Vietnam should promote links between education and business, so that university education can meet both the needs of society and of the workplace, British Ambassador Mark Kent tells Thanh Nien Weekly.
Thanh Nien Weekly: How do you assess the quality of Vietnamese universities?
Mark Kent: The quality of Vietnamese universities is developing, and we're seeing that as higher education reform agenda progresses, teaching capacity in universities is rising and it's going to continue to rise. I think that things are going in the right direction, and there are opportunities for being internationally recognized.
The key to all of this should be quality assurance, ensure that you raise the quality of the courses you offer. You should ensure that the quality is improving all the time, and in the right direction.
For an investor, what would be the criteria in choosing a Vietnamese university for cooperation?
You're going to look at various factors such as what's the balance between research and teaching, what's the research capacity of the university. You also want to see what is the strategy that it has to realize its long-term vision. Also how will the university manage to market itself? Is it an attractive place for students to go? So you can look at it almost through customers' eyes. If you're a student, do you want to come to this university? Does it offer what you want? And as an investor, is it a long-term proposition?
I think you would look at the international cooperation experience of a partner. Has it got any other international links, has it got experience of working internationally, or is this the first time it happens.
Is it necessary for Vietnam to rank its universities?
We need to look at things from students' perspectives rather than the institution's.
Before getting into ranking of universities, really we need to start looking at getting a benchmarking process for courses.
How would you draw up the ranking? You can't do it unless you have got some standards. That's my point. You need to have established criteria, and distinguish the benchmarks. The first criterion is quality assessment.
In the UK, we have different rankings. Some newspapers like The Times have the rankings done by criteria, for example, the number of students going into full-time employment six months after they left the university. But ranking is made easier because you have a more standardized basis on which to compare.
What would be your advice for Vietnam?
My suggestion is that you go step by step. You start off with quality assurance. Look at the products first, customers' perspectives, students' perspectives like a company. How would you say what is the best company in the world? It's a bit like a car company. To say whether it's from the best car company in the world, you look at its cars. Are the cars modern, reliable, fuel-efficient, and safe? You look at the quality of products it produces.
University education here has several shortcomings as it has not yet met the demand of society, and many graduates do not satisfy the demands of the workplace. What should Vietnam do to deal with it?
You need a quality assurance agency, which is an objective and independent body. What's really important is to promote the link between education and business. Are you producing students with the right skills for what your country, the business needs? It's no good producing very good students, very good courses, if they don't have the skills necessary for the development of the society, and the other skills that a company wants.
What you need is an ongoing dialogue between the education sector and business sector.
Vietnam is trying to develop key universities to make them leading institutions in the world. Is this feasible?
It's feasible, it won't be easy, and it's a long-term objective. You need to put in place the reforms and preparation. What you need to have is the strategy approach and to do the necessary reforms to get you there.
What should education authorities do to improve the university system in the context of international integration?
This question goes back to a number of things I've talked about: philosophy, strategy, international partnerships. Although the important thing is the philosophy, I mean focusing on the courses, high quality courses, which meet the demand of the business and society. Ensure you have some good international partnerships to share experiences.