Cablegate: Education Reform in Vietnam: Everyone Being Left Behind

Published: Wed 13 Jan 2010 04:13 AM
DE RUEHHI #0032/01 0130414
R 130413Z JAN 10
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Education Reform in Vietnam: Everyone Being Left Behind
REF: A: 07 HANOI 222; B: 07 HANOI 2068; C: 08 HANOI 463
D: 10 HANOI 1274
1. (SBU) SUMMARY AND COMMENT: This cable is the first of two
reports on Vietnam's stalled education reform. Education reform is
key to Vietnam's political and economic development, yet three
years after Deputy Prime Minister Nhan announced his intent to
overhaul the education system, little real progress has occurred.
Two key elements critical to real reform of tertiary education --
greater autonomy for universities and a truly independent
accreditation system (free from the Ministry of Education and
Training's, or MOET, control) to ensure their quality - will be
extremely difficult to foster in the conservative political climate
leading up to the 2011 Party Congress. The lack of movement in the
education sector is leading to increasingly vocal public
dissatisfaction with the system, especially in southern Vietnam.
The Mission continues to work toward the goal of eventual change in
the Vietnamese educational system through a number of initiatives,
including the third annual Education Conference in Hanoi January
14-15 and other State, USAID and Foreign Commercial Service
programs that demonstrate to the Vietnamese that this is a priority
area for Vietnam's future in the globalized world and for the
bilateral relationship. End summary AND COMMENT.
2. (SBU) The Vietnamese educational system is widely regarded as
being in crisis at all levels (Ref A). The Ministry of Education
and Training (MOET) two years ago announced its Vision 2020
Strategic Education Development Plan, which outlined plans to
diversify, standardize and modernize the country's educational
system at all levels to produce the educated managers and skilled
workforce that Vietnam's economy needs. Specific goals articulated
at the time included establishing more schools, community colleges
and public and private universities; improving curricula,
textbooks, teacher training, teaching methods, physical facilities,
university administration; and promoting English language skills.
Other goals included granting greater autonomy to universities,
establishing a national accreditation system, and training 20,000
Ph.D.s. to teach in the universities. More recently, MOET launched
an effort to establish four "world class" universities funded in
part by loans from the World Bank/Asian Development Bank and partly
by four partner countries - the U.S., France, Germany and Japan --
each of which theoretically providing administrators and faculty at
one university for up to ten years.
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3. (SBU) MOET's implementation of reforms has been slow and limited
at all levels, according to many American and Vietnamese educators.
Teaching methods remain too passive, with students having little
chance to interact with the teacher, discuss issues, or ask
questions. One recent study found that 83 percent of students
graduate lacking soft skills such as analytic and problem solving
abilities, and teamwork and managerial skills. Another study
showed that only 10 percent of students meet foreign language
standards for graduates. Participants at recent educational
conferences identified a variety of other problems, including
vocational school teachers who have little practical work or
teaching experience, poorly equipped classrooms, and little
interaction between schools and potential employers through
internships or job fairs. In addition, the MOET-mandated move to
the credit based system (similar to the general education
requirements at U.S. universities) has stalled because of limited
understanding among the universities of how to make the transition
and insufficient information given to students. Community colleges
are popular with provincial governments, which set them up to
provide technical training in many fields; however, their future
remains uncertain because MOET has taken control of them from the
provinces, but still views them as experimental and has not yet
granted them permanent status.
HANOI 00000032 002 OF 004
4. (SBU) In spite of these problems, demand for higher education
remains high from students, families, and investors and companies
that increasingly want to hire those with bachelor's degrees. As a
result of this demand, the number of universities in Vietnam has
increased rapidly, with Vietnam creating 87 universities since 1998
(including 55 that were upgraded from colleges), bringing the
nationwide total to 149. This rapid expansion has added to
deficiencies in the quality of administration and teaching. A
recent examination of 20 top universities by the Illinois-based
National Council for Education Quality Verification (NCEQV) found
many shortcomings at all universities it examined, with only three
out of the twenty meeting more than half the requirements. Common
deficiencies include unqualified instructors and administrators,
inadequate facilities, laboratories and computers, too few
lecturers, poor development of curriculums, poor English language
proficiency among both lecturers and students, and a lack of
innovative teaching and learning methods. In spite of these
deficiencies, NCEQV certified all 20 universities as having
sufficiently met education quality criteria and granted all
education quality verification certificates.
