It is inarguable that high quality research is one of the core elements for developing countries to create feasible and highly effective strategies towards economic, educational, environmental and social prosperity.
However, both the number of research being done and the number of researchers do not seem to reflect significant advancements.
This is why the government of Sweden, through the Research Cooperation Unit of Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Embassy of Sweden, awarded a USD10-million fund to the Kingdom’s biggest university, Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), to boost the capacity of high quality research training among students and scholars in Cambodia.
During the agreement signing between the Embassy of Sweden and RUPP at the Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Center last week, officials from both parties as well as the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport unanimously agreed that Cambodia’s research system should be upgraded and well implemented to aid in finding solutions for the nation’s problems and challenges.
The multi-million dollar fund will be used for a four-year pilot phase of the research training, which will initially focus on strengthening the information and communication technology infrastructure at RUPP and on supporting the capacity development of scientific research post-graduate training at the faculties of science and engineering.
AnnaMaria Oltorp, head of Sida, said that she believes there are so many challenges for a country if it wants to develop, economically and socially. Therefore, research-based knowledge would highly be needed. She emphasised that in the context of Cambodia, the kingdom also look for researchers from outside. But the problem is the outsourced research team doesn’t fully understand the local context so Cambodia needs more local researchers who can actually address the challenges that the country is facing.
“Research infrastructure of Cambodia is somehow lacking, whilst sometimes people need laboratories, access to international literature so then students can see what others have done professionally, labs for experiment. However, some of them are not available here. Therefore, through this pilot phase, we provide some laboratory equipment and we will be also strengthening the ICT infrastructure.”
Present in the signing ceremony was minister of education, H.E Dr Hang Chuon Naron, who remarked that Cambodia has moved from low income to middle income country, and it even now aspires to be a high income country. Without qualified human resources, he added that Cambodia will not be able to become the real owner of its development process. Therefore, investing more in youth is also an investment for the country’s future.
Dr Naron further shared that the Embassy of Sweden in Phnom Penh has funded the development of policy research for the Cambodian Development Resource Institute (CDRI) for over 20 years. But this time, the funds will be focused on ICT. Qualifications of researchers rely on the research system, institutional capacity and individual capacity.
“In order not to repeat the same things and to discover new things, teachers have to teach students how to do their own inquires and researches to contribute to classroom learning. Teachers must be know-ledgeable in using laboratory, different sources of teaching materials and don’t just rely on single textbook. It is the duty of the school to create 21st century libraries that have internet connection to enable student to do their projects. That is how students can participate in the construction of knowledge in this digital revolution.”
Changing teaching approach cannot be done with ease, added Dr Naron. At university level, he expressed that he is happy that the cooperation focuses on ICT component and post-graduate training, becoming a good seed for PhD level. Without PhD hol-ders who serve as professors, universities cannot operate well. Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of the teachers in the universities in Cambodia earned only their master’s degrees. Therefore, by creating in-house PhD University, it would encourage more and more Cambodians to study in Cambodia and be the country’s economic driving force in the future.
Dr Chet Chealy, rector of RUPP, admitted that their students in the science department have been somehow deprived access of experiment and research materials.
“Our students, so far, have to study based on the textbooks that are written by foreign authors so all of those lectures cannot be always applied in the Cambodian context. Aligned with the support from the Embassy of Sweden, we encourage our students to use this opportunity to promote their learning through quality research. Students and scholars will be supported with relevant materials as well as in building their capacity as good researchers.”