Current Policy Challenges And
The Role Of Private Institutions And International Participations

Ly Pham

International Education Institute, Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City, and
Center for Higher Education Evaluation and Research, Nguyen Tat Thanh University

Paper presented at the Symposium
Expanding Tertiary Education Out and Up to Stimulate Economic and Social Development: An Emerging Research Agenda for Asia and the Pacific

Langkawi, Malaysia 13-14 November, 2014



During the last two decades, thanks to the Open Door policy, Vietnamese higher education system has expanded dramatically in terms of enrolments and the number of higher education institutions (HEIs). However, the quality of education has not met the demands of economic and social development, in particular, the expectations of the industries and society at large. The most striking area of the expansion is in the private sector, including the participation of offshore campuses. This paper provides an overview of the current state and addresses the policy challenges towards the development of private HEIs and foreign investment/participation campuses in Vietnam. This sector has been contributing significantly and positively in higher education access, as well as increasing the diversification of the programs, the academic environment, the level of tuition fees and the quality provided. However, in terms of quality management, there is policy uncorking needed so that the development of private sector can be aligned with the need of society.

A snapshot on Vietnamese HE system development between1993-2014

It has been widely recognized that the change from a centralized planning economy to a socialism-oriented market economy since 1986 has made significant impacts on the development of HE in Vietnam. The need for a skilled workforce has increased significantly with the opening of Vietnam’s economy to the global market. Since 1993, Vietnam has undergone the process of transition from an elite HE system to a mass system through significant reform. During the last two decades, the gross enrolment rate has shifted from 5 percent to 25 percent of the relevant age group. The total number of students has increased 13 fold from 162,000 students in 1993 to 2,177, 299 in 2013. However, there has been a trend of slowing down since 2011. The enrolment levels in 2011, 2012 and 2013 were similar, but then decreased 20-30% in 2014[1].

At the same time, the number of teaching staff members in HEIs has increased only three fold from 30,309 in 1999 to 87,662 in 2013. Ph.D-qualified academic staff members and researchers has roughly doubled during the same period, from 4,378 to 8,869 people, accounted 10% out of the total[2].

In terms of the size of the system, between 1986 and 2013, the number of HEIs increased from 101 into 421[3], most impressively in the private sector: the first private institution was Thang Long established in 1993, and by 2014 the total number of private HEIs was 83, of which, there were 53 universities. By the same year, the private sector accounted for 19% of total number of HEIs and 14% of total enrolments.

At present, HEIs are grouped by ownership: public and private institutions[4]. It is worthy of mention that, Education Law of 2005 (Article 13) and Decree 141/2013-NĐ-CP providing guidance for implementing HE Law (Article 6&7) also set a legal base for foreign investment private institutions, even not-for-profit ones. However, within the private sector of higher education, there was no clear definition of for-profit and not-for-profit HEIs until the Decree 141/2013 was issued in December of 2013.

Grouping by typology, by “class” and level of supervision authorities, there are: (i) key universities (including the two national universities reporting to the Cabinet, with the Presidents appointed by the Prime Minister; three regional universities reporting to the MOET and combined by a group of university members; and 16 key universities); (ii) HEIs reporting to line-ministries or national instrumental agencies; (iii) local HEIs reporting to the provincial People’s Committee; and (iv) private HEIs established and governed by individuals or the enterprises.

There are three more special types of institutions involving international participation: (i) “new model” universities established under government join projects such as Vietnam Germany University (VGU), University of Science and Technology Hanoi (USTH – usually known as Vietnam France University);(ii) foreign direct investment institutions such as Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), or British University Vietnam (BUV); (iii) international non-profit private university, such as the Fulbright University Vietnam, whose establishing procedure is still ongoing.

The current state of Vietnamese private HEIs and policy issues

Types and characteristics

Daniel Levy (2010:14) classifies private HEIs in East Asia into three types: the Semi-elite Institutions; the Religious and Other Identity Institutions; and the Demand-Absorbing Institutions. Vietnam used to have the religious institutions before 1975, such as Van Hanh University (established in 1964, which belongs to Vietnam Buddhist Church), Minh Duc University (established 1972, which belongs to Vietnam Catholic Church)[5], etc. These private HEIs was transformed into public universities when the nation united in 1975. Indeed, it is more accurate to say that the earlier schools closed and their campuses were used to house new public universities. One example is Van Hanh University campus in Saigon has been becoming Ho Chi Minh University of Pedagogy after 1975. Since 1993 when private HEIs were first allowed to exist, there has not a single religious or other identity institution established in Vietnam.

