DEVELOPMENT OF VIETNAM’S HIGHER EDUCATION
AND ITS QUALITY ASSURANCE
(Commissioned paper for UNESCO, draft only - Please do not quote. Comments are welcomed!)
LAM QUANG THIEP, VU THI PHUONG ANH
This chapter provides a brief introduction of the history of Vietnam’s education, the current situation as well as the trends of development of the educational system. The description is based on the Government’s guiding documents and the elaboration developed by Higher Education institutions themselves. The development of Vietnam’s higher education indicates a trend toward a massified, multi-layered, multi-functional and multi-ownered system, which well suits the country’s needs in its transition from a centralized economy to the market economy. A major part of the chapter focuses on the development of the perceptions about quality in Vietnam’s Higher Education and its operation in recent years toward the establishment of a quality assurance system, connecting Vietnam’s higher education to the regional and the international Higher Education arena.
1. COUNTRY PROFILE
1.1. Recent history
Vietnam is situated on the east of the Indochinese Peninsula, sharing borders with China to the north, and with Laos and Cambodia to the west. With an area of 330,000 square kilometers, Vietnam is well endowed with natural resources, sizable forests, and reserves of coal, petroleum and hydro-electric potential.
Vietnam has a population of approximately 85 million (2007), about 70 per cent of which live in rural areas. The population growth rate is about 1.3 per cent per annum. It has 54 ethnic groups but about 87 per cent of the total population of Vietnam is Ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) and the Vietnamese language is the state language. Popular foreign languages are English, French, Chinese and Russian.
The 30-year war, which ended in 1975, caused heavy difficulties for Vietnam. After reunification in 1975, Vietnam first pursued development as a centralized planned economy. The country was in its worst stage of socio-economic crisis: production stood still, inflation skyrocketed, the country was in an economic blockade, and people’s lives were extremely hard. The American embargo made these difficulties more serious. After lifting US embargo, US-Vietnam relationship has normalized in 1995.
In 1986 the Government has adopted a policy of transition from the centralized planned economy to the market economy, known as ‘Doi Moi’ (renovation). After 2 decades of persistent efforts to implement the renewal policy, Vietnam achieved very important successes in socio-economic development, in politics, and in internal and external relations. In terms of international relations, some important milestones to Vietnam so far are the signing of Bilateral Trade Agreement between Vietnam and the US in late 2001 and Vietnam's official membership of World Trade Organisation in early 2007.
Together with its commitment to a market economy and the international integration, Vietnam’s economy has gradually recovered and improved. After more than two decades of renovation, especially in the recent decade, Vietnam’s economy has undergone dramatic changes, which can be seen in the GDP from 1995 to 2007 as follows (1).
Year 1995 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
(USD) 289.0 402.1 412.9 440.0 491.9 552.9 639.1 725.1 835.9
Despite its relatively rapid growth, with a per capita income estimate of approximately US$ 835 in 2007, Vietnam remains among the poor countries. In addition to its economic growth, some of Vietnam’s infrastructures have also developed. In the field of communications, for instant, there were approximately 33 million of telephones and 18 million of Internet users in Vietnam in 2007.
According to the national development plan, the goals of industrialization and modernization are to turn Vietnam into an industrialized country with a modern material-technical base, an appropriate economic structure, advanced production relations suited to the development level of the productive force, high material and spiritual life, and firm national defense and security. The common national aim of Vietnam is a rich people, a strong country, and an equitable, democratic and civilized society.
1. 2. National education system
According to the Education Law, made in 1998 and amended in 2005, the national education system of Vietnam consists of four sub-systems: Pre-school Education, Primary and Secondary Education, Vocational-professional Education and higher education with the structure 5-4-3-4 (5 years for primary, 4 - for lower secondary, 3 - for upper secondary and 4 - for undergraduate higher education). (Figure 1) (2):
Fig.1: SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION DEGREES IN VIETNAM
Pre-school education carries out the nurturing, caring and education of children between 3 months to 6 years of age, but is not provided for all;
Primary and secondary education consists of: (1) Primary education which is the compulsory education level for all children between 6 to 14 years of age; (2) Lower secondary education which is conducted in four years of schooling, from the 6th to 9th grade; (3) Upper secondary education which is conducted in three years of schooling, from the 10th to 12th grade.
Vocational-professional education consists of: 1) Professional secondary education which is conducted over three to four years of study for those with lower secondary education diploma; or one to two years of study for those with upper secondary education diploma; 2) Vocational training which is given to those with educational capacity and health suited to the trade to be learned, and conducted in less than one year in short-term and from one to three years in long-term vocational programs.
HE includes undergraduate education and postgraduate education.
The modes of education are formal education and non-formal education. Some important statistics about the status of education (academic year 2006-2007):
Literacy rate (for population over 10 years) 94 per cent;
Primary education is compulsory;
Total number of students for all levels of education is nearly 23 million;
The average number of school years for the population over 15 years is about 9.6.