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5. (SBU) The core problem at Vietnamese universities, according to
wide variety of Mission contacts as well as a Harvard University
Report released in November, 2009, is heavy-handed central control.
Many senior Vietnamese university administrators and professors
agree, and are becoming more critical in public settings about
central MOET control over major university operations, including
tuition and fees, hiring and promotion of faculty and
administrators, degrees and courses offered, and enrollment quotas.
They are becoming more vocal in their requests for greater autonomy
in these and other areas, especially their efforts to launch new
initiatives or foreign partnerships. Autonomy and academic freedom
are also critical issues for the foreign partners, especially
American academics wanting to establish programs at existing
universities or to establish new private universities, who see
requirements to include courses in Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh
Thought in their curriculum as inappropriate. (Note: Other GVN
initiatives in the lead up to the 2011 Communist Party of Vietnam
Party Congress threaten to undermine what little autonomy and
academic freedom currently exist. See Ref D. End Note.)
6. (SBU) MOET says it recognizes the need for greater autonomy at
universities, but insists it cannot grant that autonomy until a
nationwide accreditation system is in place to guarantee the
quality of the universities. Although it recently ordered
universities to make public details on education quality,
facilities, fees, tuition and finance for 2009-10, and to announce
how many graduates have found jobs, MOET has not established
standards or set up a permanent system to gauge the quality of
universities. Although it issued new regulations about training,
recruitment and scientific research (see Ref D), professors
complain that these steps were taken without consulting prestigious
scientists and teachers from universities or education institutes.
Experts have been critical of these steps, calling them unnecessary
and unfeasible, and seeing in them steps toward greater central
control rather than greater autonomy. As one American educator who
has worked in the Vietnamese system for several years put it to us,
"How is it that this country is not politically able or
intellectually capable of implementing the very best practices it
professes to want to adopt?"
7. (SBU) An effort to establish an accreditation system based on
the American model, led by the Centers for Quality Assurance and
Research Development (CEQARD) at Vietnam National University is
underway. In November 2009, 20 officials from CEQARD visited the
U.S. for a two week program that included a week of training with
the New England Accreditation Board and visits to two universities
to learn more about steps universities take to prepare for
accreditation reviews. However, the GVN has not allowed
universities to begin to set up their own system of accreditation.
HANOI 00000032 003 OF 004
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8. (SBU) Several factors account for the slow pace of MOET's reform
effort. One is practical. In addition, the position of Standing
Vice Minister, a key position in the day to day running of the
Ministry since the Minister serves concurrently as Deputy Prime
Minister, was unfilled from May, 2009 when the previous incumbent
retired, until early January, 2010, when Vice Minister Pham Vu Luan
was promoted into the position. A strong Standing Vice Minister is
essential for reforms to take place, given the disagreement between
various factions within MOET about which goals and reforms are most
appropriate and how best to implement them. Luan, however, is not
known for bold or innovative thinking. Another factor is that the
Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Planning and Investment, and
the Ministry of Public Security, and the Prime Minister's Office
and the National Assembly are all deeply involved in decisions that
affect education. Finally, many educators speculate that Education
Minister Nhan, lobbying for a higher political position at the next
Party Congress to be held in January, 2011, is unwilling to
undertake reforms that will necessarily be disruptive to the
educational system during the coming year.
9. (SBU) Public dissatisfaction with the slow pace of educational
reform is rising, with students, parents and teachers complaining
about specific shortfalls in the system and with newspapers airing
their complaints with increasing frequency. Recent articles have
cited complaints about the poor quality of instruction and
corruption. One recent article highlighted a school charging 23
separate fees, including a tree care fee, at a supposedly
tuition-free public school. Another article focused on a teacher
asking seven-year old students on the first day of school what type
of car their parents drive in order to gauge how much more in
"contributions" to hit parents up for in addition to the 16 million
dong ($900) already paid under the table for their children to
enter the government tuition-free primary school. Complaints are
also being aired in the National Assembly, which recently blamed
MOET for the growing number of Vietnamese "educational refugees"
going abroad for education. In addition, academics complain about
the "internal brain drain" as graduates choose to work for foreign
companies rather than for Vietnamese universities. Other
complaints have focused on the difference in quality between
schools for gifted children and those for others. Recent
interviews by PAS staff for the Global Undergrad program revealed
an astonishing difference in confidence, outlook, grades, and
English level between students from the two types of schools.