Whether there is any semi-elite private university or not in Vietnam at present is a difficult question to answer. Daniel Levy (2010: 14) defines the typical characteristics of this type of private HEI as follows: high academic and other quality and status; attracting socially advantaged students, with high tuition costs; depoliticized & economically oriented; international profile & Western-oriented; selective in admissions policy; serious attention to teaching; being among leading institutions nationally; and operating to a high degree of privacy (in finances, governance, and functions). If we do not focus on the label, perhaps it can be said that there are some private universities in Vietnam, which obtained the above characteristics at a certain level, and their attainments are far beyond others, and can even be seen as models for both public and private universities. RMIT, Hoa Sen University, Thang Long University can be listed as a few examples.

By distinction, most private HEIs in Vietnam are demand-absorbing institutions. They have emerged to absorb the surplus demand for higher education that the government has been unable to accommodate. Their characteristics, as Daniel Levy (2010: 14) pointed out, are comparatively low quality and status; and a focus on low-cost & high-demand fields (e.g., business administration, law, IT). They range from “garage” institutions to “serious demand-absorbing” with bona fide teaching and training for certain labor market fields and with legitimacy. Most are for-profit institutions and are demand-absorbing, garage or serious, though some for-profits may approach semi-elite.

Historical development of Vietnamese private HEIs between 1993 and 2014 

Since 1987 Vietnam has shifted towards the development of a “socialist oriented market economy”. This has provided the conditions for a reconsideration of the role that might be played by a ‘non-public’ higher education sector. Decision No. 240/TTg, dated May 24, 1993, provided a legal framework for the development of a private sector, however “It has never been applied because at that time, the concept of “private” was still sensitive and evoked considerations and reluctance among the leaders” (Lam Quang Thiep, 2009). At the beginning, the first non-public universities were established in the form of the “people founded university” model. People-founded universities were established by socio-economic organizations, which were, in effect, extensions of the state. At that time, private universities as an entity established by individuals or organizations independent of the state were not allowed. The term “people-founded university” was created to avoid the term “private” because the organizations that held responsibility for licensing the school as a founder, were a formality only or cover established for that purpose. The official Regulation on People-Founded University was enacted in July 2000. Almost at the same time, the Regulation on Semi-Public University was issued. Semi-public universities are those whose initial resources (infrastructure facilities and staff) belong to or are funded by the state, while the cost for regular operation is covered by the entity, which establishes the school. The semi-public institutions are derived from public ones.

The Decree 75/2006/NĐ-CP dated 2/8/2006 represents a turning point for the ‘non-public’ sector. The models of “people-founded university” and “semi-public university” were terminated. “Private university” became the only ‘non-public’ model that was legally recognized. The Regulations on Private University, issued by Decision 14/2005/QĐ-TTg, dated 17/01/2005, introduced the concepts of “shares”, “shareholders”, “founding members”, “general meeting of shareholders”, “authorized capital”, and “Board of Management/Board of Directors”. Clearly implied here was the status of private higher education institutions as ‘for-profit’ enterprises. Private higher education institutions belonged to the individual owners (Article 35); and surpluses remaining after the payment of taxes and the contributions made to a general reserve were permitted to be distributed to shareholders as profits, according to the size of their shareholdings (Article 36). Shareholders were allowed to withdraw or transfer their shares, and, in case of disbandment, the solutions applied were to be those indicated in Enterprise Law (Ly Pham, 2014b: 26).

Since 2006, no new people-founded or semi-public universities have been established. In contrast, the existing ones were required to transform into the model of “private university”, following the Decision 122 dated May 29, 2006 and the Circular 20 dated July 16, 2010. Indeed, this has entailed transforming collective ownership into private ownership, a complicated process that has caused serious disputes in many schools. That is why by 2014 there were only 5 people-founded and semi-public institutions that had successfully completed successfully their transformation into the private university model[6], in spite of the fact that the Decision 122 granted permission for the transformation of 19 people-founded universities into private entities.