2. CURRENT STATUS OF HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEM
The Ancient Higher Education system was established in Vietnam in the 11th century with QuocTu Giam (National University). But the modern system of Higher Education does not have a long history of development. Only in 1906 was the first modern university set up in Hanoi to serve the entire Indochina Peninsula. Since the August Revolution of 1945, and especially after the victory in the war of resistance against the French in 1954, the number of colleges and universities has increased vigorously in both North and South Vietnam. Since 1975 all colleges and universities in Vietnam have been united under one system.
2.1. Some general statistics for 2003 academic year
For a general overview of Vietnam Higher Education, this table provides statistic data for the academic year 2007-2008
Table 1. Statistic data on Vietnam's higher education
Academic year: 2006-2007
Number of higher education institutions
- Senior colleges and university
- Junior college
Number of students
- Senior colleges and universities
- Junior college
- Ass. professors
- Ph.D. and Doctor of Science
- Master and advanced professional
Source: Vietnam Educational statistical data, http://edu.net.vn/thongke/index.htm
Higher education in Vietnam has four main types of formal programs leading to degrees as follows (See Fig.1):
1. The undergraduate long-term training program lasts 6 years for students of medical and dental sciences, 5 years for students of industrial engineering, and 4 years for the majority of the other institutions.
Graduates of the full-time or long-term training program will be granted a degree with the title related to their specialty, such as cu nhan (bachelor), ky su (engineer), bac sy (medical doctor), or luat su (lawyer), etc...
2. The undergraduate short-term training program (for junior colleges) lasts 3 years. At present, the short-term training program is being carried out by junior colleges (teachers' and non-teachers’), and by some universities, as additional programs. Students who have finished the short-term programs mentioned above will be granted a degree with the title of Cao dang (Associate degree).
3. The master program: This program admits graduates of the long-term H. E. training programs and lasts 2 (full-time) or 3 years (part-time). Students finishing the graduate program will be awarded a degree with the title Thac si (Master).
4. The doctorate program: Students will be admitted as candidates of a doctorate of science program are from two sources: the graduate with excellence, and those who have earned the Master Degree. The most important requirement for doctoral degrees is that the student has to defend a dissertation. If s/he successfully defends their dissertation, s/he will be awarded a doctorate degree with the title Tien si (equivalent to the Ph.D.) of a given specialty or profession.
There is also informal mode of education providing study opportunities for working people, continual learning and life-long learning, including also programs leading to degrees by part-time and distant education.
Until 1993 Vietnam did not have large multi-disciplinary universities. There were only small colleges grouped according to their specializations and some comprehensive universities that offered programs in the humanities, social and natural sciences. The monodisciplinary institutions, inherited from the Soviet models, hampered the tendency of training on a wider spectrum and the capacity to link research with social service in a comprehensive way.
Starting at the end of 1993, a number of leading higher education institutions, which formed the core of the overall system, was established consisting of:
• multi-disciplinary universities (Hanoi National University - founded in December 1993; Ho Chi Minh National University - January, 1995; Hue, Danang, Thainguyen Universities - April, 1994);
• open universities (Semi-public Open University of Ho Chi Minh City - July 1993, Hanoi Open University - November 1993);
• a number of newly established people-founded (private) universities and colleges, and
• a number of community colleges.
Besides higher education institutions, there is in Vietnam a system of research institutes which belong to the Centre for Science and Technology and the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences and to some ministries. According to the Law of Education and related regulations, many of those research institutes are eligible to offer master programs with the co-operation of higher education institutions and to offer doctoral programs independently.
3. QUALITY ASSURANCE IN VIETNAM’S HIGHER EDUCATION
3.1. Perceptions of quality in Vietnam’s higher education in its different phases of development
3.1.1. Prior to 1985: Quality = high selectivity
Vietnam’s Higher Education prior to 1985 was primarily an elite system, with merely 120,000 students in all Higher Education institutions of a country of over 70 million people. Quality was not an issue, as the key players in the educational scene – students themselves – were regarded as people of outstanding calibre, carefully chosen from the start with a very high level of selectivity. It can be said that for a long time in Vietnam’s Higher Education, quality management was thought to be synonymous to the control of student intake through highly competitive university entrance examinations.
During this time, the method used in quality management was ‘quality control’. The quality of input was controlled by applying stringent selection standards, and the quality of output was also controlled through examinations, as well as approval of graduation status, and certifications and credentialing. Besides, quality control also existed in the form of the inspectorate system which monitored the key operations in the educational process. However, this inspectorate system did not seem to work with high efficiency; nor did it have much impact on the system, as the focus was only on uncovering and punishing deviations from fixed norms and ready-made regulations, but not on total and continuous improvement to better meet the ever-changing demands of reality.
Such a closed and inwardly-looking system, even with outstanding students as input, could not have fully met all the demands of society. However, in the context of relative social and political stability due to Vietnam’s isolated position from the rest of the world at the time, the need for changing university governance was not urgently felt. It was only after the beginning of the ‘doi moi’ (renovation) policy in the mid 1980s when everything in Vietnam began to change quickly, including tertiary education.
