Let the right ones in: Vietnam moves to restrict number of college students

By Thanh Nien Staff, Thanh Nien News

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A file photo of students getting ready for a university entrance exam in Ho Chi Minh City in 2015. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach A file photo of students getting ready for a university entrance exam in Ho Chi Minh City in 2015. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach


Many universities and educators have protested the education ministry's new policy which aims to limit the number of students at each school to under 15,000, starting this year. 
They said the rules, despite its good intention to improve education quality, are unreasonable and can lead to even more red tape since only a few exceptions are allowed. 
Nguyen Van Cuong, president of Hanoi University of Culture, said he cannot see how the ministry could decide that it will be better for art schools to have a maximum of 5,000 undergrad students, medical schools 8,000 students, and others 15,000 students. His university is offering degree programs in music, writing, and stage and film directing. 
Such a restriction is unnecessary for art universities which are usually able to enroll just a few hundreds a year at most, Cuong said.
Large multi-disciplinary schools, on the other hand, will not be able to keep their student population below 15,000, he said.
Figures from the education ministry showed that the numbers of students at 11 universities around the country currently exceed the maximum limit. Can Tho University in the Mekong Delta city is the biggest with more than 30,400 students, followed by Hanoi University of Agriculture with nearly 30,000.
Vu Thi Phuong Anh, a spokesperson of the Vietnam Association of Universities and Colleges, criticized the enrollment restriction, arguing that it will not help improve local schools' education quality.
Instead, the ministry needs to tighten its control over the quality and performance of graduates, she said.
Dam Quang Minh, president of Hanoi-based FPT University, agreed, saying that one of the criteria that should be considered is the number of students securing jobs after graduation, rather than the number of students enrolled.
Red tape
An officer with Hanoi University of Science and Technology told Tuoi Tre last week the school now has around 26,000 students and 1,250 lecturers, or one lecturer for 15 students.
If the school is going to comply with the new rule, it will have to lay off half of its teaching staff, the officer said.
Do Van Dung, president of Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology and Education, was quoted as saying that the ministry's restriction will mean that tuition collections could be reduced sharply. 
Dung said his school's facilities and teaching staff are able to provide education for around 18,000 students, so it will be a waste if it will have to cut down on the number of students and lecturers in accordance with the now policy.
Most Vietnamese students are paying US$271.5-391.8 a year. The low fee, as compared to most other countries, means that for many schools the best strategy is to take in as many students as possible. 
No worries
However, there are still chances that schools will be able to continue with their current enrollment practices, as the ministry said it can reconsider "special cases" -- a policy which many educators believed could result in red tape.
Truong Tien Si, deputy chief of education faculty at the Banking University of Ho Chi Minh City, said it is "unreasonable" to restrict capable schools and then force them to go through bureaucracy to get a special license.
Responding to the criticism, Nguyen Van Ang, deputy chief of the education ministry's planning and finance department, told Thanh Nien that schools will be given ample time to reduce their numbers of students gradually, even though the policy will take effect in less than a month.
The policy was issued in accordance with a national plan for the development of universities and colleges in 2006-20 approved by the Prime Minister in 2013, Ang said, when asked how the ministry decided on the limits.
He said the new policy is meant for schools which have been rushing to expand with more classrooms and lecturers, even though their management capacity does not match their scale.
Asked about concerns that fewer students will affect many schools' revenues, Ang said the ministry has never encouraged schools to rake in huge revenues by increasing the number of students. 
Instead, the ministry has recently approved a policy which allows tuition ceilings to rise around 10 percent annually for the next five years, the official said.

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