Educators in Vietnam only recognize 20 high schools as "elite"
schools that can provide high-quality education.
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10. (SBU) Ambassador Michalak will host an Education Conference in
Hanoi January 14-15, 2010. The Conference is designed to provide a
forum for discussion between American and Vietnamese educators
about key issues such as improving programs based on American
curricula at Vietnamese universities, establishing an
American-style university, improving the quality of English
language instruction, supporting greater autonomy of Vietnamese
universities, and streamlining the process for American
universities and educational organizations to set up branch
campuses or offices in Vietnam. MOET officials have confirmed that
they will conduct a session on those procedures at the Conference,
which will be followed by several sessions at which American
educational institutions describe the difficulties they have
encountered in seeking MOET authorization for their programs.
Other sessions will provide the opportunity for American and
Vietnamese educators to express their concerns about autonomy,
academic freedom and accreditation. MOET officials will be present
at all sessions, and will thus hear their concerns as well as those
of 500 American and Vietnamese educators actively involved in joint
American-Vietnamese educational projects. (Septels will define
these problems and report on conference deliberations.)
HANOI 00000032 004 OF 004
11. (SBU) The Mission is engaged in a number of other ongoing
activities to reach key education goals. The Fulbright Program
continues to send 25 students and 10 professors to the U.S. for
professional development programs each year, and brings another 15
American professors, researchers and English teachers to Vietnam,
where they teach classes, train faculty, engage in curriculum
revision and new course development projects to strengthen
university English teaching programs. The Fulbright program also
brings more than a dozen Senior Specialists to Vietnam to conduct
special conferences for senior university administrators and
faculty. The Public Affairs Sections in Hanoi and HCMC run a
variety of other programs designed to increase American influence
on the Vietnamese educational system, including the Global
Undergraduate Program, in addition to a wide variety of other
programs to promote the professional development of English
12. (SBU) Legislation is before Congress to house the Vietnam
Education Foundation (VEF) within State's Bureau of Educational and
Cultural Affairs, where it will be managed in a manner similar to
the Fulbright Program. Currently, VEF is an independent agency
funded by Congress at $5 million a year to provide scholarships to
Vietnamese students for Ph.D. study in the hard sciences in the
U.S. Although its future operations will be determined by a Board
of Advisors, it is likely that VEF will continue to provide
scholarships for Ph.D. study in the U.S., but perhaps in a broader
range of fields and levels, including masters programs in Vietnam.
EdUSA Student Advising Centers, which have been operated by IIE
under a grant from ECA to promote study in the U.S., will soon be
housed within the Embassy's and Consulate's Public Affairs Sections
(PAS), which will give the USG greater control over the Centers'
activities and ensure that they continue to provide objective and
comprehensive advice to students interested in studying in the U.S.
free of charge. The move from IIE to PAS will reduce annual
operating expenses from $400,000 to $160,000.
13. (SBU) USAID is working to develop an alliance with and leverage
additional resources from the U.S. private sector and U.S.
university partners to work with a Vietnamese educational
institution(s) to improve the quality and relevance of engineering
education. This alliance building process is currently underway
and should be in place later this calendar year. It has the
potential to generate additional resources from private sector
sources that have long term investment goals and want to help
develop an educated/skilled labor supply in-country that meets
industry standards.
14. (SBU) Comment: The lack of reform in the areas of autonomy and
accreditation have slowed MOET's efforts to create a public
American-style university, and MOET's tight control over many
aspects of the educational system have hampered Vietnamese and
American efforts to create private American-style universities,
branch campuses or educational offices - subjects to be covered in
more detail septel. With systemic problems in Vietnam's education
system so numerous and deep, and with political as well as
practical obstacles to reform so severe, USG programs to help
Vietnam revamp its education system will probably not bear major
fruit in the near future. Nevertheless, by bringing large numbers
of Vietnamese educators and officials together, the Education
Conference will help ensure that MOET officials are focused on the
right issues and remain aware of concerns by educators most
involved in joint programs. Although reform of Vietnam's
educational system ultimately depends on the Vietnamese themselves,
the Education Conference will help generate the pressure needed to
move MOET in the right direction. Reform of the system will in the
long term be the single greatest factor in the success of Vietnam's
continued economic development and political reform. End comment.
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