3.1.2. From 1986-2003: Quality = Adequate resources
The year 1986 marked the beginning of the start of Vietnam’s Higher Education , with one important goals being to increase the ability for educational provision of Vietnam’s Higher Education institutions, thereby improving educational access for all students. To achieve this, the last two decades since the beginning of the renovation of Vietnam’s Higher Education have seen the implementation of various measures which resulted in the exponential growth of the numbers of students as well as Higher Education institutions in Vietnam. Those measures include (1) a sharp increase in government spending on education, (eg, from 10.8% of the national budget in 1996 to 17% in 2002); (2) the relaxation of rules restricting the role of the private sector in education and training, which led to birth of several people-founded (a euphemistic way to refer to ‘private’ which was then still seen as politically incorrect) higher education institutions, the first ever after 1975; and (3) the introduction of (limited) tuition fees in public institutions, also the first time in the history of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s education(4) The growth in both scope and scale of Vietnam’s Higher Education was considered successful planning , but this was without a thorough understanding about the potential problems this might cause. As Vietnam’s Higher Education grows, so does the demand for two foundational conditions: (1) the proportional increase in resources (in terms of personnel, infrastructures, and finance), and (2) a new governance mechanism equipped with appropriate leadership and management competencies for this new size and volume, just to maintain – not to mention the need to improve – the quality of Higher Education . However, in the past two decades of renovation, Vietnam’s Higher Education seems to focus solely on the provision of resources (through the two main sources: tuition fees from students and families, and state funding), and not much attention has been paid to the decisively important role of the governance mechanism as well as the competencies of the new system. This clearly reflects a new view of quality as adequate resources, which in turn reflects a lack of understanding of the country’s leaders and administrators of the importance of governance in successfully reforming the country’s higher education sector.
The view of quality as adequate resources revealed itself through the increase of funding for national universities and those universities selected to be in the “investment foci” list, even in the absence of a complete set of mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of resource exploitation and utilisation in those universities to achieve their goals. Because of this inadequate view, the result of the two decades of renovation in Vietnam’s Higher Education with steady increase in investment for education from state funding is NOT an improvement(5) but, on the contrary, there seems to be a serious deterioration of Higher Education quality, as is constantly mentioned in the heated debate concerning the status of Vietnam’s higher education at present. This situation shows that a new method of governance is urgently needed in this new phase of development to assure and improve the quality of Vietnam’s Higher Education.
3.1.3. From 2004 till present: Quality = Meeting standards
If a milestone is needed to mark the turning point in the development of quality management in Vietnam, then it is the year 2004. In this year, a series of important government’s documents at the national level were issued, clearly stating the plan to introduce accreditation as a new mechanism in the management of Higher Education. Accreditation is a way to manage quality of Higher Education which originated in the United States but its use has been spread all over the world since the 1990s:
Resolution 37-2004/QH11 of the National Assembly Session XI approved on December 3, 2004 pointed out that "quality management should be the focus; accreditation activities are to be conducted yearly”.
On August 2, 2004, the Minister of Education and Training issued Directive 25/2004/CT-BGD&ĐT outlining the tasks for the whole education system in the academic year 2004-2005, demanding the administration at all levels (to “urgently establish and perfect the structure and mechanism of the testing and accreditation system, and start putting this system to work”.
On December 2, 2004, the Minister of Education and Training signed Decision 38/2004/QĐ-BGD&ĐT to issue the Provisional Regulation for Accreditation of Universities’ Quality.
(Training Document for Conducting Self-Assessment for Accreditation, MOET 2006)
The provisional regulation for university accreditation was promulgated by MOET after 2 years of drafting and revisions based on input provided by universities and experts, both local and international. The process by which MOET received input from institutions, as always, an administrative one in which the heads of institutions were sent the draft regulation and requested to give comments in a given period of time, after which some changes might be made in the regulations before it was signed by MOET leaders. It was not clear, however, whether all comments sent were taken into consideration or not, and if not, then how they were selected. The same process applies to comments made by local and international experts, the only difference is that experts were selected by invitation, even though the criteria for their selection were not known either.
Notwithstanding the inadequacy of the process by which input from institutions and experts was obtained to improve the regulation, with the promulgation of this provisional regulation, for the first time in Vietnam’s education history, a transparent and coherent set of quality standards for universities came into existence. Being part of the provisional regulation, the 2004 set of standards was not considered a perfect final product; the adequacy and appropriateness of the standards and criteria remained a debate. However, on the whole this first set of quality standards was able to define the main requirements in terms of mission, goals, structure, conditions and resources, and most of the activities carried out in a Vietnamese Higher Education institutions.
Following the appearance of the regulation, in almost 3 years after that – from 2005 to mid 2007 – 20 universities in Vietnam, 18 of which public and 2 private, all of which represented the best of its kind in a particular geographical location of the country, were chosen for the first (pilot) round of accreditation. After be trialed out with 20 Higher Education institutions, the set of standards was corrected, adjusted and supplemented, the result of which was the live regulation issued by MOET in November, 2007.
