An innovative model for higher education reform

Reforming higher education has been a top priority of the Vietnamese government in recent years. Even though some progress has been made, university reform still lags egregiously behind the country’s economic transformation.

The fundamental role of universities is to provide socially and economically beneficial education and to generate knowledge and innovation. By all accounts, Vietnamese universities are failing to fulfil these critical obligations.

As is widely documented and claimed by many Vietnamese and international scholars, the higher education curricula in Vietnam are rigid and outdated, isolated from the education reforms in other countries and international currents of knowledge, new technologies and the needs of the country itself. It is also argued that the development of students’ soft skills and other important skills are not given sufficient emphasis.

Work-focused learning as part of both the formal and informal curriculum is minimal. Many students are not provided with the opportunity to gain relevant work experience in their field of study.

Resolution 14

Being acutely aware of the situation, in recent years the government has attached a higher priority to education reform. In 2005, the government adopted Resolution 14, which aims for the “comprehensive renovation of higher education” by 2020. It marked a turning point. The resolution calls for governance reform, including greater institutional autonomy and more merit-based selection mechanisms.

Furthermore, the official establishment of Fulbright University Vietnam, or FUV, is expected to act as an important step towards improving the quality of higher education. On 16 May, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam officially signed the papers for the establishment of Fulbright University Vietnam.

The Fulbright University Vietnam project was first mooted in discussions between then Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang and United States President Barack Obama on 25 July 2013. In the presence of Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen PhuTrong, the project received its investment certificate at a ceremony held in New York on 10 July 2015.

Competing in a globalised world

As it is the first non-profit university in the country, the Vietnamese government has high expectations for the potential of FUV in terms of reforming Vietnamese higher education.

The Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong states: “Fulbright University Vietnam will be a modern non-profit university which will provide the up-to-date knowledge Vietnam needs, together with progressive approaches that consolidate students’ cognitive abilities and teach them practical skills.”

In recognition of the importance of FUV, Truong Tan Sang announced that “future generations of Vietnamese really need high-quality universities in their home country to ensure they can compete in a globalised world”.

It is hoped that FUV will set an example of effective higher education governance and quality assurance for the Vietnamese higher education system. It will embody the principles that are prerequisites for educational excellence: academic freedom, meritocracy, transparency, accountability, equal access and an awareness of what the global marketplace demands.

FUV’s new degree programmes in public policy, management and technology will be developed in cooperation with American academic partners and in consultation with the business community to ensure the quality and market relevance of FUV’s curricula in order to create a skilled labour force to meet the needs of Vietnam’s economy.

Everyone who studies at the university will be supported and supervised by a prestigious international team. Only capable and responsible lecturers will be selected.

This type of institutionalised engagement with the corporate community will provide the much needed feedback loops that are critical to ensuring that the FUV’s teaching programmes respond to the demands of business for skilled managers and technicians and that FUV’s programming directly supports Vietnam’s continued economic development. The success of FUV will contribute to innovative models for higher education in Vietnam.

Dr Thanh Nguyen is a senior lecturer at the education faculty and deputy head of the department of science management and international relations at Tan Trao University, Vietnam. He is an editor and reviewer of several journals of education. La Trobe University, Australia, gave him an award in recognition of his continuous outstanding academic achievement and exemplary community service contributions in 2011, in recognition of his participation in and contributions to the Vietnamese students’ community services and the enhancement of the relationship between the university and Vietnamese authorities in 2012. His publications can be found in this profile.