Ministry orders cuts in enrolments to boost quality

Vietnam’s Ministry of Higher Education and Training has said it will slash enrolments by thousands of students at 23 universities and colleges. Deputy Education Minister Bui Van Ga told local media last week that the new policy was to “focus on quality instead of quantity”.

The announcement was made this month in advance of upcoming nationwide university entrance examinations in July.

The ministry has said that enrolment quotas would be cut “between 10% and 100%” at the 23 institutions “because of failures to meet required conditions on lecturers and facilities”.

But the radical cutbacks are also a signal that after two decades of booming enrolments, the development of higher education in Vietnam is decelerating, education experts said.

Too many new institutions and the upgrading of some colleges into universities had led to ‘over expansion’, according to analysts quoted in official media.

The ministry has also released a list of universities that will not be allowed to enrol any students at all in 2013, including Hung Vuong University in Phu Tho province in northern Vietnam, the College of Technology, and Saigon College of Economics and Technology.

The official reason given for the enrolment freeze was “deficiencies in infrastructure and teaching staff”.

“Some universities do not even meet either requirement,” said Nguyen Huy Bang, chief inspector at the Ministry of Education and Training. The decisions were based on recent evaluations carried out by his department.

But he said some institutions would be allowed to resume enrolments the following year if they could resolve their “internal problems”. They will be required to submit a dossier to re-register courses that have been discontinued this year.

No new universities

Deputy Minister Bui Van Ga said earlier this month that the ministry would also veto any plans to set up new universities between now and 2020.

And he told representatives of the Vietnam Private Universities Association during a 5 March meeting that some universities would have to consider merging to “improve their operations” and meet the new enrolment quotas.

By the end of 2012, Vietnam had 81 private colleges and universities, accounting for 14% of graduates. Few achieved their allocated enrolment quotas, with most reaching between 30% and 60% of their targets, according to official figures. Many fell even shorter.

But the institutions most affected by the drastic reductions in student quotas are said to be in the public sector.

For example, the ministry has said it will approve an enrolment quota of just 7,500 students at the Industrial University in Ho Chi Minh City compared to 17,500 students last year – 40% of its previous quota.

Ho Chi Minh City’s University of Food Industry will have its enrolment halved this year compared to last year. The University of Quy Nhon in central Vietnam and Hanoi University for Natural Resources and Environment will only be allocated 1,200 and 1,560 students respectively.

In some cases, the ministry said, it would revoke licences to run particular courses.

For example, the private Luong The Vinh University has been forced to halt four programmes in the coming academic year: food processing, plant protection, electronic engineering and library science. The private Chu Van An University has been told that two courses – electronics and Chinese language – will no longer be validated.

The ministry stipulates that universities must have at least one lecturer with a doctorate and three lecturers with masters to be able to start a new course, which can be difficult for vocationally oriented courses.

Pham Van Pho, a Hanoi-based education observer, said the ministry’s actions might be a temporary response to increasing criticism voiced in the media and society that higher education quality was deteriorating.

“A more integrated solution would be to reform or if possible cancel the wasteful nationwide [university entrance] examination while continuing to adjust the quality assurance system to match international standards”, said Pho. The exam has been criticised for failing to match the aptitudes of students to the right courses.