According to the 2007 regulation, the quality standards for Vietnamese Higher Education institutions comprise the following 10 aspects:
1. Mission and Goals (Standard 1)
2. Organization and Governance (Standard 2)
3. Curriculum (Standard 3)
4. Educational Processes (Standard 4)
5. Managerial, Teaching, and Support Staff (Standard 5)
6. Students (Standard 6)
7. Research and Development, Innovation, and Technology Transfer (Standard 7)
8. International Relations (Standard 8)
9. Library, Learning Equipment, and Other Facilities (Standard 9)
10. Finance and Financial Management (Standard 10)
Each standard is further broken down into what is called ‘criteria’. The 10 standards altogether comprise 53 criteria which clearly state the conditions required for a university to be assessed as ‘meeting standards’. A quick look at the criteria will show that they just follow international norms and conventions, but for Vietnam they are seen as really revolutionary because they refer to a reality that is radically different from that of Vietnamese higher education. For example, Criterion 1 of Standard 1 (mission and goals) requires universities to have clearly stated mission statements which are widely publicized to all stakeholders – a requirement that had been unheard-of and unthinkable before the Accreditation Standards came into existence. Also, Criterion 2 of Standard 4 requires all universities to organize their curriculum and instructional activities around a credit-based system, another improbability for most of Vietnam’s higher education institutions whose leaders were educated in the former Soviet bloc where a very different system was in operation. A rough translation of the 53 criterion of the Accreditation Standards is included in the Appendix.
It can be said that the above-mentioned 10 standards with the 53 accompanying criteria have covered almost all aspects relating to the governance and operations of a modern university, with not too much difference from regional or international standards. The existence of a transparent set of standards to manage the quality of a university can be celebrated as a breakthrough in the educational administration mentality of the country’s leaders, showing a strong determination for global integration by the Higher Education sector, and promising to bring about positive changes in terms of quality improvement in the time to come.
3. 2. Quality assurance system and mechanism in Vietnam at present
3.2.1. Quality assurance (QA) system: Internal QA and external QA
The promulgation of the quality standards for Higher Education in Vietnam, together with the plan for accreditation base on these standards, inevitably requires an accompanying organizational structure and governance mechanism in order to put these standards into life. During the past few years, a complete national QA system has been emerging in Vietnam. At the top of this system is the General Department for Educational Testing and Accreditation (GDETA) of MOET, whose role is to act as a national governmental agent to oversee all QA activities for the whole education system, while at the institutional level QA cells are being established within stronger and more long-standing Higher Education institutions. Unlike the American system of accreditation which Vietnam is trying to learn from, this national agent does not involve representative from universities, but is very similar to other functional departments MOET whose main function is to provide national QA goals, approve QA implementation plans, and monitor QA activities of individual universities under its supervision.
In spite of the lack of direct involvement and participation from universities, the establishment of the national agent for quality assurance can be said to be a revolutionary change in the organizational and governance structure of Vietnam’s education system. The establishment of this agent resulted from a gradual separation of the administration of assessment function from that of the training function. First, an accreditation unit was established inside the Department for Undergraduate Education (now the Department for Higher Education) of MOET in January 2002. After that, in July 2003, this unit was separated from the Department of Undergraduate Education to become the GDETA directly under the supervision of MOET according to Decree 85/2003/NĐ-CP. GDETA is granted governmental administration function to oversee all QA activities in the whole education system (GDETA, Training Materials 2006). Presently, GDETA is the highest advisory body which can participate in the decision-making process at policy level such as establishing quality standards and regulate the operational mechanism for QA processes of the national education system.
At institutional level, the two national universities (one in Ha Noi and one in Ho Chi Minh City) with a higher degree of autonomy are the two first institutions which pioneered in establishing their own QA centers in the late 1990s. These centers play double roles in carrying out QA activities within their own institutions: on one hand, they perform internal quality assurance function by assisting the member universities in carrying self-assessment activities, and on the other, they act as external agents to conduct site visits and evaluation of the member universities. However, before the establishment of GDETA, without a national regulatory framework for QA activities, the efforts made by the two national universities were seen as only experimental in nature, to test whether a QA mechanism could really work in Vietnam or not. Other universities, mainly regional universities whose organizational structures are similar to national universities (with two levels of administration, the macro level responsible for policy making, monitoring and evaluation, and the implementation level responsible for carrying out all operational and support activities for education and research), using loan money from the World Bank, have also established their own QA units in the early 2000’s. However, not counting the two QA centers under the two national universities which are staffed by people with professional training in QA and have been in operation since their establishment, the other QA units only started to actually operate in the beginning of 2005, at the same time with the start of the first accreditation round for 20 universities in Vietnam.