The history of Vietnamese private universities within this evolving stage of socialism in Vietnam can be divided into two periods, as Ly Pham & Minh Dam (2014:7) pointed out: “The first, between 1993-2000, was the blooming of people-founded universities such as Dong Do, Phuong Dong, Thang Long, Ha noi University of Business and Technology, Hai Phong, Hung Vuong and Van Lang. These schools were established mostly by professors accepted as truly reputable or people who used to be leaders of public schools. The schools brought about a new fresh-air to the environment of public schools at that time, which was stuffy and strained in some cases”. However, development of these schools occurred too quickly and weaknesses in governance led to poor quality control, and subsequently the Dong Do scandal occurred. The Rector and Vice Rector as private sector pioneers were jailed because they enrolled 2.5 times more students than that of allowed. They were sentenced to 30 months in prison; however, they were given a suspended sentence. But in other periods after that, the same mistakes were treated differently simply by the state putting a halt on enrolments and issuing an administrative fine. The first period was marked by the fact that in 2001 the number of non-public HEIs decreased from 30 to 23, and the percentage of HEIs out of the total number of institutions in the entire system decreased from 17% to 12%.

The second period from 2001-2013 was marked by the recognition of fully private universities. During the blooming stage from 2005-2009, the total number of private HEIs doubled within only 5 years by increasing from 35 to 77. While the founders of private schools during the first period were professors, the second period founders were businesses and investors in private schools such as RMIT, FPT, Tan Tao and Ha Hoa Tien. These schools heavily invested in infrastructure and professional management. However, not all of them were successful, and several of them almost entered into bankruptcy (Ly Pham and Minh Dam, 2014:8).

Quality Issues

 Though the number of private HEIs has mushroomed during the last two decades, the number of successful ones can be counted in one hand.

From a tuition fee perspective, private universities in Vietnam can be divided into four sections within the range of 1,000 $US and 30,000 $US for the entire bachelor degree program.

Table 1: Private universities in Vietnam by Section

Section Tuition fee Number of HEIs Examples
A+ 30,000 USD 2 RMIT, British University Vietnam (BUV)
A 8,500 USD to 15,000 USD 5 University of Economic and Finance (UEF), FPT, Tan Tao, Hoa Sen, and Saigon International University.
B 3,000$USD to 4,500 $USD 10 Van Lang, Thang Long, Duy Tan, Nguyen Tat Thanh
C 1,600 $USD to 2,500 $USD 20 Van Hien, Hai Phong, Dong A, Binh Duong
D 1,000 $USD to 1,500 $USD 12 Quang Trung, Kinh Bac, Ha Hoa Tien

Section A is the highest group includes 2+5 schools, in which RMIT, Hoa Sen and FPT are seen very well established. Section B is the most successful with several schools having a large number of students. These schools are located in the center of town or in major cities where the standard of living is quite high compared with other provinces. Section C is those want to compete with public schools in terms of tuition fees. They are in danger, simply because they are unable to compete in this manner when having to cover huge expenses on infrastructure and ensuring the quality of training. Schools in Section Dare the ones that depend on students who are unable to get into public schools through competitive entrance exam but still want to obtain university degrees. Low tuition fees seem to be the only strategy to attract students. These schools face serious challenges because they are not able to develop an education system of good quality, and most of them have financial problems (Ly Pham and Minh Dam, 2014:8).

The disparity of tuition fee rates might also reflect the diversity in terms of quality of education. Hoa Sen, Tan Tao, FPT, UEF known to have a high level of internationalization with the presence of international faculty members, partnership programs, and decent infrastructure. By contrast, there are private universities operating in unacceptable conditions such as one having only 8 teaching staff;[7]and with some having very small number of students (less than 100), even some having no rector and no campus[8].

