Global partnerships often inspire higher education development. Partnerships were traditionally formed between universities in developed and developing countries. Increasingly important, however, are university partnerships across emerging economies where the common challenges of increasing access and ensuring quality are shared. Tested solutions and good practices may be applicable to address similar challenges in another country. Against this backdrop, there has been a close cross-country collaboration between the Higher Education Quality and Capacity Improvement Project (HEQCIP) in Cambodia and the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) in Bangladesh since 2010. Inspired by the success stories of HEQEP in recent years, a Cambodian delegation working for HEQCIP visited Bangladesh from August 30 to September 4, 2014 to learn from the experience of the HEQEP, which has had a few years head-start on implementing a competitive research grant program for universities.Long in the shadow of past tragedy, the Cambodian education system is still faces many fundamental challenges – an acute shortage of trained intellectuals, accelerating brain drain and low capacity in governance, among others. Higher education plays a critical role in re-building a cadre of highly educated and globally competitive professionals and officials who will be leaders of the country. While one might wonder how the experience of Bangladesh can be relevant to Cambodia, a country with widely different historical, geographical, and demographical background; Dr. Un Leang – the mission leader and Deputy Director of Department of Higher Education – emphasized that the experience in Bangladesh will be a good model for Cambodian as there are many common education trends in two countries; for example, rapid growth of enrollment and number of private universities, low public budget allocation, weak quality assurance system, and low research capacity.
During the visit, the Cambodian team had a series of meetings with senior education officials and key HEQEP staff to exchange knowledge about achievements and challenges in the higher education development. They took several field trips to universities supported by the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF). The Cambodian team was most impressed by discussions they had with the AIF sub-project managers for their remarkable research outcomes and an array of innovative researches implemented. Strong research capabilities and passionate devotion demonstrated by the sub-project managers deeply impressed the Cambodian team.
The visit to Chittagong was a particularly fruitful experience for the Cambodian team. At Chittagong University, the honorable Vice Chancellor (VC) of the university expressed a strong interest in developing future inter-university partnership with Cambodian universities. At the Veterinary and Animals Science University (CVASU), the team visited the ‘Satellite Veterinary Clinics’ project which successfully introduced the ambulatory van and clinic for animals – the first of its kind in Bangladesh – and modernized their surgical facilities for training. “This sub-project showcases how dual impacts can be made through university research activities not only on academic knowledge, but also for the welfare of society”, said Mr. Tsuyoshi Fukao, the HEQCIP Task Team Leader of the World Bank.
Reflecting on their fruitful visit, Dr. Leang emphasized one important lesson his team is taking away: “What really lay behind the success of the sub-projects was synergy of advanced qualifications of researchers and the commitment from the institutional leadership at all levels. The same high level commitment is necessary for Cambodia, and we need to strengthen them. We have learnt a lot from the visit and will make full use of the valuable experience for improvement of the research grant scheme upon return to Cambodia”.
The cross country collaboration between the higher education projects in Bangladesh and Cambodia is set to grow further in the future.