Permeability in Cambodian Post-secondary Education and Training: A Growing Convergence
Keyword: Permeability, student mobility, post-secondary, education and training, qualifications framework, Cambodia
The distinction between vocational training and academic education can be traced back to different institutional structures in medieval Europe. However, owing to an increasing need for higher-level skills to respond to market demand, countries have resolved to establish flexible pathways for students on both tracks or systems to move or transfer across to each other. Permeability in education and training refers to the possibility for learners to transfer between different types of education and between different levels of qualifications. In its recommendations, UNESCO highlights the important role of TVET in providing options for lifelong learning that can take place at secondary, post-secondary and tertiary levels and includes work-based learning and continuing training and professional development which may lead to qualifications. Permeability helps to increase the attractiveness of TVET by eliminating the concept that this is a dead-end track. It also contributes to social inclusion and mobility by providing opportunities for disadvantaged groups to pursue higher education. In theory, Cambodian students can move between the two systems in Cambodia through the recognition of prior learning, as both TVET institutes and universities have adopted the credit system. Nevertheless, little is known about student mobility in Cambodia between these two systems. This study intends to explore the permeability pathways between post-secondary TVET and academic higher education and identify challenges hindering student transfer between the two tracks.
Employing the thematic analysis approach, this study follows the six-step process of thematic analysis developed by Braun and Clarke (2006), and the hybrid process of Swain (2018) in combining both inductive and deductive approaches in coding the transcribed interviews and generating the themes and sub-themes. Two main sources of data – primary data obtained through key informants at universities and technical training providers, and secondary data from policy documents – were used for the analysis in this study. Semi-structured interviews with the informants were guided by an interview protocol and conducted in Khmer between early February 2020 and late April 2020. In total, representatives from 15 selected training institutions and universities participated in face-to-face and online interviews. The secondary data was gleaned from policy documents such as the Cambodia Qualifications Framework, the Royal Decree on the accreditation of higher education, the Prakas on internal regulation of student admission from MoEYS, along with the ministry’s guideline No 09, and the ACC's decision on credit systems and credit transfer implementation for higher education.
To begin with, the study examined the pathway into post-secondary TVET and academic higher education in Cambodia. There is little difference in qualification requirements to enter post-secondary TVET and higher education, although students from low-income households and those who are academically low performing, are more likely to enter the TVET track. Attracting talented students to the two-year higher diploma programs has been a challenge for some public TVET providers.
There are several pathways that enable students to move between post-secondary TVET and academic higher education in Cambodia, but the most common permeability pathway is through the higher levels of TVET qualifications. After the introduction of the Cambodia Qualifications Framework (CQF), more and more public technical training institutes have started offering bachelor’s degree programs, allowing students to smoothly progress to higher-level training and education after graduating from the two-year higher diploma programs. Credit transfer between the two tracks is another pathway, yet it is a route much less travelled. Both sub-sectors have adopted the credit system, and the transfer system has been in place for many years. Nevertheless, the cross-system transfer is still less commonly practised due to its complexity and the absence of consensus on the recognition of prior qualifications.
The study has identified several challenges that have hindered student mobility between the two sub-sectors. First, universities and institutes under MoEYS and the MLVT evaluate a student’s prior learning based on different guidelines, which results in conflicting practices. The differences in orientation and quality assurance mechanisms are another barrier to permeability for students who wish to move between the sub-sectors. With limited inter-ministerial coordination and effective communication, these challenges remain unaddressed.
The study found that the two tracks have, in many aspects, grown alike and in some ways in competition with each other as both strive to meet the demand of the labour market and the students themselves. Each starts to take roles supposedly performed by the other: academisation of TVET and vocationalisation of academic higher education. More and more technical training institutes offer higher-level qualifications and courses similar to those within academic higher education. Meanwhile, some universities have introduced professional tracks and incorporated internships into their programs.
Based on the findings, the study presents three policy implications: i). Jointly establish a common guideline on how to recognise and evaluate prior learning and credit transfer to facilitate the horizontal permeability between the two tracks; ii) Rather than drifting far away from their original mission and orientation, both TVET institutes and academic universities should enhance the quality of their programs based on their strengths and uniqueness; and iii). To make TVET more attractive and to eliminate the perception that TVET is second-class education, the government needs to continue to incentivise students to choose this track, improve TVET quality, and at the same time put more effort into winning financial and technical support from the private sector in respect of curriculum design and joint collaboration in research and development and the provision of apprenticeship opportunities.