Foreign diploma mills plague higher education

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Experts call on government to control the quality of joint educational programs with foreign universities

Run of the diploma mill: A man stands next to the name board of the Hong Ha Economics and Technology Intermediate School in Ho Chi Minh City's District 10, which offers a ten-month MBA program in collaboration with an American university without requiring students to know or learn English.

Unaccredited foreign institutions have flooded Vietnam's education sector, giving out sub-standard degrees of little value, a problem officials say has to do with lax regulation.

A recent investigation conducted by Thanh Nien revealed that two American institutions, Adam International University and Southwest American University, are offering opaque and low-quality MBA programs in Ho Chi Minh City that do not require any level of English proficiency.

Southwest American University has been partnering with Hong Ha Economics and Technology Intermediate School in District 10 to offer a ten-month MBA program that costs about US$4,000.

Thanh Phuong, an admissions officer at the school, told Thanh Nien that students aren't required to master any level of English since all of the classes include interpreters. She said the school offers assistance in translating theses into English and also provides students with model essays.

In one class titled "Total Quality Management," Thanh Nien observed that only 10 out of 30 registered students attended, and that the students were paying no attention to the foreign lecturer.

A Hong Ha student, who works as an English teacher in a nearby province and is registered in the Southwest American University program, said she had no idea what the teacher was lecturing about but still decided to attend because "it sounds very prestigious to have an American MBA."

Thanh Nien also approached the head of Hong Ha College, who denied that the school was partnering with any American institution.

Thanh Nien also found that another MBA program offered by Adam International University in partnership with the Institute of Accounting and Business Management in District 10 was of the same low-standards. Students aren't required to present any credentials, and pay US$4,000 for a 10-month course. Many have been allowed to sign up and start the course one month late having missed all previous classes.

According to Mark Ashwill, former country director of the Institute for International Education-Vietnam and currently managing director of Capstone Vietnam, a human resources development company, neither "university" is accredited.

According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a US association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities that recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations, the two schools, located in California and Georgia respectively, are considered private, for-profit corporations.

Professor Nguyen Hoi Nghia, director of the Department of Academic Affairs at the Vietnam National University (VNU)-HCMC, said there are many similarly questionable MBA joint programs of dubious quality in the country.

"It's quite clear that students won't gain enough knowledge in these kinds of MBA programs. Degrees awarded by unaccredited foreign schools can be used in Vietnam but are absolutely worthless abroad," he said. "We suggest the authorities check up on these two institutions."

However, some educators and experts fear that the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) does not have the capacity to inspect all of these programs since there are just too many of them.

Statistics from MoET's International Education Department show that there are about 200 joint programs operated by nearly 50 Vietnamese institutions with more than 100 foreign counterparts, ranging from college to Ph.D. level.

Seventy-four of the programs operated by major universities such as schools under the Vietnam National University system or Thai Nguyen University, Hue University, and Da Nang University do not need to receive licenses from MoET. The rest must be licensed by the ministry.

Nguyen Xuan Vang, head of the International Education Department at MoET, said most of the licensed programs advertise their license numbers in promotional material.

In a previous interview with Thanh Nien, Professor Pham Quang Minh from the VNU-HCMC said joint education programs with foreign partners were booming in a bad way. "The unwelcomed come, the welcomed don't," he said.

He suggested MoET establish a separate entity to license foreign institutions wanting to set up branch campuses or start joint programs here.

Dr. Vu Thi Phuong Anh, director of the VNU-HCMC's Center for Educational Testing and Quality

Assessment, said those who aim to attend these joint programs should research all the information about the foreign schools and its Vietnamese partners. Normally, major Vietnamese universities partner with credible foreign universities only, she said.

Dr. Anh said the VNU-HCMC only approves a partner school after careful assessment from a committee that includes the vice president, the head of academic affairs and international education departments along with the Center for Education Testing and Quality Assessment.

"Higher education is like buying a luxurious item. You really have to study the item carefully before making the decision about its quality."

Ashwill said a disproportionate number of unaccredited schools in Vietnam are based in the US since they can take advantage of a federalist system with 50 states, each with a different set of laws, rules and regulations related to higher education institutions.

"It's my hope that the [education] ministry and other branches of government make every effort to approve only officially accredited programs that benefit students, host institutions and Vietnam as whole," he said.

"Vietnam can ill afford to squander precious resources, which inevitably results when programs award degrees that are not worth the paper on which they are printed."

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