There has been no finding available on the quality of education in private universities. It is observed that there are some universities which have made heavy investments into infrastructure and which demonstrate significant improvement in learning environment such as Thang Long, Hoa Sen, FPT, Phuong Dong, Hanoi University of Business and Technology, etc. Tan Tao University is an exception here as its campus was built to a high standard from the outset. Tan University has impressive investment in laboratories and teaching equipment. However, there are also several universities that have no land for their campus (Dong Do, Van Hien, Hung Vuong, etc.), or have faced difficulties in land acquisition (Dai Nam, Nguyen Trai, etc), orare unable to expand their campus. By 2014, there are 15 out of 83 private schools that still do not have their own campuses but use rental buildings instead (Le Viet Khuyen 2013: 433).

Most striking is the fact that enrolments in many private universities far exceed the capacity of the schools in term of teaching staff, facilities and learning conditions. According to National Assembly Report based on an inspection in 2010, the student / teacher ratio is quite high, for instance, in the University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology, it was 47.3, while for Tay Do, it was 44.2, and for Hong Bang it was 40.2. Moreover, the number of permanent faculty members is usually much lower than part-time contract ones, such as 53 and 375 respectively in Dong Do University.

The admission requirement in many private HEIs is relatively low. The entrance score could be 13 or 14,being the minimum accepted by MOET regulation from year to year. Sometimes it is only 9 for three testing subjects. MOET sets the enrolment quota for individual schools, however, the quota may be unreasonable, as for instance between 2006-2009 when the admission quota of Quang Trung University increased from 700 to 3,300. For Hung Vuong University, it increased from 1000 to 2,100. Many private HEIs exceed the quota allowed, such as Phan Thiet University, which went over by 91.73% in 2009. Some other universities operate all kinds of programs from vocational programs to post graduate programs while Education Law does not allow the universities to conduct vocational programs (Article 42).

However, such indicators reflect only the input elements. In terms of outputs, there is a lack of empirical studies into the additional values that graduates obtain in their university education, both in public and private HEIs. A report of the World Bank (2014:3) pointed out that in today’s labor market, Vietnam’s employers struggle to find the right workers to meet their needs. Despite impressive literacy and numeracy achievements among Vietnamese workers, many Vietnamese firms report a shortage of workers with adequate skills as a significant obstacle to their activity. A majority of employers surveyed for this report said that hiring new workers is difficult either because of the inadequate skills of job applicants (a “skills gap”), or because of a scarcity of workers in some occupations (a “skills shortage”). Unlike many countries around the world today, Vietnam does not suffer from low labor demand; its employers are seeking workers but they have difficulties in finding people that match their skills need (World Bank, 2014:3).

Policy Issues

 Vietnam has maintained a policy towards private HEIs that is perhaps confusing from an international perspective. Legally, all private HEIs function as for-profit institutions. That is, between 1993-2103, legislation provided no definition or provision for the operation of not-for-profits and hence no clearly distinction between their operation and that of the for-profits. Even with Decree 141/NĐ-CP dated 25.10.2013, which allows for the two kinds of institutions to be differentiated by level of surplus for division, in other respects the legislation still implied that all private HEIs are enterprises. It is worthy of mention that, from international comparison perspectives, in some other countries, for-profits are not allowed in higher education, or are allowed but widely criticised as illegitimate (Ly Pham 2014a: 7).

However, current policies have mixed the requirements for the for-profits and not-for-profit HEIs within the same framework. Regarding ownership, up to date, both types are defined under a private ownership model, having shares, shareholders and shareholding. This reveals the nature of both types as an enterprise, which works for for-profits but doesn’t work for not-for-profit schools due to the difference in their business models.

Regarding the decision-making mechanism, both types have University Governance Boards created by election among shareholders by proportion of shareholding. Again, this is a principle that works for a profit enterprise but not for not-for-profit schools. The current legislation requires both types of private HEIs to have ex-officio members in the composition of the Board of Governance, which works for not-for-profit but not for-profit ones. For-profit is an enterprise in nature: they must have right to choose their own ways to do business. The state should require them holding accountability but should not interfere their business. In reality, ex-officio members in VN HEIS are the one who do not contribute capital but keep control power over the school and that might lead to serious conflicts.