It is important to note that presently the existence of a QA unit in the organizational structure of a university has become a compulsory requirement written down in the new University Quality Standards promulgated by MOET in late 2007 (the first University Quality Standards did not have this requirement). With this requirement, the QA system in Vietnam can be seen as rather complete (at least in principle if not in reality), with internal QA units within all Higher Education institutions, and the national external QA agent being GDETA which operates directly under MOET. This is also the model that has been in use by the two national universities.
3.2.2. Quality assurance mechanism: the relationship between the QA system and other governmental bodies
Speaking of QA mechanism, one of the most important factor to consider is the relationship between IQA (the responsibility taken by Higher Education institutions themselves), EQA (the task taken by an agent outside Higher Education institutions), and other governmental bodies which oversee the activities of educational institutions. Depending on the specific circumstances and purposes, different countries will select different QA mechanisms for their education system. Ideally, the two components of the QA system should be independent from each other, and as a whole they should also be independent from any governmental body (in this case, MOET), in order to separate the three different stages in the accreditation process: self-assessment, peer evaluation (also known as external evaluation), and recognition of the evaluation result. However, in the majority of cases in developing countries, the governmental body in charge of education administration is also the one which administer external evaluation, a practice which is not to be encouraged because the lack of independence may be the source of bias in evaluation results. Unfortunately, this practice is currently in operation in Vietnam and in the not too far future there seems to be no solution for this situation. In her paper written for the World Bank in 2004, Lenn has pointed out the four distinguishing factors in the QA mechanisms of different countries, namely: (1) the founding and governance of national QA agents (governmental or non-governmental); (2) mode or type of EQA activities (accreditation, audit, or assessment); (3) funding (government or Higher Education institutions), and (4) the presence or absence of international participation.
Table 2 (6) gives a summary of the characteristics of Vietnam’s QA system in comparison with those of other countries in Asia Pacific region, based on Lenn’s four distinguishing factors.
It can be seen from the summary that Vietnam’s Higher Education QA system as it is now is still lacking in diversity and independence from the government, in particular MOET: the national QA agent was founded and governed by MOET, with no independent status from MOET because it is under MOET’s direct supervision, its funding comes from the state through MOET, and there is no international participation in both critical stages in the accreditation process, namely the conduct of external evaluation and the final result of the accreditation itself (*). This lack of diversity and independence shows that Vietnam’s QA system still leaves a lot to be perfected, so that positive impacts can be brought which will change the face of Vietnam’s Higher Education, as outlined in the Higher Education reform plan by the country’s education leaders.
3.3. QA activities in Vietnam’s higher education: achievements, issues and future directions
3.3.1. Achievements so far
Looking back at the QA activities that have been conducted in the past years, one can say that the still very young QA system of Vietnam’s education has made a number of significant achievements. Indeed, at the start of the new millennium, the whole of Vietnam’s education system was completely unfamiliar with terms like quality, standards, fitness for purpose, self-assessment, external review, audit, accreditation, or recognition. However, only a few years after that, compulsory accreditation of all Higher Education institutions in Vietnam has become institutionalised, and the implementation of QA activities is carried out with great rigour. Some of the achievements made in the field of QA in Vietnam’s Higher Education during the past years include:
Tab. 2: Lenn’s four distinguishing factors in the QA mechanisms
Source: Lenn (2004), page 17 (4)
1. Establishment of the national QA agent (GDETA);
2. Development of regulations concerning accreditation activities for Vietnam’s Higher Education institutions;
3. Initiation and perfection of the horizontal structure of the QA system in Vietnam’s Higher Education (GDETA, the QA centers of the national and regional universities, and QA units within all Higher Education institutions);
4. Development and implementation of the National Accreditation Plan for Vietnam’s Higher Education to the 2010;
5. Capacity development for QA specialists and key personnels, including administrative staff working in the field of QA for the whole country;
6. Participation in regional and international QA networks (e.g., AUN, APQN, and INQAAHE)at national and institutional levels (mainly the two national universities)
3.3.2. Issues and future direction for Vietnam’s higher education QA movement
In spite of the above-mentioned achievements, it would be mistaken to think that Vietnam currently has a sufficiently strong QA system and a proper mechanism to act as an important catalyst in bringing about important changes in the assurance and enhancement of the quality of the country’s Higher Education. This is the view shared by QA experts both within and from outside of the country, which has been voiced several times in Quality Conferences which abounded in Vietnam during the years 2005-2007. Drawing from the various discussions nationwide, the authors of this article believe that that the progress of Vietnam’s Higher Education QA movement could be halted if the following issues remain unresolved:
1. The national QA system is far from being perfect; the national QA agent is still under MOET’s direct supervision and governance; the (independent) National Council for Accreditation has not been established;
2. The implementation of IQA within Higher Education institutions has resulted from the need to meet the requirement by GDETA and MOET, not from an inner drive for quality, nor a need for continuous improvement to stay competitive;
3. The current QA mechanism has not allowed the separation and independence of the three stages in the accreditation process: self-assessment (conducted by Higher Education institutions themselves), external review (conducted by a professional QA body), and recognition of accreditation results (conducted by a governmental body or a non-governmental association of Higher Education institutions);
4. The use of only one set quality standards promulgated by MOET has not allowed for the stratification and diversification very much needed for the development of Vietnam’s Higher Education in its present stage;
5. There remains a serious lack of human resources working in the field of QA in Higher Education, in both quantitative and qualitative terms.
