Ly Pham (2016)
(Interviewed by Automation Magazine, Oct 27, 2016)

 What do you think about the impacts of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 on Vietnamese higher education system?

The Industrial Revolution 4.0 has made the world a global village. With its significant achievements: artificial intelligence, robotics, internet of things, social networks, big data, mobile, we are witnessing the industrial revolution making unprecedented changes in all aspects of life.

It means talents are becoming more critical than capital. It has been widening the gaps between social segments: the rich are richer and the poor are poorer. Technology development contributes to income stagnation. Inequality then creates social instability.

To date, university is no longer a monopoly entity in creating knowledge and transferring them through generations. Research has been increasingly shifting to industry with larger and larger budget. In terms of training, university is also no longer the only or major source of knowledge. Knowledge and information are multiplied exponentially and easily accessible. The essential question in the labor market nowadays is not “what do you know?” but “what can you learn?” and especially “can you change your mindset, think out of the box and are you capable of learning absolutely new approaches?” The competences of verifying and using information and life-long learning skills have become a survival matter in the knowledge-based economy.

Vietnamese universities have been influenced by Confucius tradition that related to the purposes of studying as to become government officials, to help the whole family and relatives obtaining better lives. Changing this mindset is not easy. When transforming into market- oriented economy, the participation of international players has created great demands for high skilled labor. This explains the impressive growth of higher education system in Vietnam in terms of quantity. However, it also reveals problems that might hinder their continuous development. Some leading universities continue to maintain their elite tradition, other schools just met the need for degrees of the learners rather than preparing them for the Industrial Revolution 4.0’s demands.

Open Door policies and globalization also enable hundreds of thousands students going to study abroad, as well as to bring professional and experienced educational providers into Vietnam. With ten folds or even hundred folds tuition fee increases, foreign institutions and partnership programs have caused the education market to be fragmented and fiercely competitive. Low tuition fees, inefficient use of state budget, slow change of mindset, and inappropriate mechanisms, are reasons widening the gaps between what schools do and what society needs.

Nowadays university degrees are no longer guarantees for survival by a decent job in the context of Industrial Revolution 4.0. Technology advance has changed the labor market landscape: low-skill jobs are replaced by robots except where human labor is still needed. Therefore, people with middle level of education will be more unemployed.  Most jobs require creativity and high-level skills. All of these have been processed very quickly. Smart phones and social media have occurred less than a decade, now almost everybody has them. With a smartphone connected to the internet, one can do almost everything: work, shopping, banking, entertaining, etc., especially teaching and learning at anywhere and anytime.

If Vietnamese university leaders do not recognize those changes and  realize the fact that they should not be merely granting degrees but preparing learners for what the world of work requires of them, then the schools will be facing great challenges. Today, one can easily pursue online courses offered by reputed universities around the world with low costs. When university degree’s value is inflated, there is no reason why we should waste our precious 4 years in life for obtaining them.  It could be one of the reasons why the number of university applicants to Vietnam universities this year was less than the seats in those schools.

What mindset changes that the Vietnamese educational administrators should make if they are unable to stand outside the Industrial Revolution 4.0?

They need to be responsive to the needs of the labor market and to prove their relevance to the society. The perception of university has changed. The industrial revolution has not just putting new demands on university and forcing them to change, it also redefined university concept. Not just what the university should do, but who they are.

Therefore, the university leaders need a strategic mindset and vision more than ever before to find better responsive solutions. They still  need to solve the long-standing problems: generating revenues, using resource efficiently, improving curriculum and teaching methodologies, etc. However, they cannot solve those problems by the ways they did, as the world has changed!

In reality, the higher education institutions in Vietnam still have weaknesses to meet the demand of the society. What are greatest challenges that they are facing in their ways toward “Education 4.0”?

 Everybody said that limited resource and rigid governance mechanisms are the major barriers. I agree with that but I think, such a saying is partly true but not comprehensive. Another challenge not less critical is the social trust. Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc is a private university that existed only 9 months (March –November 1907) in Vienam, but people gave donations so much that at a time they were unable to count the cash! This example demonstrates how important and valuable the social trust is. People who gave money to Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc were not only the rich. They gave away to the school because they believe that the school did a good job in relevant issues that helped improve their lives, especially for the next generations.

Any solutions that you could suggest to learners and university administrators in this context?

For the learners, the West has a saying: “God helps those who help themselves”. The Industrial Revolution 4.0 has brought learners the facilities that people never ever had before to “help themselves”, meaning to supplement what they are not provided in the schools. Don’t wait for changes of the school. Don’t wait for any help from anyone. When you had a computer or smartphone and it connected to the internet, if you were not having any progress today against yourself of yesterday, then you should only blame yourself.

For the university leaders, the first issue that needs to be addressed is using resources efficiently and effectively. It relates to prioritizing the list of matters of concern. What you make priorities are directly connected to the vision. Changes in education will not happen overnight. Policy makers should create incentive mechanisms that encourage long-term motivation to prevent a “term-of-office mentality” versus focusing on short-term benefits only.