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Inquiring minds: Cambodian students worry about their country's future

Stéphane Guimbert's picture

It's been a very enriching experience to listen to the reactions of these 1200 or so college students.
Over the past couple of weeks, thanks to my colleagues Saroeun and Sophinith, I have traveled to various universities in Cambodia to present the findings of the World Bank’s growth report for the country. It's been a very enriching experience to listen to the reactions of these 1200 or so students. It was also nice to see the dynamism of these universities and these students.

Most interesting was the focus of their questions. Although the report is focused on medium- and long-term trends, many questions were about the impact of the global economic crisis. My answer: Cambodia is very exposed to the crisis given its openness and reliance on foreign investment, and despite the strong resilience of its rural economy.

There were also many questions about extractive industries. The answer is in Chapter 5 of the report: there remain considerable uncertainties about the potential in oil and gas and in mining, with in fact practically no major proven commercially viable reserve so far.

In all sessions, there were a few students wondering how Cambodia could develop with the significant governance challenges that these students are familiar with. One answer: the past decade of growth in Cambodia has shown that Cambodia has a strong potential, but governance is the key development challenge that in particular limits the options for the diversification of the economy. Students were also interested in knowing which products would grow in the future – and by extension which topics they should study. I told them I don't know. But our analysis (see Chapter 4 of the report) gives some hints about Cambodia's comparative advantage.

Students were also interested in knowing which products would grow in the future – and by extension which topics they should study.
It was interesting to note the differences across universities: more questions on the crisis in Phnom and Siem Reap (and for the latter, more questions on tourism); questions on trade with neighbors in Battambang (at the border with Thailand); questions on natural resource management and agriculture in Kampong Cham, etc. Finally, there were of course many questions about the role of the World Bank in Cambodia. My answer: see our website.

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