School daze

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Vietnam's university system is deeply flawed, but studying abroad does not necessarily mean a great education, former Deputy Minister of Education and Training Tran Xuan Nhi tells Thanh Nien Weekly in an interview.

He now chairs the Vietnam International Education Consultants Association.

Thanh Nien Weekly: The number of Vietnamese people studying abroad has increased in recent years. Some of them say they want to study overseas because foreign degrees are more prestigious than those in Vietnam. What do you think about this issue?

Tran Xuan Nhi: In other countries, it is easy to enter a university. Those who graduate from high school can study at universities, but it's not easy to graduate. During the studying process, students are carefully selected, so those who cannot keep up with their studies will fail. This mechanism produces university graduates who can meet the demands of the society.

Meanwhile, in our country, university admissions are tighter, so many students who fail entrance exams at local universities go abroad to study. Our country should follow the world trend, in which admission to university is more open. Now, it is very difficult to enter a local university, but after entering, most students, including those who do poorly in their studies, can graduate and get degrees. Then they enter the workplace unqualified. In other countries, you can enter university as long as you have money. However, you can't graduate if you don't try and earn good marks. Many Vietnamese parents sometimes don't know this issue very well when sending their kids abroad for school.

But don't employers hire people based on the quality of their degree? People think that the quality of foreign universities, in general, is better than that of local ones.

In other countries, the governments pour proper investment into state-owned schools. Investment in our universities is too small compared to the rest of the world, so they cannot offer good quality training. Vietnam should have expanded its private university system, and strengthened cooperation with foreign universities. However, the state didn't do this. It wants to do everything by itself, while its capacity, in terms of both finance and manpower, is limited. Thus, the quality of its education is poor.

Is the government worried about some of the negative effects of all this, namely, a possible brain drain?

Many students, after studying abroad, do not return home. We do not have any agency to monitor and supervise this situation... We have not yet strictly managed how many students go abroad, and how many return.

Meanwhile, "consultation centers" for studying abroad are mushrooming because it's an easy business. The directors running these centers should understand the issues well. At the very least, they have to have studied abroad, and they have to survey the market to know foreign universities well. Besides, we should have other requirements on infrastructure, and staff. But Vietnam's requirements are very light, so the quality of many centers is poor.

Does studying abroad help offer higher quality human resources in Vietnam?

Not all foreign universities offer high quality education. Different universities offer different levels of quality, so parents should get to know exactly what each school is like before sending their kids abroad. Many people with enough money to throw around simply send their kids to any foreign university without checking its credentials. Some employers do not pay attention to academic results either. As a result, graduates of foreign universities, irrespective of their marks, could be assigned to hold important positions in state agencies, and they may become major decision makers. The consequences could be serious.

There are now many cooperation programs between Vietnamese universities and foreign ones. Should we encourage the opening of foreign universities in Vietnam?

Many Southeast Asian countries have developed the model of overseas studying in country, which is more economical than sending students abroad"¦ We should encourage this and the state should facilitate it. Now, government regulations cause difficulties for cooperations between local universities and foreign ones. Earlier, a cooperation program between a Vietnamese university and a US one that offered online training helped train 1,600 masters of sciences in only eight years, while its studying fee was one tenth of what Vietnamese students would have to pay if they went to the university abroad.

We have to renew our thinking on the issue. I agree with the Ministry of Education and Planning regulations on material and manpower requirements of foreign partners. However, local agencies should support foreign universities that have not been able to open training cooperation programs in Vietnam.

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