Autonomy key to university quality

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VietNam News English - 40 month(s) ago 17 readings

Deputy Minister of Education and Training Bui Van Ga, along with Emanuela di Gropello, chief author of the World Bank's East Asia and Pacific Higher Education Report 2011, and Dr Vu Thi Phuong Anh, director of the Centre for Educational Testing and Quality Assessment at the Viet Nam National University in HCM City, spoke to the Vietnam News Agency reporters about higher education reforms.

Deputy Minister of Education and Training Bui Van Ga, along with Emanuela di Gropello, chief author of the World Bank's East Asia and Pacific Higher Education Report 2011, and Dr Vu Thi Phuong Anh, director of the Centre for Educational Testing and Quality Assessment at the Viet Nam National University in HCM City, spoke to the Vietnam News Agency reporters about higher education reforms.

Deputy Minister of Education and Training Bui Van Ga:

Some universities are lacking students and have had to eliminate some majors. Why is this?

Bui Van Ga

Bui Van Ga

One of the reasons for the difficulty is that such universities and colleges are newly-established and their names are not yet prestigious. They also have a number of majors which are not attractive to students.

What measures will the ministry take to address this situation?

The ministry has been implementing a series of measures to enforce quality pledges by universities and colleges, especially the newly-established ones, to enhance their prestige and attract more students. We also expect to have to adjust enrollments to match reality, not only to ensure the quality of enrollment but also to create conditions for schools to meet their capacity. The measures include supplementing some subjects at entrance examinations and giving more autonomy to schools. We are considering whether to supplement the policy for some majors which are finding it hard to attract students while society as a whole is in need of trained human resources. Schools will be in a healthy competition with each other to improve quality or risk being disbanded.

How will the ministry improve the quality of colleges and universities?

The ministry will pay attention to ensuring educational quality by enhancing inspection and supervision to discover wrongdoing in a timely manner. We have also asked schools to make public reports regularly on educational quality, status of faculties and facilities and financial activities, so that students and society can evaluate them. We will reform the management of undergraduate education system in a co-ordinated manner from the central level to cities, provinces and universities and colleges.

What can universities and colleges do to improve themselves?

The ministry has encouraged undergraduate schools to seek private investment sources to ensure quality and competitiveness. We will issue another regulation allowing schools implementing quality educational programmes to charge tuition correlative with educational quality.

The Government also has policies to attract foreign and overseas Vietnamese faculty to join in lecturing, conducting scientific research and technology transfer at our universities. In the long term, we will give autonomy to schools to deal with all such activities.

How will schools which can't ensure be penalised?

The ministry has established teams to inspect the implementation of pledges taken by schools when they were established. Initial inspections at some schools show that the implementation of quality pledges has not met the approved proposal for the school's establishment. After years in operation, the number of teaching staff remains limited, infrastructure and construction is unsettled, and the education scale of such schools has failed to meet capacity. The ministry will strictly penalise schools which do not meet agreed standards.

Emanuela di Gropello, lead author of the World Bank East Asia and Pacific Higher Education Report 2011:

The World Bank has recommended three priorities for the nation's educational system: addressing skills gaps, gradually increasing graduate quantity, and increasing research relevant to economic needs. What kind of policies are needed from the Government to reach these goals?

Viet Nam needs to apply a few critical policies in the areas of financing and governance, including increasing public funds for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas, R&D, and scholarships and student loans.

In the area of governance, the process of granting autonomy to universities must be advanced, with university boards and external quality assurance processes given a stronger role. Other important governance-related measures include supporting stronger incentives for the further development and quality of private institutions of higher education, and encouraging selected university-industry linkages to improve curriculum relevance, support entrepreneurship, and help with technological upgrade.

How can Viet Nam implement stricter requirements to monitor the quality of private universities? What have been lessons from neighbouring countries in terms of encouraging the development of private universities?

Private institutions can play a critical role in supporting access to and expansion of higher education and providing critical skills for the labour market, including fields of study in high demand. They can also be innovative in the way they teach and therefore foster stronger thinking and behavioural skills.

The World Bank report shows that there are many positive examples of private institutions around East Asia. Lessons from around the region suggest a few key elements needed for the development of a quality sector. These include clear and efficient regulation – being careful to avoid excessive and undifferentiated regulation, which can greatly constrain private sector participation – along with information on academic, research and labour markets made available to all relevant stakeholders, including prospective students to allow them to make informed choices; and a policy framework supporting resource diversification, allowing private institutions to compete for public research funds and get access to loans for prospective students.

For Viet Nam, better information on the performance of private institutions and making sure this information is also available to students would greatly help with quality monitoring.

Some experts are asking that Vietnamese universities be given more autonomy, while others say the Ministry of Education and Training should continue its role of monitoring quality. What do you think is the right direction?

Emanuela di Gropello

Emanuela di Gropello

Greater authority given to universities and monitoring of quality by the ministry are not contradictory. In fact, both are needed in the context of an effective and accountable reform of higher education. To be able to better adapt their curricula, pedagogies and research to the needs of the labour market, universities need to be able to make many decisions in academic, budgeting and staffing areas simply because they know best what their communities need. At the same time, however, universities need to be held accountable for their results to their communities and broader society. The monitoring of quality should rely on a solid external quality assurance system focused on monitoring outcomes and outputs, not inputs, to avoid unnecessary intrusions on and limitations of autonomy.

How will it impact economic development if we don't successfully address problems such as supplying graduates with real-world skills or improving the quality of research at universities?

Viet Nam has been doing quite well economically, but evidence from around the region shows that countries will increasingly need to derive higher impetus for growth from productivity improvements, and this is also the case with Viet Nam. Higher education has a critical role to play in delivering the skills and research needed for productivity and growth. The high-level skills delivered by higher education are important not only to apply current technology but also to assimilate, adapt to and develop new technologies. Research can help spur innovation.

If Viet Nam does not seize the opportunity of further improving its higher education sector it will struggle to deliver the skills and research needed to spur productivity and innovation and, therefore, in a not too distant future, growth will be constrained.

Dr. Vu Thi Phuong Anh, director of the Centre for Educational Testing and Quality Assessment at the Viet Nam National University in HCM City:

One element of the debate surrounding the draft Law on Higher Education is whether to make universities more autonomous. Is this possible under the current circumstances?

It's a necessary step to spur further developments in higher education. However, there are several requirements that must be met before the Ministry of Education and Training can grant autonomy to universities. These include having a legal framework that clearly outlines the responsibilities and authority, an independent, professional quality system, and the freedom granted to students and their families to access information about their chosen university. The current draft Law on Higher Education has not been able to outline such requirements, which are critical in the process of granting autonomy to universities.

How important is it to develop more research universities?

I don't think what we critically need is more research universities. I think we need to focus on developing just two or three major research universities.

I'm leaning toward transforming the two national universities into strong research universities and another one to be placed in the central region. The current national universities already have some elements to become national research universities. However, they need to be granted higher autonomy and more funding from the State budget. These research universities therefore would be able to decide on their linkage with industries and to seize opportunities from the market. However, these universities must also demonstrate their effectiveness by completing research that is recognised worldwide or highly applicable in the country. — VNS

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