A field of bean along Cambodian-Thai border in Malai District, Banteay Meanchey Province. Photo by Keo Dacil.


Cambodia suffers from a horrible deficiency in research skills, innovation, and respect for educational rigor that can be traced as far back as the colonial administration. Prior to French colonization (1863-1953), Cambodian education and information transmission was largely built upon oral culture. While the French administration cultivated a new class of Cambodian intellectuals that were trained in French educational institutions, the majority of the population sat on the periphery of the mission civilisatrice, having only marginal access to primary school and almost no higher educational institutions.  Until World War II, there was only one high school and no universities in existence. 

In the wake of independence, Prince Sihanouk’s administration focused on improving access to education by the construction of new schools and the training of new teachers.  This had a significant impact on Cambodian literacy; however, greater access to education did not necessarily translate into greater quality of education or scholarship.  Cambodia’s intellectual community and educational establishments looked to foreign models and ideas—which was not altogether unexpected or bad. However, in retrospect it facilitated a culture of dependence on foreign scholarship and a habit of mind that was centered on imitation and plagiarism.  These habits of mind can be observed today in a variety of forums and behaviors, such as from poor enforcement of copyright and intellectual property law to poor skills in research and critical thinking. The advent and explosion of new communication technologies, such as the internet, exacerbate the situation by encouraging students and Cambodian scholars to rely on others’ work and creativity, rather than seeking out new solutions or ideas.  In effect, innovation takes a backseat to efficiency and adroit imitation is put forward as intellectual rigor.

The 2010 Report, Scoping Study: Research Capacities of Cambodia’s Universities, confirmed this assessment when it determined that Cambodia’s universities suffered from an overall weakness in higher education quality and extremely low levels of faculty research. This, in turn, resulted in a lack of quality research training at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The Report advocated for increased cooperation with civil society, including annual forums to bring together international and local researchers and students.

The same Report noted that Cambodians brightest students are likely to pursue higher education abroad and are unlikely to return, resulting in significant brain drain. The lack of research capacity at the faculty level, coupled with low salaries for professors has significantly suppressed the overall level of undergraduate education in Cambodia. It has also been documented that the rapid expansion of higher education opportunities in Cambodia resulted in a rapid decrease in the overall quality of those opportunities. As a result, the next generation of Cambodians are not receiving the education, training and global exposure they need to lead the country.

The Research Center will address these long-term deficiencies and institutional patterns by serving as a conduit and guide for rigorous scholarship and research by way of publication, translation, and information management systems.