6. The use of an effective management information system for efficient and useful assessment of Higher Education inbstritutions performance is still largely unheard of in the whole system; and there is very low transparency of management information in Higher Education institutions.
In order for the QA movement in Higher Education in Vietnam to further develop, based on the experience gained from the work carried out at VNU-HCM and learning from international QA models, the authors of this article propose that the following recommendations to be immediately acted upon:
1. Develop and adjust policies at the macro level in such a way that the implementation of QA activities should come from Higher Education institutions themselves for their own benefits;
2. Establish a QA agent independent from MOET to conduct external review for accreditation, which is responsible for setting up quality standards, conducting quality reviews, selecting and training of external reviewers, and issuing accreditation certificates;
3. Establish the National Council for Accreditation outside of and independent from MOET to provide professional recognition of accreditation results and the legal status of these QA agents referred to in 2 above;
4. Increase the number and develop the competence of people working in the national QA system, focusing on internal quality assurance and enhancement;
5. Develop and put into use an effective management information system for Higher Education, construct key quality indicators for Higher Education, and put forward regulations concerning the administration and use of management information aiming at universal access and transparency;
6. Introduce programmatic accreditation together with the current institutional accreditation in order to encourage cooperation as well as competition between different Higher Education institutions for the purpose of quality enhancement.
4. ORIENTATIONS FOR HIGHER EDUCATION DEVELOPMENT
4.1. Proposed orientations for higher education development:
Together with Vietnam’s dynamic economic growth in the last decade, the education system in general and the Higher Education system in particular are considered to be slow in their response to the socio-economic developments and Vietnamese people’s learning demands, especially to the needs for a well-trained work force to carry out the country’s industrialization and modernization. Vietnam’s government has some incentives to speed up the Higher Education development in which the most important one is the Resolution on the fundamental and comprehensive reform of Higher Education in Vietnam 2006-2020 (Resolution No. 14/2005/NQ-CP issued on 2/11/2005).
The general objective for the development of Vietnam Higher Education system is outlined in the Resolution 14 as follows: To substantially and comprehensively renew Higher Education and make substantial changes in education quality, efficiency and scale, thus satisfying the requirements of national industrialization and modernization, international economic integration and people's learning demands. By 2020, Vietnam's Higher Education shall attain the regional advanced standards, approach the world's advanced level, have a high competitiveness and suit the socialist-oriented market mechanism.
Some important tasks and solutions are mentioned in the resolution number 14 as follows:
1. Renewal of educational level structure and improvement of the network of Higher Education institutions: Regarding educational level structure, postsecondary education will be divided to two streams: academic and vocational-technology, in which the second stream will have priority in the scale (about 80%). The development of private sector will be paid attention so around 40% of the total number of students studying at private higher education institutions by 2020. To concentrate investment on, mobilize domestic and foreign specialists and adopt an appropriate mechanism for, building some universities up to international standards.
2. Renewal of training contents, methods and processes: To restructure framework programs; to ensure the transferability of educational levels; to renew training contents, and closely associate them with practical socio-economic development. To promote for students the creative thinking, professional skills and capability of working in a group. To renew teaching and learning methods along three directions: teaching students how to learn, promoting their active participation, and effectively using information and communication technologies in teaching and learning. To improve college entrance examination with the application of modern educational measurement technology.
3. Renewal of the planning, training, fostering and employment of instructors and administrators: To work out and implement a plan for preparation of higher education faculty and administrators, ensuring sufficient quantity and raising quality thereof, satisfying the requirements of Higher Education renewal. To shift from the civil servant regulations for instructors to the mechanism of long-term contracts; to ensure the equality between instructors in public educational institutions and those in private ones. To reform the procedures for appointment and discharge of professor and associate professor titles along the direction that Higher Education institutions shall carry out such procedures according to the general standards set by the State, and the title appointments will be engaged with the nomination.
4. Renewal of organization of scientific and technological activities: To allocate at least 1% of the annual state budget for Higher Education institutions to perform their researches according to the Science and Technology Law.
5. Renewal of mobilization of resources and financial mechanism: Localities shall adjust the planning and reserve land fund for building modern Higher Education campuses witch attain the regional and international standards. The State shall adopt policies on preferential treatment of, supports and incentives for, domestic and foreign investors to invest in Higher Education; and secure the lawful ownership right and material and spiritual benefits of investors. To reformulate policies on tuition fees, scholarship and student loan on the basis of setting principles for sharing Higher Education expenditures among the State, learners and the community. The State shall provide full or partial tuition fee supports for policy beneficiaries, the poor and allocate such supports directly to learners.
