Vietnam has seen a remarkable increase in the number of students entering higher education in the past 20 or so years. There is much potential to grow the beautiful and culturally rich country of Vietnam socially and economically via its education system.
Expansion in the Number of Vocational Education and Training and University Providers
Vietnam is a rapidly growing, dynamic and beautiful country. It has a relatively young population – the result, in no small part, of a devasting conflict that lasted for over 17 years. The country has seen a remarkable increase in the number of students entering higher education in the past 20 or so years. The Vietnam government has also responded to the need to meet the employment demands of various industries and professions by increasing funding for education. This has seen an expansion in the number of Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers as well as universities, to meet the pressure for skilled workers, especially in areas such as information and communications technology (ICT), tourism and health care.
Higher education in Vietnam includes specialised colleges, teacher training colleges, public and private universities as well as institutions governed by cooperatives that are wholly funded through tuition fees. In the past 10 or so years, there has been significant growth in the number of private for-profit higher education institutions that tend to specialise in niche demand fields such as accounting and ICT. Some of these are undeniably of lower academic quality. To date, no Vietnamese universities are ranked in the world’s top 1000 universities (based on familiar world university rankings).
Regulations and Reforms Increase the Quality
The regulatory environment is highly bureaucratic and centralised through the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), which has authority over education including higher education. MOET decides education policy and implementation expectations that extend to rules about student admission, as well as what is included in the taught curriculum, and the setting of textbooks. MOET is gradually handing more independence to higher education institutions, however, progress to date remains rather gradual.
The curriculum on the whole, still does not adequately prepare graduates with the competencies or attributes required by employers. Many VET and university courses do not feature work-based learning opportunities or industry placements, so omitting valuable, actual practical experience from students’ learning. However, the government is acutely aware of the need to make some essential changes to its education system, including the reliance currently placed on examinations as the key measure of students’ aptitude, and so bring it more in line with practices in other developed countries.
One major government reform is the establishment of a National Accreditation Council, under the umbrella of MOET, which oversees the accreditation process higher education institutions must undergo. Accreditation is compulsory for all higher education institutions in Vietnam and it is also mandatory for them to have their own internal quality assurance unit. It has only been in the past couple of years that an 8-level National Qualifications Framework (NQF) developed by MOET, has been implemented, bringing Vietnam into line with many other countries that have had such a framework in place for many years. The NQF provides guidance to higher education about the expected standard of student learning outcomes at different levels of education from Certificate (Levels 1-3) through to doctorate (Level 8). The NQF is aimed amongst other things, at standardising the level and quality of what is offered/delivered to students, and improving international recognition of Vietnamese qualifications.
One of the key objectives included in the government’s reform plan for higher education is to improve the teaching quality of academics employed in higher education. A goal set by the government is that all academics will be at least Masters and preferably doctoral qualified by 2020. It remains a considerable challenge for Vietnamese universities to recruit qualified academics not helped by the relatively poor salaries they receive, and the more highly qualified ones being able to secure much more highly paid employment in industry. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all, however, continues to be the need for real change to occur in the teaching-learning approach used.
The Education Institutions Need a Focus on the Teaching-learning Process
I have been involved in consulting to a number of universities in Vietnam on a regular basis for the past six years. In that time, I have heard about and seen some of the government reforms to higher education being implemented. It is fair to say that work towards significant improvement is happening, but it is variable and perhaps a little too gradual. It is going to take time and much more than that to change how students receive instruction and how teachers deliver that instruction to them.
There is a leadership role for those that are slowly making the required changes to the teaching-learning process, the ones that are building curricula focused on active learning and supporting students to expand their conceptual and intellectual knowledge, understandings and skills. They are demonstrating successful called for alternate ways to the current textbook centric, facts driven curriculum. In the past three years, I have also spent some considerable time conducting workshops with academics and university leaders about the role of online education at Ho Chi Minh City Open University, which has as its goal to become the major deliverer of online learning in Vietnam and the immediate Asian region. It is putting considerable resources, time and training toward meeting this goal and is demonstrating real progress .
There is much potential to grow the beautiful and culturally rich country of Vietnam socially and economically via its education system. It will take a little more time for the government reforms to really take hold and for the Vietnamese higher education sector as a whole to realise broadly-based positive change, but there is also genuine enthusiasm in many quarters to transform.
Lucubrate Magazine, Issue 49, November 30th, 2018
All photos for this Article: Nita Temmerman