Legislators seek to apportion blame for poor universities

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The Vietnamese parliament should pinpoint exactly who is responsible for the establishment of dubious universities that have cropped up across the country in recent years, a representative told a meeting on June 7.

A report on the enforcement of school establishment regulations issued by the National Assembly's Standing Committee failed to specify who should be held responsible for allowing poor quality schools to continue operating unchecked, said representative Le Van Cuong from the north-central province of Thanh Hoa.

According to the report, as of September, 2009, Vietnam had 440 higher education institutions, including 304 universities and colleges established over the past 11 years.

However, many of the newly-established schools have not met regulations on faculty qualification and infrastructure, the report said, adding that the failure to meet certain standards had ensured that the quality of education was also faltering.

Cuong said he wasn't sure if the managerial problems were because agencies were understaffed and underfunded or because of corruption and bribery.

Assemblyman Huynh Nghia from the central city of Da Nang complained without elaborating that many schools had been licensed without meeting minimum faculty requirements.

Representative Nguyen Huu Phuoc from the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre said the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) had virtually ignored the flouting of educational regulations.

He said either the ministry didn't have the capacity to manage the problem, or that officials were mismanaging the situation.

On the other hand, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan, who was at helm of the education ministry between 2006 and this April, told the press on the meeting's sidelines that the "whole system" was to blame for the problem, "including every minister that was in charge from 1975 until now."

He said the ministry now realized that it had fundamental management problems that went to its roots and that it would adopt a "breakthrough solution" and "reform education management" this year. However, he failed to elaborate on what the breakthrough solution would entail.

While agreeing with the Standing Committee's report, the deputy prime minister stressed that newly-established universities had still made significant contributions to providing human resources and guaranteeing the country's economic growth.

Nhan said that currently some 220,000 students graduate from universities and colleges a year, 90 percent of whom obtain jobs after graduation.

The figure is 11 times higher than the number of graduates in 1987, when Vietnam made its first moves toward a market economy, he said.

Even the educational sector is aware of the problem, the government's position is "not to be pessimistic about the situation," Nhan said.

Failed plans

According to the Standing Committee's report, the number of students last year was 13 times higher than that in 1987, but the number of instructors had only tripled over the period.

The student-teacher ratio was 28:1 during the 2008-2009 school year, or even up to more than 40:1 at some schools, the report said, adding that many lecturers had taught 1,000 periods a year compared to the normal limit of 260 periods.

While the government in 2001 announced plans to have at least 50 percent of lecturers hold master degrees and doctorates by this year, currently only 10.16 percent of lecturers nationwide are doctors, the report said.

In the report, the Standing Committee said that a newer government plan announced in 2006 to have 50 percent of lecturers hold doctorates by 2015 was farfetched given Vietnam's current situation.

Nghia from Da Nang City said that Vietnam should think long and hard about why the country, where people are known for their eagerness to study and the government spends 20 percent of state budget annually on education despite a small economy, has yet to have even one school ranked among Asia's top 200 universities.

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