First national ranking shows maturity of the system

Ly Pham29 September 2017, University World News Issue No:476

The most controversial topic in Vietnamese media and on social networks in the last few weeks has been the Vietnamese university rankings published on 6 September.

A group of six young academics led by Luu Quang Hung, Nguyen Ngoc Anh and Giap Van Duong spent three years collecting data and conducting a ranking of 49 universities in Vietnam. The authors say this is a non-profit project that serves the needs of students and promotes the transparency and accountability of Vietnamese universities. They claim that they do not receive funding support from any sources.

Criteria and weighting

The ranking is based on three criteria which are weighted 40%-40%-20% as below:

  • Research performanceis measured by quantity (the number of ISI-indexed articles per year), impact (the number of citations) and productivity (the percentage of articles per faculty member);
  • Quality of trainingis measured by student population (the number of undergraduate and postgraduate students), faculty members (the number of PhD holders); the quality of teaching (ratio of faculty members to students); and quality of students (based on their university entrance score);
  • Institutional facilities and governanceis based on how many square metres of lecture hall there are per student and the number of library books per student, and a transparency index (measured by how the institution responds to government requests for public information).

The authors of the ranking report that they use data mostly from university websites. Most of the statistics come from the ‘Three Disclosure’ public disclosure of data programme, which the Ministry of Education and Training introduced in 2009, from the ministry’s website, the University Admissions Guide Book published by the ministry and other data provided by individual universities.

The number of research articles is measured from data from the Web of Science and also information provided by institutions and their websites.

Ranking results and discussion

The ranking results are presented in each category and generally. Vietnam National University, Hanoi ranked first, followed by Ton Duc Thang University, the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, the University of Da Nang, Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, etc.

Some results shocked people. For instance, Hue University ranked third regarding quality of training although the university’s College of Education had a quite low admissions requirement this year – it accepted high school students who had only a 12.75 total score. The Hanoi University of Technology has advanced facilities but ranked 25, far below other institutions that are viewed as much less developed.

Academics expressed critical perspectives on this ranking system. Some appreciated and supported the efforts of the researchers and saw it as a way of helping higher education institutions to review their own achievements, by comparing them with their counterparts. Others criticised the accuracy of the data and the rationale for employing the criteria used.

An accreditation expert said that it was insane to use data from the ‘Three Disclosure’ programme for ranking institutions because it gives a far from true picture of institutions. Most academics expressed concerns that the rankings might negatively influence university strategies.

There were hundreds of articles in local media and thousands of comments from the general public.

The Ministry of Education and Training’s Madame Phung, the head of the Higher Education Department, said publicly that ranking which was not done carefully could have a negative effect. However, she confirmed that rankings were needed so that institutions can attract students and strengthen their reputation and ability to raise tuition fees to carry out improvements.

She said the ranking was also needed so that the government could understand institutional capacity and make sound investment decisions and policy.

University presidents also raised their voices.

Dr Le Truong Tung, the chairman of FPT University, a private institution not included in the ranking, said that the ranking focused on research performance and teaching, but ignored internationalisation and student employment.

Dr Thu Thuy, vice-president of Foreign Trade University, said the results should just be for a university’s own reference since they do not reflect all the values of an institution. Foreign Trade University is a respected institution but ranked quite low in the ranking (23rd out of 49).

Dr Le Vinh Danh, president of Ton Duc Thang University, ranked second, congratulated the ranking authors and said they should visit universities. Other world university rankings also have deficits, he said, so we should encourage the authors to improve the ranking.

Like it or not, ranking is a reality. The debate around this topic shows the maturity of the academic community in Vietnam. It is good too that social media provides a platform to discuss the findings so that everyone has a chance to voice their opinion and learn from each other.

Ly Pham is an education researcher from Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City.