The number of students enrolled in higher education institutions in Cambodia has been steadily on the rise year-upon-year and the number of graduates with degrees is also at an all-time high, with significant numbers of those students then pursuing postgraduate studies abroad or at home with financing through scholarships or loans.

Some students are still dropping out of school early in order to search for jobs but many are unable to find jobs or end up in low-paid jobs. Unemployment among Cambodians who are attending college and post-graduation has become a major concern for all higher-ed students in the Kingdom.

“Some students with fewer academic achievements have no choice when they are choosing universities and are sometimes forced to attend wherever they can obtain the most complete scholarship even if the course of study is not what they are passionate about learning. However, when they graduate that can also be a factor that makes it hard for them to find jobs,” said Sak Kanika, ART Advocacy Officer of the Youth Resource Development Programme (YRDP).

She also mentioned that information technology usage and literacy in Cambodia remained limited and that’s why some graduates who have Bachelor’s degree and need to find jobs are unable to connect with the jobs market, locate suitable job opportunities or identify professions and careers that are suitable for their skill set, because they just don’t know where to find reliable information on these topics.

“I see that the job market in Cambodia is good for young people with degrees, but many of the available positions are labour intensive jobs and some others are not in accordance with the labour laws yet,” she added.

She continued that some young people were forced to work almost without a single day off each month for economic reasons and some workplaces failed to fulfil their obligations to register with the Ministry of Labour and similarly failed to honour their obligations towards their workers, leaving many without health insurance or travel insurance and some did not even receive National Social Security Fund cards.

However, some students think that the market size in Cambodia has not yet grown large enough to meet the needs of Cambodia’s swelling number of young, educated professionals.

Sam Ath Rachana, a law school graduate, said that there is a lot of work available but it does not fully meet the needs or expectations of students who just spent four years studying in order to better themselves and start a career.

Therefore, he felt, the best option for many students was to find an internship to match their skills from their basic university education to sharpen them and more easily find a job after the internship is done.

“Most of our students study theory only while in classes. We do not have a good system of putting theory into practice like some other countries have. Other countries have practice that makes the students of those countries strengthen their skills by doing,” she added.

She also raised the issue of students doing work that mismatches their skills, because sometimes jobs that match their skill sets are low-paying and cannot realistically support them.

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution to these issues, unfortunately, other than to persevere and keep looking for the job you dream about,” she said.

In a report by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the total number of schools was pegged at 128 higher education institutions throughout Cambodia. Of that number, 48 are public higher education institutions and 80 are private higher education institutions located in 20 provinces and the capital.

The report said that there are 201,900 students taking higher education classes and just over 50 per cent are female.

A total of 45 higher education institutions provide postgraduate degree programmes, with 21 of those offering full doctorate courses of study.