Regarding use of surpluses, both types are required to use 25% of surplus for “common property” which is not allowed to divide. This works for not-for-profit but doesn’t work for for-profit ones. The only distinction between the two types is the level of distribution surplus: for-profit can distribute their surplus as much as they can, while not-for-profit ones are limited to remain at or under the government bond interest rate. In reality, as Daniel Levy (2010: 53) pointed out, “most of the world’s functionally for-profit HE is legally non-profit. It is functionally for-profit by giving extravagant perks to family members or other favored employees, or devising cunning schemes for a non-profit to own and profitably rent buildings and land. As long as there is no formal distribution of declared profits to owners or shareholders, the institution can juridically be non- profit. How East Asia stands versus other regions in the prevalence of functional for-profits, that is difficult to know”.

As a result, there have been serious disputes in some private universities between the owners and the executive members, including reputed ones such as Hoa Sen University[9], which have undermined the prestige of the school.

Another policy issue that causes disputes in private universities is the process of transforming the people-founded and semi-public into private HEIs. A people-founded university created by a group of founders in the name of a state organization was a collective ownership model; the same as semi-public, originally derived from state properties which was effectively state ownership. Transforming this kind of ownerships into private ownership by individuals is a controversial process and conflict of interests on the part of various parties to the transformation that are inevitable.

Therefore, although Education Law 2005 and Higher Education Law 2013 ensure the development of private sector and encourage the not-for-profit model, due to the lack of clarity of the policy, many private schools have not been able to build up a long term vision and focus on improve their performance of core business. . In sum, the non-public sector of HE in Vietnam has not achieved its full potential and its situation calls for more responsive policies.

The roles of international participations, offshore campuses and governmental joint projects

 Along with Doi Moi (Open Door) economic policy of Vietnam, the process of internationalization has become an obvious need and inevitable for Vietnamese HE system. This has taken place in various forms: sending students abroad, students and faculty exchanges, cross-border education, partnership training programs, offshore campuses, and the establishing of new model university as a governmental join projects such as Vietnam German University (VGU), University of Science and Technology Hanoi (USSH, also known as Vietnam France University), etc. This paper seeks to provide informed discussion on the two latest forms, namely the foreign direct investment (FDI) in HE in Vietnam, and the governmental projects[10].

Foreign Direct Investment Businesses

 By 2014, there were two foreign-ownership HEIs operating as private business in Vietnam: one offshore campus, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Vietnam (RMIT) established in 2000, and one newly established FDI institution: British University Vietnam (BUV), created in 2009.

RMIT is seen the most successful case among all types of international participation schools in Vietnam, partly due to the fact that it was the first one established and has a longer time operating in Vietnam. At that time of its establishment, there was no legal framework for operating a HE foreign campus in Vietnam. RMIT was permitted and its 50 years’ term license given not by Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) but Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI). This foreign university is:

“highly autonomous in terms of student selection, finance, personnel, self-governance and management. This is in sharp contrast with the limited autonomy available to nearly all of Vietnam’s public HEIs, and is even in contrast with the two national universities, which currently have more autonomy than all other public universities. This discrepancy contributes to a serious imbalance in the competition between local and international higher education providers”.(Hayden et al. 2012:36).

Its student population increased from 200 at the beginning to the total of over 5,500students in 2014, which is the largest number students of offshore campus across the world (Pham Hanh Minh. 2014: 18). The average tuition fee is around $30,000 USD for the entire BA programs. When measured by revenue, RMIT accounts for the combined three strongest universities in Vietnam (Ly Pham, Minh Dam, 2014: 7).

At present, RMIT is offering degree programs in Business (Accountancy, Economics and Finance, International Business, etc), Commerce, Design, Communication, Engineering, Information Technology, Applied Science, and Management, etc. These are practical and meet the needs of the learners. RMIT also offers Masters level study in a select range of disciplines and fields. It provides a decent campus in District 7 in HCMC; the campus was built with an investment of $20 millions USD in 2005, and an international environment for students. Notably on-going campus improvements and investments in both buildings and recreational facilities for students and staff are a feature of RMIT. In more recent years, RMIT has extended its focus to research and research development activities such as holding workshops, and seminars about research methodologies, the supervision of graduate students, and other discipline-related research topics. Moreover, RMIT has sought to extend training opportunities not merely to local students but also to the students from neighboring countries, as well as using the branch campus to extend international options available to students of their Australian campuses (Wetch, 2012: 208). It can be said that RMIT has brought a new fresh air to the Vietnamese HE system, making a huge difference in learning environment and experiences for the students. RMIT has expanded the options for Vietnamese students who wish to pursue in Vietnam study towards degrees, which are internationally recognized, quality assured to Australian standards and affordable financially.

