University relocation plan stalls for lack of funding

Vietnam’s much-vaunted plan to move dozens of higher education institutions out of cramped city-centre locations to the suburbs of big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City has stalled, with few universities making the move so far.

As part of a bid to enhance higher education quality, five institutions in Hanoi and five in Ho Chi Minh City are to be relocated under the relocation pilot phase from 2011-15, according to plans drawn up in 2010. Another 10 to 15 institutions are scheduled to move during the second phase from 2016-20, with the rest eventually relocating between 2020 and 2030.

But the plans are well behind schedule.

Opposition from university staff, lack of transport infrastructure and the expense of the move are some of the reasons why the goals are unlikely to be achieved.

“Many faculty members fear moving as their families are not accustomed to life far from cities,” Le Van Thanh, rector of the Hanoi University of Civil Engineering, told Phap luat & Xa hoiLaw & Society – in a recent interview.

According to official data, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City together host more than a million tertiary students – half of the nationwide student population.

Due to rapid growth in enrolments over the past two decades and no proper measures to cope with the growth, students have to put up with overcrowded campuses and miserable facilities.

Many universities are on a total land area of less than two hectares, which is regarded as the norm for a high school rather than a university.

Plans are a decade old

Removal plans were reportedly approved over a decade ago for the two Vietnam National Universities, or VNUs – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – as well as for Da Nang University, the largest institution in the Middle Region.

In September 2011, the Vietnamese government initiated a more ambitious plan to relocate 70 higher education institutions, affecting more than 500,000 students in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

That year the Ministry of Education and Training estimated that at least US$2.54 billion should be invested to carry out the project, not including the cost of land compensation for residential owners at new campus locations.

The ministry also asked city authorities to draw up priority plans for public transport infrastructure to cater for students and workers likely to be affected by the moves. However, additional government funding has not been forthcoming.

VNU Ho Chi Minh City, one of the very few to successfully relocate – it moved partially to a new campus at Thu Duc, some 30 kilometres from the city centre – and the biggest research institution in South Vietnam, is one of the very few successes. The other projects are still pending.

VNU was able to speed up its phased relocation of departments to the new campus, even though it began its relocation plan later than the two other universities in Hanoi and Danang.

It used various innovative ways to overcome the financial constraints, including establishing a university foundation responsible for fundraising, and requests for investment from neighbouring provincial governments to build new student residents.

Land allocated

In the north-west, 660 hectares have been allotted to Ho Chi Minh City of Education, Ho Chi Minh City University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Saigon College of Arts and two other institutions.

South of Saigon, 735 hectares have been earmarked for a dozen universities, while, in the north-east, some 815 hectares were reserved for VNU Ho Chi Minh City and other city institutions.

But late last year Ho Chi Minh City’s department of planning and architecture, or DPA, admitted that the plans were well behind schedule, which it attributed mainly to the country’s economic downturn.

DPA Vice Director Nguyen Hoai Nam told official media last year that a sluggish property market was to blame as university managers hoped to sell city campuses to pay for relocation and new buildings.

“However, no one would offer a good price for the campuses now as the market has been frozen for years,” Nam said.

While government efforts have not led to more relocations, other bottom-up initiatives have nonetheless borne fruit.

Apart from VNU Ho Chi Minh City, FPT University – set up by FPT Corporation, a leading IT and financial company in Vietnam – launched plans to build a bigger campus in Hoa Lac high-tech park, an industrial zone some 30 kilometres from central Hanoi, just a few years after it was established in 2009.

This will be in addition to its two main campuses, in central Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In May 2012, part of the new campus was ready to host some 1,000 students, including foreign exchange students.