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Motivation of academics in the Global South: a case from Cambodia higher education

Songleng Chhaing (Faculty of Development Studies, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia) (Faculty of Education, Pannasastra University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
Sokwin Phon (Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Languages, University of Battambang, Battambang, Cambodia)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 15 December 2022

Issue publication date: 22 November 2023




The purpose of the article is to examine the motivation of the academics in a developing country, Cambodia, which is an under-researched country in order to look into the satisfaction level of the academics in various aspects of academic profession. This study helps inform policy makers and other stakeholders in higher education in Cambodia about the current status quo of academic profession in Cambodia, which acts to impede the quality of higher education in this country.


This study employed a survey design to examine the motivation of academics in a periphery country, Cambodia. The result from an online survey via Microsoft Form of 278 academics currently working at three public universities and four private universities across the country revealed that academics in higher education institutions in Cambodia were satisfied with their job (Mean = 4.1, SD = 0.74) and the organizational culture and value (Mean = 3.9, SD = 0.77), but dissatisfied with their salary (Mean = 3.1, SD = 0.90). The mean score of other variables also skewed toward happiness, yet this mean score remained low (between 3.2 and 3.8). Furthermore, the result from t-test and one-way ANOVA showed no significant difference in job satisfaction between public and private academics and among academics from different employment statuses. Job satisfaction of academics in this study did not come from salary or work environment, but may have come from the flexibility and status quo of academic career in Cambodia, in which the majority of academics have additional job while many others (38% of the participants) treat teaching as their secondary job and at the same time maintain the title as academic or even professor, which is relatively well-respected in Cambodia society, despite poor salary. The complexity of academic career in this context may present major setbacks to the quality of higher education in this periphery country.


This study revealed that although academics in higher education in Cambodia were satisfied with their job and organizational culture and value, they were not satisfied with their work environment and salary. The result from this study indicated that the reason why salary did not determine the satisfaction level of academics was that most of the academics in Cambodia higher education have additional job or business in addition to teaching. Moreover, they have other full-time jobs outside higher education and they can still teach part-time to earn extra income.

Research limitations/implications

Since this study generated only 278 responses from academics, these data remain small compared to the whole population. Thus, this may affect the generalization of the finding to the larger population.

Practical implications

This study helps fill the existing gaps in literature on higher education in Cambodia and the findings from this study can be used to make informed decision regarding quality of higher education in Cambodia.

Social implications

Higher education is a social institution that helps maintain professionalization of all professions and improve students competitiveness. Improving quality of higher education means that academics themselves need to be professional and ethical toward teaching. This research pointed out the unethical practices of academic procession, which in turn, de-professionalize academics and downgrade the quality of higher education in Cambodia.


This study provides a fresh insights into the motivation of academics in Cambodia higher education. This study also provides the framework for academic motivation in a developing country.



Chhaing, S. and Phon, S. (2023), "Motivation of academics in the Global South: a case from Cambodia higher education", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 15 No. 5, pp. 1530-1543.



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