British University Vietnam (BUV) was granted an operation license in 2009, as a 100% foreign investment company. Its campus has been under construction in EcoPark, 10kms away Ha Noi City, with total investment of $40 million USD. Although currently housed in temporary campus in Ha Noi, BUV has already launched its degree programs in Business and Administration, Marketing, Finance and Accounting and has been operating since 2010. However, the enrolments have not been promising. The first cohort graduated in 2013 comprised only 20 students.

BUV is not an offshore campus like RMIT but a newly established institution that has partnerships with University of London and University of Staffordshire in UK. As a newly established institution, BUV has a long way to go, especially in an increasingly competitive environment. RMIT Vietnam was born in an “empty land” and has the historic advantage of being the first institution in this space, whereas BUV must compete with a very well established counterpart RMIT; and more importantly, it must also compete in an environment, which has seen the rise of partnership programs of all kinds. However it is still too early to assess its success.

Governmental Joint Projects

 As in many other countries, Vietnam has recognized a need for elite institutions that can achieve prestigious positions in world rankings of universities. There have been several initiatives in terms of establishing “world-class universities”, or the so-called “excellent universities”. These are joint-projects between the Vietnamese government and international partners, such as the Vietnamese German University (VGU), University of Science and Technology of Ha Noi (USTH, also known as Vietnamese French University), and some other ongoing projects such as Vietnam Japan University, and Vietnam British University. Among those institutions, only VGU and USTH have come into effect.

VGU is a Vietnamese public university established in 2008 with support of the German State of Hessen. The German Ministry of Education provided EUR 6.7 m. as a non-refundable donation for the period 2008-2012; and the Hessen State Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts (HMWK) provides EUR 1.5 m. per year for sending their academics and the Rector to work for VGU. The Vietnamese government committed an investment of $US180 m. for construction of a new campus in Binh Duong. The VGU Board of Governance includes 20 members, half are Germany and half are Vietnamese. The current President of VGU is a German professor. Tuition fees are substantially subsidized by the two governments, but are still high given their affordability to most Vietnamese people. A full-time program for a master’s degree in computer engineering, for instance, costs approximately $US 1,200 per semester. Therefore, due to these costs, the student population is quite small. In its first academic year, the VGU launched its opening ceremony with only 32 students. In the second year, it had to lower the academic admission requirement, but still only 28 students enrolled. In 2010, VGU shifted to a new model of admission, based on 3 years high school academic achievement[11].By 2014, the total students of VGU was only 527 after 5 years operating, and there were only 24 bachelor degrees and 40 master degrees granted.

USTH, as with the VGU, is known as a “New Model University”[12], funded by several financial schemes including international loans. It was established in December 2009 based on an intergovernmental agreement signed on November 12th 2009 between Madame Valérie Pécresse, Minister of Research and Higher Education of France, and Mr. Nguyen Thien Nhan, Vice-Prime Minister, Minister of Education and Training of Vietnam. The strategic partner, on the Vietnam side, is the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology. The USTH campus has been under construction on 650 ha of land in Hoa Lac High Tech Park, with an investment of $US 210 m. USTH financing in the period 2010-2020 includes EUR 100 m. from the French government and EUR 210 m. from Vietnam. However, in the first year of enrolment in 2010, USTH was planning for only 40 enrolments, with the entry requirement of a minimum score of 19. There were not enough applications. Even when the academic requirement level was lowered to a minimum score of 15, USTH had only 30 students admitted out of 51 applications. In 2013, the number of enrolments is around 100[13]. By 2014, the total number of students of USTH was only 400[14]. Tuition fees are subsidized. The financial sustainability of USTH when the French government contributions end in 2014, remains a question.

