Partnership with Russia for new, world-class university

Vietnam is to invest some US$150 million to create a state-of-the-art university of technology in Hanoi. Russia is to be the academic sponsor, the Ministry of Education and Training announced. This is the latest in a series of partnerships forged with foreign governments and aimed at creating world-class universities.

The project will have two steps. In the first phase, from now until 2016, a Russian training institute will be established as a unit of the 47-year-old Le Quy Don Technical University. From 2016, the institution’s name will be changed to the Vietnamese Russian University of Technology.

Russian involvement in the project includes providing textbooks and curricula, granting degrees, sending professors to Vietnam to deliver courses in Russian, and hosting Vietnamese students and faculty on internships and fellowships at top Russian universities.

The official agreement is expected to be signed next month in Moscow, during a visit to Russia by Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Ambitious project

The new institution is part of an ambitious project launched in 2006, aimed at establishing excellent universities delivering education of international standards with support and sponsorship from the world’s leading higher education countries.

Within this framework, the Vietnamese German University was established in 2008 in Ho Chi Minh City, and the University of Science and Technology in Hanoi was created in 2009 in a partnership with the French government.

Two other projects are also being negotiated, one in partnership with the Japanese government and the other with the United States.

According to experts, the new Vietnamese Russian University of Technology should be well prepared to confront the challenges faced by its two antecedent institutions.

In a recent article the local Thanh Nien – The Youth – reported that the Vietnamese German University had had difficulties recruiting sufficient numbers of students. Currently it has only 527 students, some 250 of them graduate students, within eight majors.

These numbers are far short of the university’s target of reaching 5,000 students in 29 majors by 2020. Besides the shortage of students there is a more serious dilemma: according to official data, the passing enrolment scores at the German university are much lower than those at Vietnam’s leading universities.

A similar problem has also occurred at the University of Science and Technology in Hanoi, where the student population is only around 400.

For Professor Jurgen Mallon, president of the Vietnamese German University, the preference of Vietnamese students for economic-related fields is one reason for the institution’s current difficulties.

Xenocentric behaviour among students and parents is another reason. “The best students in technology fields will choose study abroad with scholarships” instead of studying locally, Mallon told Thanh Nien in an interview.

A recent report issued by the National Assembly’s committee for culture, education, youth and children also identified obstacles to achieving ‘excellent’ universities, including lack of facilities, unsustainable financial subsidisation and – especially – a shortage of full-time, highly qualified academic staff.

Both the Vietnamese German University and the University of Science and Technology in Hanoi mainly use part-time lecturers, some from local institutions and others from their foreign university partners.

Action to tackle problems

To overcome this challenge, the University of Science and Technology is planning to send around 400 PhD students in the sciences to study in France in the coming 10 years, with the expectation of recruiting them back to become tenured lecturers in the future.

However, according to Professor Pierre Darriulat, a retired French astrophysicist who has spent more than a decade teaching physics in Hanoi, the plan to send young PhD students to France “has nothing to gain if there is no follow-up to make a good use of their skills and talents at home”.

If not, Darriulat told University World News, this would “only lead to a catastrophic brain drain”.

Darriulat, who is a member of the University of Science and Technology international scientific board, believes that the top priority for foreign-partnered and Vietnamese universities with world-class aspirations should be to make proper use of young Vietnamese postdocs present in Vietnam as well as those in the diaspora, giving the younger generation a chance to play an active part in the renaissance of higher education.

To make that happen, Darriulat suggested that universities should create a habilitation degree, in order to select university teachers of sufficient level. Institutions should also establish centres of excellence, support them, and secure reasonable wage levels, working conditions, autonomy and academic freedom.

Granting an appropriate decree of autonomy – especially in terms of funding, human resources, governance and curriculum development – to aspiring world-class universities has also been recommended by Roger Chao Jr, a PhD candidate at City University of Hong Kong, whose dissertation compares regionalisation and internationalisation processes in higher education in East Asian countries.

“If Vietnam’s government still wants to leapfrog its universities to world-class level, autonomy is prerequisite,” Chao concluded.