6. Renewal of the management mechanism: To increasing the level of autonomy for Higher Education institution in all areas of their activities. To concentrate the state management on the formulation of the development strategy, the perfection of the legal environment to give Higher Education institutions autonomy and at the same time to require them accountability. To elaborate the Law on Postsecondary Education.
7. Regarding international integration: To formulate a strategy on international integration, raise the cooperation capability and competitiveness of Vietnam's Higher Education in the implementation of international treaties and commitments. To organize teaching and learning in foreign languages, especially in English; to encourage study "at home" under foreign training programs, to increase the number of foreign students in Vietnam. To create favorable conditions for prestigious Higher Education institutions in the world to open campuses in Vietnam by themselves or by cooperation with Vietnamese Higher Education institutions.
4.2. Some issues of the higher education development:
The Resolution 14 on the development of Higher Education is very comprehensive and ambitious, but its implementation has encountered many difficulties and challenges. For a complete perception of the true development of Vietnam’s Higher Education, the recent years’ issues should be taken into consideration:
- The development of Higher Education scale: There has been a rapid increase in the number of higher education institutions since 2005; on average, there has been one new higher education institution in a week. Obviously, this development is too fast, and also inadequate in that the number of universities is three times higher than that of junior colleges and public institutions outnumber private ones. The fact that new universities and colleges outnumber junior colleges means the academic factor is emphasized more than the vocational one in training; the public institutions outnumbering the private ones means the inappropriate consideration of the private sector mobilization. This situation goes against the orientation of the Resolution 14. In addition, while the number of university students increases from 1,363,167 to 1,540,201 (11%), the number of teachers just increases from 48,579 to 53,518 (10%), which means the student/teacher ratio increases also from 28 to 29. One more thing to be considered is that the student/teacher ratio of the 14 national major higher education institutions – standard ones in terms of academic training quality – is also too high, from 35 to 85 (except two medical universities with the ratio of less than 10). The above-mentioned numbers indicate that the Higher Education development does not improve the shortage of university teachers; in fact, it puts more pressure on the situation.
- The improvement of the university entrance examination: The university entrance examination is just one part of the university training, yet in Vietnam, it is a sensitive activity which receives considerable attention from the whole society. As a result, it affects not only the Higher Education quality but also the education development in general. Since 2002, the Ministry of Education and Training has been responsible for a common entrance exam and all universities recruit their students based on the exam results. Only 20% of examinees are recruited annually so the entrance examination is always a tense activity. Since 2006, the objective tests have been used for the entrance examination. At present, there are two separate national examinations: high school leaving and college entrance ones. The Ministry of Education and Training plans to organize only one national examination for both purposes in which multiple-choice tests are the major method to assess examinees. One orientation of the Resolution 14 is “…to improve the entrance examination with the application of modern educational measurement technology”, however, this application has not yet to be carried out.
- The improvement of the faculty: The Government proposed some powerful measures to improve the quality of the university faculty, one of which is the plan to train 20,000 doctors for Vietnam’s Higher Education system by 2020. This training is planned both domestically and internationally. However, there are difficulties in recruiting candidates with professional competence and language command to send abroad and challenges in training doctors at domestic institutions.
- Curriculum reform and credit-based system application: The Education Law gives university institutions autonomy in management while requires them to follow the ‘standard curriculum’ developed by the MOET. The concept of the standard curriculum can be understood like that: the development of each Higher Education curriculum must follow a fixed curriculum framework in terms of contents and time duration, and there are some compulsory subjects for specific specializations. There have been some standard curricula so far. However, there has been no high consent in the development of standard curricula for the Higher Education system. A noticeable change in recent years is the decrease of the time for ideology subjects by a half, and the number of subjects is reduced to three.
The MOET plans to apply the credit-based system to the whole Higher Education system by 2010. However, apart from the re-development of the training programs and the preparation of the infrastructure to meet the requirements of the credit-based system, the innovation of teaching and learning methods is also a big challenge. In essence, the credit-based system is the individualization of learning in a mass education. As a result, some factors that need to be emphasized when the credit-based system is applied are the innovation of teaching and learning methods to improve students’ activeness and self-study. Due to the deep-rooted passive teaching and learning habits among teachers and students, this kind of innovation can not be carried out in a short time but take generations to be fulfilled.
- Non-public higher education institutions: It can be seen in a large number of the Government’s documents that considerable attention has been paid to the sector of non-public higher education institutions . From 2005 to 2007, 17 non-public higher education institutions have been established, contributing to the number of 47 non-public higher education institutions (30 universities and senior colleges, 17 junior colleges). However, the administration of these institutions has faced big issues. First of all, there are insufficient legal documents and inconsistencies in some legal documents in terms of the Government’s orientations. It is regulated that non-public institutions be established as private institutions regardless of their for-profit or not-for-profit status, and the not-for-profit institutions are encouraged. However, there have been conflicts and ambiguities related to important concepts such as individual ownership vs. collective ownership and the not-for-profit vs. for-profit mechanisms. In addition, some policies concerning the equality for public and non-public teachers and students are only mentioned in the Resolution 14, not as regulations. For instance, non-public students are not entitled to the Government’s scholarships (while most of them come from low-income families) and very small number of non-public instructors can entitled to the Government’s training programs abroad. In case the non-public system is not encouraged to develop properly due to the lack of consistent policies and the Government’s investment to some extent, it is hard to reach the target of 40% quality students.
