Cambodian higher education

Vocational or tertiary education?

Cambodian higher education

After finishing secondary school, students can choose between vocational education and tertiary education. But what will happen to those who cannot afford either?

Only 14% of the population is eligible for tertiary education, and only 3-5% of young people are in higher education.

One of the biggest reasons for this is poverty. The government does not spend a lot of money on higher education as most of the education budget is spent on primary schools. This limits both, improvements in quality, and the number of schools in Cambodia. This lack of places results in high entry fees.

Unesco Institute for Statistics indicates that the allocation of resources of the total education expenditure in 2001 was;

  • Kindergarten: 1.10%
  • Primary school: 74.36%
  • Secondary school: 11.24%
  • Other types: 4.95%
  • Not allocated by level: 8.35%

As you can see, most of the money is spent on primary schools, leaving little for higher education.


While the private sector provides vocational training, with programmes ranging between a few months in length and a maximum of three years, the public programmes offer more structured training. These are the levels of public programmes available:

  • Level 1 (one year)
  • Level 2 (two years)
  • Level 3 (three years)

To be admitted onto one of these programmes, you must have received an education to at least Grade 9 (lower secondary education). Completing a level three programme is considered to be equivalent to a baccalaureate (awarded to someone who passed Grade 12).

With this certificate, students can start an undergraduate degree or related university course (with the approval from the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia).


Most universities are private. This is due to the fact that the government issued two new regulations in 1997.

  1. Public Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) were allowed to enrol students on a fee-paying basis.
  2. The HEI sector became available for private parties to set up universities and institutes, helping to promote privatisation of the sector.

As a result, in 2010, Cambodia had 33 public and 43 private institutions or vocational training centers - 41 of those 76 are universities, and are mainly based in Phnom Penh.

To get accepted into university, a student must:

  • Have a degree / high school completion certificate
  • Pass the university’s entrance exam
  • Pass the English Proficiency Test (EPT) given by the university

International students can check this database  for a list of courses and degrees in Cambodia.   


The documents that are normally required for enrollment in a university are:

  • A high school diploma. For those who are from Cambodia, The BAC II (12th Grade) exam result is also needed.
  • Birth certificate / National ID card / Passport
  • Entrance exam result
  • English Proficiency Test (EPT) result
  • Passport sized photos

Some schools may also ask for a recommendation, or documents regarding your stay and  a visa.

Study abroad schemes

For international students who are interested in spending a semester or summer in Cambodia there are several study abroad schemes and scholarships available.

These schemes often include Cambodia as part of a wider Southeast Asia stay. Students are given the opportunity to study the country’s history and culture, either with a language course, homestay, or volunteering opportunities.   

The following websites offer opportunities to study in Cambodia:

Further reading

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