Students sit a test during the university entrance examination in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam should not close poorly run private universities, but target their improvement instead because the country needs more educational institutions to train increasing numbers of students, former Deputy Minister of Education and Training Tran Xuan Nhi tells Vietweek.
Vietweek: Many private universities are unable to enroll enough students. There are even some that are only able to get 30-40 students a year. Why is this happening?
Tran Xuan Nhi: The first reason is the regulation on the "floor marks" at university entrance exams [under which the ministry sets a minimum score based on which each university will set its own minimum score for admitting students.]. Since the ministry sets the floor marks quite high, the number of students who pass the exam is just enough to enter state-owned universities. Given the choice, most, if not all students would opt for state-owned universities, which are less expensive and, in most cases, more prestigious.
The high benchmarks and the prolonged enrollment process (a university is allowed a period of time during which it can hold as many entrance examinations as it wants) have helped state-owned universities attract most of the successful candidates, and limited the ability of private schools to do so.
But if we reduced the "floor marks" to help private colleges enroll enough students, how can the quality of candidates be ensured?
The high or low floor mark must depend on whether the exams are easy or difficult, so there is no ground for assessing students' qualification based on the mark. In fact, we should not regulate the floor mark, as the qualifications of students from cities and mountainous areas are different. We should strictly implement the Education Law, which allows schools to determine their enrollment criteria by themselves.
Our country is striving to have 400 students for every 10,000 residents. The figure now is only 20.
The ministry should also consider abolishing the university entrance exams. It should instead improve the quality of the high school graduation exam, and universities can use those results as a basis for enrolling students.
Now, those two exams, the high-school graduation and the university entrance exams, take place within the space of just one month. The quality of students cannot change in such a short time, so why do we need two? Each exam costs more than VND1 trillion ($47.6 million), which is a big burden on society.
Is there a forecasting problem that has caused the shortage of students in private universities? It seems as though many schools are offering training for sectors that are already facing an oversupply of human resources.
Yes, it is a factor, so the state should have more accurate forecasts as well as plans. However, it is important that we implement the Education Law and allow universities to determine their enrollment by themselves.
Is there fair competition among universities now?
It is more likely that the current regulations are creating difficulties in enrollment for private universities, and not fostering competition among them.
It is also not fair that while students of state-owned universities can enjoy all state incentives, those at private ones cannot. In other countries, investors can access preferential loans and enjoy tax exemptions to open private universities, and students from these schools can also receive state scholarships.
The state should offer incentives to students and investors to facilitate development of private universities. If the current situation continues, many private colleges and universities could go bankrupt.
The Ministry of Education and Training should allow universities to determine enrollment criteria on their ow3n, so that they can bring their capacities into full play.
The global trend is for universities to expand student enrollment, then select good students during the training process and tighten their output to ensure the quality of their graduates. We have many ways to control the quality of university graduates.
However, there are concerns about the quality of private universities.
Many non-state universities are very good. They have good staff, who are experienced retired teachers. Their equipment and facilities are also good.
Does Vietnam have too many universities now?
With the population of only 4 million, Singapore has nearly 150 universities, while Taiwan, with the population of 20 million, has over 160 universities. Vietnam, with population of some 90 million, has 400 universities. The number of schools, therefore, is not big. However, the issue is that we have many schools of poor quality, and our policies do not facilitate their improvement.
Should we close some poorly-run schools?
I don't think we should do it. Our country is striving to have 400 students for every 10,000 residents. However, the figure now is only 20. We need to have more schools. Now, why shouldn't we help improve poorly-run establishments instead of closing them? We should first know the reason for their poor operation. The state encourages private investment in education, but does not offer any support to non-state universities. Investors have to spend their own money to acquire land for schools. If they could receive land from the state, they would pour their investment into the schools' facilities and their profits would be reinvested in improving academic quality. Because they have to spend a lot on land, investors often focus on recouping their capital first, instead of reinvesting their earnings in improving quality.
The state can also subsidize part of school fees for students in private universities, which would help reduce the overload in state-owned schools. Lower school fees would also help non-state schools attract more students.
The state should facilitate the development of private universities because we have real need for them. If are not operating well, we should also adjust our policies and ensure that they are reasonable.
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