The two others New Model Universities are the Vietnam Japan University and the Vietnam British University, and these have not yet admitted students. The project to establish Vietnam Japan University began in 2012, and was approved in 2014, with Vietnam National University Ha Noi as a major partner. Vietnam Japan University will be established as a university member of Vietnam National University Ha Noi. The total investment of the Vietnam Japan University will be $US 330 m., including $US 200 m. as ODA loans, $US 100 m. as donations from Japanese enterprises and $US 30 m. from the Vietnamese government. The project of Vietnam British University began in 2011. The British Council has helped to seek resources from UK and international loans/funds. The project aims to upgrade and transform the existing University of Da Nang into the Vietnam British University as a New Model University. However, the lack of resources from Vietnamese government sources has caused a delay of project implementation. The Institute for Research and Executive Education was established in October 2014 and serves as a landmark in the progress of the project. This initiative is expected to be absorbed into the Vietnam British University in the future.

Most recently and also representing the newest form of foreign institution in Vietnam is the Fulbright Vietnam University, which is seen as a not-for-profit private university with foreign investment. The project to establish this university was approved in 2014. Fulbright Vietnam University is also known de facto as the Vietnam American University. It differs from other governmental projects in several ways. It is based on the Fulbright Economic Teaching Program (FETP), a join project between Harvard Kennedy School and University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City. FETP is supported by Fulbright Program, with approximately $US 1-1.2 m. per year. Although the Fulbright Vietnam University has been supported and is encouraged by both governments; there were no public fund available from both sides. It will be operating within the new legislative framework for an international not-for-profit university[15], the very first of its kind in Vietnam. Financing this university will need to be facilitated by a sound policy for donation, tax exemptions and so on. A Trust for University Innovation in Vietnam was established in the U.S.A for the purpose of financing the Fulbright Vietnam University. To this date, it is a unique type of foreign participation in higher education in Vietnam, and we need time to see its effectiveness.

Following the model of Fulbright Vietnam University, Tokyo Vietnam University of Medicine will be the second one in this kind of foreign investment not-for-profit school. The project was approved in July 2014, with an investment of $US 210 m., will be created by a group of Japanese individuals in partnership with Medical Institute of Waseda, and will be located at Hung Yen.

Managing the quality and expansion

 The data provided in previous sections reflect the diversity of HE in Vietnam, and this diversity including quality. It can be said that just over one decade ago, there were few people in Vietnam who were familiar with the concepts of quality assurance, accreditation, and rankings; but now it seems everybody talks about these issues. Ideas and approaches based upon the experience with quality assurance and accreditation schemes in the USA, Europe and other parts of Asia have contributed greatly to the discussion. 2004 can be seen a corner stone in the development of a quality assurance system in Vietnam when several policy documents were issued on the matter of strengthening quality: Resolution 372004/QH11 of the National Assembly stated that quality management must be a central task; Direction 25/2004/CT-BGD&ĐT of the Minister required HEIs to establish testing and accreditation agencies; and Decision38/2004/QĐ-BGD&ĐT on Temporary Regulation on Accreditation of the Universities. Between 2005-2007, twenty leading universities, including 2 private ones, representing various areas within the country were selected for external evaluation in a pilot stage. The results provided information for adjustment so that the Regulations were officially issued in Nov. 2007.

However, Quyen Do (2014) argues that the quality assurance (QA) system of Vietnam is still in its infancy. The lack of participation of professional associations, such as the Association of Quality Assurance Agencies or the Association of Vietnamese Universities and Colleges, has made quality assurance in Vietnam a top-down process.

Lenn (2004:17) compared the characteristics of national QA system of Vietnam with those of other countries in East Asia and Pacific, including Australia, China PRC, India, Japan, Korea, Philippines and Thailand, regarding founding and governance (founded by government or independent bodies), QA types (accreditation, audit or assessment), international participation (on decision making body or external reviewers). The comparison reflected the situation of national QA bodies in Vietnam as highly dependent on the state. There are ongoing initiatives for diversification of QA bodies, such as the two Centers for Education Accreditation established recently within Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam National University Ha Noi in Feb 2014.To date, however, there have been no private or independent QA bodies established.

