Vietnam's universities battle to keep pace

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2006, 12:00am

The march to modernisation is facing a major roadblock as Vietnam's post-secondary education system is failing to keep pace with its booming, industrialising economy.

The communist country's tightly controlled universities are failing to produce enough capable graduates to meet the growing demand for technological workers, administrators and other white-collar positions.

Recent labour-market surveys have found demand outstripping supply by rates of up to two to one in some white-collar fields. And state media reported this week that information-technology firms are forced to spend a year retraining as much as 90 per cent of their new recruits from Vietnamese schools.

'There's an obvious shortage of qualified workers in fields associated with a modernising economy,' said Tiffany Nguyen, of VietnamWorks, a leading employment services company.

While Vietnam's literacy rate of 95 per cent is exceptionally high compared with other developing countries, analysts point to a litany of issues thwarting specialised academic pursuits in its university system.

The system has seen little reform since the communist party's doi moi (new way) socio-economic renewal policy was adopted in 1986, with limited investment and antiquated facilities.

Teaching methods remain heavily reliant on traditional rote learning. Students are forced to hoc vet, literally 'parrot study', placing more importance on memorisation than comprehension of material.

In addition, there is no top-tier, international-class school to lead the way. And universities have little autonomy in personnel and curriculum decisions; even at technical schools, Marxist-Leninist theory and Ho Chi Minh's teachings remain compulsory.

While Vietnam's transition to a market economy continues to gain momentum, producing gross domestic product growth of 7 to 8 per cent per year, even Vietnamese university leaders say the schools are not moving with the times.

'Many professors still think that the centrally planned economy is pre-eminent,' said Pham Minh Viet, president of Hanoi Open University.