Vietnam has too many weak universities

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The country's private universities are poor, but since demand far exceeds supply, there is no pressure on them to improve, Tran Hong Quan, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Non-public Universities and Colleges, tells Vietweek in an exclusive interview.

Vietweek: Though the state has encouraged the setting up of universities, many schools cannot enroll enough students, and face the risk of bankruptcy. Why?

Tran Hong Quan: Private universities should get more support from the state so that they can more easily overcome difficulties in the early post-establishment stage. In some countries, the state pours money into the construction of schools, which are then taken over and managed by a group of teachers. In these cases, the quality of the schools is guaranteed right from the beginning.

Our private universities remain poor for a long time before accumulating enough money and experience to develop. Thus, many schools get into difficulties.

There are concerns about the quality of schools. Some provinces even refuse to recruit people graduating from private universities. What do you think about this?

Their action runs counter to our principle, which is that students graduating from all universities are equal. Thus, this discrimination is wrong. In a recruitment examination, it is improbable that a student from a private university would fare poorer than those from a public one.

We should have examinations to compare the qualifications of students from private schools with those from public ones.

So what do you think about the quality of private schools?

Professor Tran Hong Quan

Private primary and high schools are better than public ones, while private universities and vocational schools are poorer. Public primary and high schools are enough to meet society's needs. Thus, investors in private schools must meet high standards, and students must accept high school fees. They have a better opportunity to create good quality.

Meanwhile, public universities are not enough to meet the demand. The supply is too small compared to the demand. There is not enough pressure on [universities] to improve their quality. Thus, private universities and schools established by some localities are poorer than old public ones.

But there is an opinion that we have too many universities?

We have too many weak universities, so their quality is not ensured. The number of universities is not large compared to our population. Malaysia with a smaller population has 500 universities, higher than our 450.

However, our current capacity (in terms of capital and human resources) is not large enough to meet the development needs of the schools. Out of 450 schools, only 80 are private. Thus, the burden on the state is very big.

When talking about university education, we only talk about low quality, high fees, and big investments from the state budget. In fact, educational spending per student in Vietnam is too small. The investment may be tens of thousands of dollars in the US, while it is thousands of dollars in some Asian countries, compared to only hundreds of dollars in our country.

This issue must be resolved, otherwise our university education will make no headway.

What are the solutions?

Education has two functions. The first function is the improvement of people's personality, or the improvement of the society's citizens. This is the responsibility of society, and the state should use taxes to deal with it.

The second function is vocational training, aimed at improving workers' capacity. A part of the investment for this should come from the state, and the rest from individuals. Individuals should pay most of the training fees. When dealing with it, we may face the issue of how the poor can afford the fees. The training fees cannot be too low. Thus, the state should lend to students to pay the fees, and then they should repay when they have jobs.

Many countries have adopted this measure. We should set aside bigger amounts for student loans to ensure that our investment in the field is equal to that of neighboring countries.

The education sector targets that 40 percent of students will study in private universities by 2020. Can the goal be reached?

It is very difficult to achieve the target. Earlier, we had aimed to achieve this target by 2010. However, it was not fulfilled. Now we expect to reach the target by 2020. However, only 14 percent of students are in private universities. So we cannot reach the goal by 2020.

Is the model of Vietnam's private universities different from the rest of the world?

Yes, it's different. We have two models. One operates for profit, and the other, not. The state has policies to provide preferential treatment in terms of land, credit, and tax to universities that operate for non-profit purposes. However, the policies have not been implemented yet. So schools get into difficulties. The reason is that it is difficult to distinguish between those operating for profit or non-profit purposes.

What should we do to improve the quality of universities?

We should verify universities in a public manner, helping them improve their training quality and facilitating students in choosing a suitable school. We should set up an independent verification organization that does not depend on public agencies to do this work.

Can poor private universities improve in future?

I forecast that most of them will improve. There are private universities with large investments, which could become leading schools in our country in the near future.

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