“Three Disclosures”, a policy that requires HEIs to publish on their institutional website data on their number and qualifications of teaching staff, campus facilities and tuition fees, is seen as an effort at strengthening the accountability of HEIs. However, the reliability and accuracy of such information are not monitored. These institutional data are not always available publicly. Most schools have already established their own Office of Quality Assurance as required, whose functions are consulting university leadership on ensuring quality issues. However in reality such a unit usually focuses on “producing” reports to satisfy the requirement of the MOET or the public, rather than on data analysis to help the school to improve its performance. In other words, the QA system in Vietnam has been operating in an “improvise” mode, and needs to build a culture of self-improvement at the institutional level.


 Vietnam’s HE system has expanded dramatically during the last two decades, resulting in an increase in the extent of student access to higher education. Maintaining quality in this context has been a major challenge. The diversification of the system in general (in terms of ownership, level of tuition fees, international participation, etc.) has impacted greatly on the disparity between institutions in terms of their quality of provision. Over recent years, the expansion has slowed down, and warning signs of rising unemployment rates for graduates[16] and poor levels of graduate productivity[17]have sent a strong message to all HEIs about the need for improvement in the quality of their provision.

A robust QA system is important, but more important is the need for strong motivation for institutional self-improvement and a culture of transparent accountability. HE expansion itself should not be the goal. Instead, the goal should be the need to develop a well-educated workforce able to meet the socio-economic development needs of the country.


The author of this article would like to thank Dr. Dam Quang Minh for his contributions, as well as the many friends who work as teachers/administrators in private universities in the country for their comments on this issue. Many thanks send to Prof. Lam Quang Thiep, Dr. Le Viet Khuyen for sharing information. Special thanks go to Professor Martin Hayden, Dean, School of Education, Southern Cross University (Australia) and Professor Denise Cuthbert, Dean, School of Graduate Research, RMIT University for their valuable comments and review the English edition of this article. Errors remained are obviously belong to the author.



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[1]Data extracted from MoET website.

[2]Note that, the total number of faculty members in2011 was 74,573 only, which meant the increase of 15.3% in two years.

[3] Source: MOET. This data excluded institutions those belong to the Army and Police. Another source, the Proposal on Financing Reforms of the Ministry of Finance, provides the number of HEIs institutions by 2014 is 445.

[4] BeforeEducation Law of 2005 and Decree 75/2006/NĐ-CP, dated 2/8/2006 enacted, there were two other non-public HEIs models: “people-founded university” and “semi-public university”. See next section.

[5]Other examples can be listed as Phuong Nam University, established 1967, located in Saigon, also belongs to Buddist Church; Dalat University, established in 1957, located in Da Lat city, belongs to Catholic Church; An Giang University, established in 1970, located in Long Xuyen, belongs to Hoa Hao Church; Cao Dai University, established in 1971, located in Tay Ninh Province, belongs to Cao Dai Church.

[6] These include Hoa Sen University, Hong Bang University, Hung Vuong University, Thang Long University, Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology (HUTECH).


[8]This school has student population of 300 accumulated in 4 year operating since established in 2007. Each year it moved to another rented place. Source:

[9] In August 2nd, 2014, Hoa Sen University shareholders held a grand meeting aimed at dismiss the current Board of Governance, which caused a serious dispute between its senior leaderships.

[10]Regarding other forms of internationalization, see Ly Pham (forthcoming): Carol Camp Yeakey, Series Editor, “Higher Education Access and Inclusion: Transnational Lessons for Research, Policy, and Practice.” Emerald Group Publishing.


[12]This term is first used by the MOET.


[14] Source:

[15]Higher Education Law 2012 and the Decree 141/NĐ-CP provided legal base for foreign-owned not for profit HEIs. However, there will need subordinate documents such as Direction, Decision, Circular, etc. to provide specific guidance to implement such an entity. To date, these documents have not been available yet.

[16] By October 2013, Vietnam already had 165,000 unemployed graduates, or some 17% of the overall jobless total. Source:

[17] According to Global Wage Report 2012-2013 of The International Labour Organisation, Vietnam labors’s productivity rank lowest in the region, as low as 1/15 compared to Singaporean. Source:—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_194843.pdf