Practices and challenges for academic career management in Cambodian public higher education

Chan HUM

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


The changing parameters arising from globalisation, massification and diversification of higher education (HE) have reconfigured the academic career system, globally, especially in less developed nations such as Cambodia, where the management of academic careers in public higher education institutions (HEIs) is being reformed from state control to managerial governance. However, limited research attention to the management of academic careers does not well inform policymakers and academic leaders about the issues underlying the reform process. Therefore, Cambodia remains a potential case to examine the management of academic careers, investigate the alignment features of management practices, and explore key challenges in such an evolving space of public HEIs.

A cross-pollinated theoretical framework combined a sociological theory of academic careers (Hermanowicz, 2012; Musselin, 2013) with a theory of academic human resource management in HE (Fumasoli, 2015; Kekale, 2015; Pausits et al., 2022) was used to examine the research problem to address the research questions. Mixed-methods research (MMR) with an exploratory sequential design adopted from Creswell (2014) and Creswell and Clark (2018) was used to collect data at four public HEIs from two phases. The first phase was qualitative research, which used semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs) to collect data. The interviews were conducted with 18 Cambodian academic leaders, including 4 senior leaders and 14 mid-level leaders, and the FGDs were carried out with 25 academic teachers, including 13 civil servants and 12 contracted employees in the four HEIs. The second phase was quantitative research, conducted to collect data through an online survey with 200 academic teachers, including 100 civil servants and 100 contracted employees in the same HEIs. Quantitative results were analysed to verify the actual practices of academic career management, alignment features and key challenges explored and discussed in the qualitative research phase. Thematic Analysis was applied using NVivo software to generate codes and themes of qualitative SPSS was performed using Descriptive Statistic Analysis, independent-sample t-tests and ANOVA tests for quantitative results.

The findings drawn from qualitative and quantitative analyses show variant practices in academic career management within and between the four public HEIs. Of the four HEIs, the management of academic careers is highly centralised by state agencies through the selection, promotion, and compensation of academic civil servants, while the academic self-ruled system is inconsistently carried out to hire contracted employees at young HEIs A and B. In addition, the management of academic civil servants at Institution C is not only centralized but also perpetuated by different state agentic roles and power relations, while the academic self-regulated system is inconsistently implemented. In contrast, the management of academic staff at Institution D appears more decentralised yet remains following an inbreeding model to hire its graduates for teaching and research positions.

The state centralisation, coupled with weak institutional leadership, negligence, and tacit guidelines, is a potential issue of academic career management that misaligns the processes of academic recruitment, training, performance evaluation and compensation practices in the four HEIs. Consequently, the above structural challenges hinder the development of academic careers and their teaching and research competencies. The findings also indicated that the influence of state legitimacy and power, weak institutional capacity, and resource deficits challenge the management of academic careers and restrict the four HEIs to motivate and retain young, talented academics.

To conclude, the management of academic careers in Cambodian public HEIs, as indicated by this study, is regulated by state regulatory frameworks in the case of civil servants. Meanwhile, the management of contracted academic staff lacks local policy guidelines and resources for conducting rigorous recruitment, training, evaluation, and compensation. Consequently, the management practices of academic careers were maligned to develop academic careers and their teaching and research competencies.

This study contributes to the debate on academic career management in Cambodian public higher education (HE) to inform policymakers, academic leaders, and development partners of the key challenges so that they can strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of the academic career system. This study also contributes to theoretical and practical implications on academic career research and practice beyond the Cambodian HE context. However, using the exploratory sequential design, this study limits its findings to the selected institutions, participants, methods, and resources used within the research time framework from 2020 to 2023.

Further studies using comparative methods may generate different results and, therefore, provide more insight into the issue of academic career management, alignment features and key challenges cutting across institutional and national perspectives. Longitudinal studies may also provide significant results to understand the impact of management practices on academic career development, academic motivation, and commitment. Therefore, this study develops a path for comparative research on the under-researched topic in the evolving landscape of Cambodian public HE and other countries facing similar issues in the East and South Asian region. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • LO, Sing Kai 盧成皆, Supervisor
  • YU, Wai Mui, Christina 姚偉梅, Supervisor
  • CHOI, Tae Hee, Supervisor
  • SOK, Say, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Management
  • Alignment
  • Academic careers
  • Cambodia
  • Higher education
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ph.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2023.


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