Vietnam will rank all universities in one of three tiers from next month as part of the education ministry’s bid to improve quality at each level.
The top tier will be designated ‘research’ universities, the second tier ‘applied’ and the lowest tier ‘professional and vocational’.
The ranking criteria will include the ratio of undergraduate to graduate courses, the ratio of faculty and staff with PhDs, and proportion of full-time faculty staff compared to part-time faculty staff. Subject and training disciplines will also be taken into account, according to Vice-minister for Education and Training Bui Van Ga.
Each (group) will be aiming for higher national standards, he explained at a Vietnam-UK Education Cooperation Forum in London on 11 September.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved the so-called decree 73 on 8 September to stratify the sector.
According to the new decree, which comes into effect on 25 October, the rankings will be reviewed every two years, with the three-tier stratification lasting 10 years. But little has been revealed so far about how the ranking system will be linked to state funding, leaving institutions in the dark on the full implications of the new stratification.
Evaluations will be undertaken by an independent quality assurance agency with prior approval by the Ministry of Education and Training.
Based on performance criteria within each category, universities and colleges in Vietnam will be ranked, with the top 30% of institutions at level 1, the worst 30% will be assigned level 3, and the rest to level 2. This would allow the government to provide more research funding for the top tier, for example, while reducing it for the lower tiers.
The new decree did not come as a surprise to many education observers. A draft of the decree was released last year for public consultation on the ministry’s website.
The idea of stratification was first proposed in 2012 by Martin Hayden, a professor from Southern Cross University in Australia, and Lam Quang Thiep, a former director of higher education in the Ministry of Education and Training, in a report they wrote for the World Bank on reform of Vietnam’s higher education.
But some academics have voiced scepticism on the effectiveness and efficiency of the new regulations.
In an article published in Tuoi Tre Cuoi Tuan (The Youth Weekend) on 20 September Ly Pham, an education researcher from Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, said policymakers had blurred a number of issues in designing the decree.
“How does the policy of stratification and ranking relate to the process of finance allocation and subsidy for public institutions and tuition fees for private institutions? Decree 73 does not clarify these issues,” she wrote.
A retired senior official who served in the Ministry of Education and Training, agreeing with Ly Pham's analysis, said the implications of stratification were unclear. “What differences will it make if a university is categorised as research-oriented rather than applied or professional? What is the advantage if one is ranked as level 1 compared to others ranked in 3?” the retired official said to University World News on condition of anonymity.
“If the subsequent treatment [of universities] is not identified transparently, university managers will not find the motivation to participate,” he added.
Deputy Prime Minister Vu Van Ninh, speaking through an interpreter at the Vietnam-UK event in London, underlined that under the new university classifications and increased autonomy for some universities, the best universities would be given “a higher mandate to form international cooperation with other partners, including international partners”.
Ly Pham expects more detailed policy announcements for each type of institution in the future. “The government may provide favoured financial funding for research universities. But in parallel, there must be very strict performance requirements, so many institutions could refuse this track [in order] to select other tracks such as applied or professional” that may better fit their strategies, she wrote.
Vietnam has some 207 universities, 214 three-year professional colleges and more than 1,000 two-year vocational schools with shorter programmes.
Higher education must focus on flexibility
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