New minister faces graduate employability challenge

Vietnam’s National Assembly last week approved Phung Xuan Nha, current president of Vietnam National University, Hanoi as the country’s new Minister of Education and Training.

Nha’s appointment after 78% of the assembly voted in his favour on 9 April comes as a high graduate unemployment rate has been identified as one of the most pressing problems for the ministry, according to Hoang Anh Duc, a Hanoi-based education specialist.

After several decades of breakneck massification, Vietnamese higher education is facing a number of chronic problems, such as deteriorating quality, increasing unemployment, a shortage of qualified lecturers and a low degree of internationalisation, which will need to be tackled by the incoming minister.

In his first interview with local media outlet VietnamNet after the assembly approval, Nha emphasised the importance of higher education quality to “properly meet the demands of the labour market under ongoing profound and expanding globalisation”.

Due to difficult economic conditions and a prolonged recession leading to the closure of many businesses, unemployment rose in 2013 and 2014, particularly in the services sector including banking, which hires many graduates.

Data announced by the General Statistics Office of Vietnam revealed some 225,500 bachelor and masters degree holders in Vietnam were jobless in the last three months of 2015.

In 2015 the highest unemployment rate was among those with bachelor or vocational degrees, while the untrained and unskilled paradoxically had the lowest unemployment rate, according to the Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs. This is contrary to the general unemployment trend, which has been improving in the past year.

At the same time the country’s universities have been turning out more graduates.

“Reducing jobless rates among university graduates should be included among the must-do list of the new minister in the short-run,” said Duc, who is manager of EduTrigger, a project that aims to provide insights and up-to-date information for Vietnamese education.


Nha said an appropriate measure would be to “shift the current education system centred on raw content” to one that focuses on skills and learning outcomes, as “first priority”.

He added that more innovative teaching and curriculum changes would be a major task of the ministry.

One of the proposals in the past year under the country’s previous education minister has been to reduce study time in universities to 3-4 years for a bachelor degree instead of 4-6 years at present, in part to align with university systems in the ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations – region but also to cut short theoretical education in favour of training in practice.

Increased autonomy for universities to set their own curriculum, start their own training courses and choose their own methods to reform and improve training quality is already being piloted by the government in 13 universities under the so-called Resolution 77 programme 2014-2017.

However, unemployment is not just about the quality of higher education but is also related to external factors, such as labour demand in the economy and competition from other countries for human resources.

“When the economic system goes down, it means fewer jobs are created and as a consequence, graduate students become unemployed or semi-unemployed,” said Pham Hai, an education observer who owns an ICT-based firm in Hanoi.

Nha is also expected to push for more internationalisation of the higher education system. He has a graduate diploma in economy from Manchester University in the UK obtained in the 1990s and was a visiting fellow at Georgetown University in the US in the early 2000s.

“The [higher education] sector leader must have a global perspective and be able to tune into current trends,” he said.