEYS should dedicate extra funding to push the actions described in the roadmap. Lack of human resources is also found to be a hindrance to faculty engagement. Although this issue can be partially solved through the capacity development programs reported in the study, not many competent individuals are willing to commit to this profession full-time. An academic partnership is an effective way to promote academic mobility (inbound and outbound), and collaboration and establishing regional and international partnerships have been proposed in the roadmap. However, the study found insufficient activities under this strategy. Therefore, more actions should be taken to build the capacity of HEIs, both public and private, to succeed in seeking and sustaining international partnerships. Moreover, a proper reward system and an enabling environment are keys to the promotion of faculty engagement in internationalisation. Hence, it is imperative that university management develop and put into practice an internal policy incentivising faculty members to actively involve themselves in and initiate more internationalised activities and, at the same time, provide a supportive environment where faculty members can efficiently implement activities. Different from many other countries, Cambodian faculty members are paid by teaching hours. This explains why they are reluctant to be involved in activities not directly related to teaching or in any engagements that affect their teaching hours. Thus, HEIs should reconsider the current salary structure if they wish to increase faculty involvement in internationalisation. Even after several public reforms and interventions, the lack of research culture and research capacities continues to be an issue in Cambodian higher education. There should be a practicable mechanism to implement professional progress that is based on merit and knowledge generation, not only knowledge transfer. It is time for Cambodian HEIs to move from teaching-based to research-based institutions. University salaries need to be much more competitive to attract more talented and experienced full-time researchers.

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