VIETNAM: Students will assess their assessors

Vietnamese university students will be encouraged to evaluate the performance of their lecturers from the start of next year. Education Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan made the announcement at a conference held in Hanoi to set directions for the academic year.

The conference was attended by representatives from 200 colleges and universities in Vietnam. Nguyen, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, outlined goals that point to a promising plan for reforming Vietnam's haphazard higher education sector.

As well as student evaluation of lecturers and lecturers evaluating school management boards, all higher education institutes will be under scrutiny and forced to become more transparent.

The Minister also decreed that institutions must divulge details of training and quality assurance programmes as well as financial details by1 January. Non-compliance with the new regulations could mean an imposition of quotas for the following academic year.

Perhaps one of the most important announcements was that all schools must have established output guidelines by December 2010. In the past, lack of these guidelines resulting in poor quality graduates has been one of the biggest problems facing higher education institutions.

Dang Nhu Loi, Vice-Chair of the National Assembly's social affairs committee, said, "While many countries strictly manage their education outputs and require their graduates to meet enterprises' demands after graduation, Vietnam's universities are worried about their inputs, not outputs".

Although the new regulations outlined by Nguyen seem promising, the big question will be how well they are monitored and taken to fruition. Vietnam's higher education sector is notorious for being unregulated as it is often unclear where responsibility lies for managing the different areas.

Colleges and universities are established without permits, too many students are admitted even when quota systems exist, and lecturers are either under-qualified or not qualified at all.

And allegations of academic fraud are nothing new. According to Professor Vu Duong Nuh of Hanoi National University, some university managers embellished their qualifications to make their institutions seem more prestigious. Vu alleged that some universities had used images of famous professors in the institution's advertising, without their knowledge or permission.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to improve standards from within the institutions themselves, universities are asking for greater academic autonomy, as outlined by the World Bank's Plan for Higher Education in Vietnam.

Some progress has already been made but further progress is being hampered by unqualified personnel, ineffective management practices, inflexible and impractical curricula as well as outdated teaching practices.

Although these problems could, potentially, be resolved in the short term, there is another issue that needs to be addressed. According to Tran Minh Hung, a lecturer at Dong Nai Pedagogy College, universities and colleges still have inadequate long-term development plans and, to meet the demands of socio-economic development, they must be given more autonomy by the Education Ministry.

Long-term planning is an essential factor, not only for improving all areas of Vietnam's higher education sector but also for helping to slow down the country's continuing brain drain.

Young Vietnamese students currently travel to Canada, Singapore, Australia and the United States to undertake their university studies. Of the total number of students who then go on to graduate, a staggering 70% choose not to return to Vietnam. For a country with a young population, where approximately 70% of people are aged between 15 and 64, this is a huge loss to the country's knowledge bank as well as the economy.

Academia, however, is merely one part of the solution. Planning cannot focus solely on what happens within the universities and they must also work closely with business and industry to create pathways for graduates at domestic and foreign institutions to ensure these talented young people do not become part of a lost generation.