- Some issues related to Higher Education management: The most important idea of the Resolution 14 is the increase of autonomy and accountability for higher education institutions while governmental agencies stand behind with their governing roles. Some important institutions have been issued to carry out this idea. The board of trustees mechanism has been applied to increase autonomy, guarantee security, and avoid dictatorship in management. The board of trustees is an important powerful organ existing above and beside the rector’s administration. However, only a small number of institutions have accepted, with hesitation, this new mechanism so far, and the administrative and personnel departments of institutions are reluctant because it takes away their centralized managing habits. The second important mechanism to assure the accountability of university institutions is the quality assurance and accreditation of the Higher Education system. This issue was mentioned in part III of this chapter.
- Higher Education cost sharing: The cost sharing among the Government, learners, their parents, and communities is the most important solution to the problem of Higher Education costs. This is a great difficulty for countries with commitments to a subsidized Higher Education (rich countries in West Europe and former socialist countries including Vietnam). The Government proposed the high tuition/high aid model, and agreed to provide entire or partial support to poor learners and welfare recipients in the direct manner. However, there has been great difficulty in implementing this policy. The issue of tuition increase has been discussed twice in the Congress in the last decade but it has been turned down. At the beginning of the school year 2007-2008, the Prime Minister took a powerful course of action when proposing a loan program for disadvantaged learners, and giving an appropriation of about 2 billions US dollars to the loan program for nearly one third of all Higher Education and vocational students. Hopefully, the tuition increase policy following the above-mentioned loan program will get consent in society.
- International integration of Higher Education:
With Vietnam’s participation in the WTO in late 2006, Vietnam’s Higher Education has to obey some regulations set up by GATS to which Vietnam has commitments. However, Vietnam’s Higher Education is not strong enough to compete in the market of open Higher Education service. Consequently, the development of strategies for Vietnam’s integration into international Higher Education is a matter of great concern when the Resolution 14 emphasized, yet there have been no activities focusing on this objective so far.
4.3. Causes of inadequacies in the development of Vietnam’s Higher Education:
It can be seen in the Resolution 14 that Vietnam’s Government proposed sensible orientations to develop Vietnam’s Higher Education, yet there have been a large number of conflicts in the implementation. What are causes for these inadequacies and conflicts? Firstly, although policy makers have suitable knowledge and vision, administrative departments’ habitual implementations of policies based on a centralized mechanism is a great hindrance. This leads to the fact that current administrative system of Vietnam’s Higher Education becomes inadequate before the requirements of the Higher Education renovation. Secondly, it is a no less important causes that the professionalism of education management in general and Higher Education management in particular is still low, which gives rise to the inconsistencies in the issued regulations and the shortcomings of legal documents. Furthermore, as some people in the academic community state, a small number of renovation policies in the Higher Education system alone are not enough. This is because profound changes of Vietnam’s socio-economic context during its transition into a market economy and dramatic changes of the world in the process of integration and globalization require a fundamental educational reform of Vietnam in the new era.
(1) Economy of Vietnam and the World 2007-2008, Vietnam Economic Times, Jan., Hanoi, 2008.
(2) Lam Quang Thiep - "Vietnam", from "Handbook on Diplomas, Degrees and other certificates in Higher Education in Asia and Pacific", 2nd edition, UNESCO Bangkok, APEID, 2004.
(3) Asia Development Bank - Education and Skills: Strategies for Accelerated Development in Asia and the Pacific, 2008.
(4) Nguyen T. Hien - The Impact of Globalisation on Higher Education in China and Vietnam: Policies and Practices. Paper presented at ECE Conference 2007, University of Salford, UK. Available online at http://www.ece.salford.ac.uk/proceedings/2007?t=1
(5) Tran-Nam Binh, Education Reform and Sustainable Development in Vietnam: A Preliminary Analysis, Conference on Sustainable Development in Vietnam, University of Maryland, 2003
(6) Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education: Higher education in Asia and the Pacific 1998-2003 - Regional report on progress in implementing recommendations of the 1998 World Conference on Higher Education. UNESCO, Paris, 2003.
(7) IIEP, External Quality Assurance: Options for Higher Education Managers, UNESCO, Paris, 2007.
(8) Lenn, M. P - Strengthening World Bank Support for Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Higher Education in East Asia and the Pacific. World Bank’s Working Paper Series, Paper No. 2004-6, 2004
Appendix: A comparison of Vietnam’s Higher Education Accreditation Standards and AUN-QA Criteria. Document prepared for APQN-sponsored workshop on Internal Quality Assurance at Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City 2007.