Towards independence

Mr. Tran Xuan Nhi, Deputy Chairman of the Association of Universities and Colleges Vietnam, talks about the university autonomy project.

Towards independence

 How has the implementation of the university autonomy project proceeded to date? 

The government issued Resolution No. 77 in October 2014 on a pilot project on autonomy at public universities in the 2014-2017 period. Fourteen universities agreed to be in the pilot. The State will not set aside budget funds for these universities and they are responsible for raising revenue and allocating expenditure. The government approved these universities’ specific plans and allowed them to be part of the pilot. 

University autonomy is common around the world but in Vietnam the sector has long been reliant on subsidies. Many universities become overly dependent on these subsides and unable to reach their full potential. The State requires that by the end of 2017 the 14 universities report on the results of the pilot. After summarizing the results the government will set out appropriate plans for the broad implementation of autonomy at public universities around country. 

The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) and the Association of Universities and Colleges Vietnam are reviewing and researching the results at the pilot universities and will then prepare an implementation schedule. The government wants to speed up autonomy but some universities remain hesitant. The government will very carefully tailor its policies on autonomy to meet the needs of each institution.

 What is aim of the university autonomy project? If widely implemented, how will it improve the quality of education in Vietnam? 

The aim is for universities to develop their strengths towards good quality education. If the project is widely implemented, Vietnam’s universities will develop relatively strongly. There are many private universities of good quality, of which Thang Long University is one example. They raise their own revenues then allocate expenditures and invest to improve the quality of infrastructure and training without relying on the State budget. Among private universities, Thang Long University is among the leaders in terms of education quality. 

 What is your evaluation of the autonomy project? 

Financial autonomy is entirely appropriate. The burden on the State budget has been cut. Unlike the “functional management” mechanism, in which every university has a State agency as its “parent owner”, the 14 universities in the project must manage their own finances, which they have done effectively. The policy will also encourage students to study harder, given they have paid higher tuition fees. 

 Many Vietnamese universities have very high tuition fees, sometimes on par with international universities in the country. What are your thoughts on this? 

As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”. Tuition fees mostly go to lecturer salaries. When tuition fees are higher there is more money available for lecturers. If their salary is suitable, lecturers will focus on their teaching and, therefore, the quality of education will increase. 

While many believe that financial autonomy may present obstacles for poor students I believe it will create fairness. Under the subsidy regime, richer people pay the same tuition fees as poor people. This is not fair. Under financial autonomy, however, there will be funds for poor students, in which they can borrow money at low interest rates or even zero interest. 
 Does MoET have plans to rank universities according to tuition fees? 

MoET is planning to test the quality of universities and then rank them on this basis. Tuition fees will be based on quality. Universities that are recognized as being high quality will have high tuition fees. The role of MoET in the time to come will be to implement a public and transparent quality test of universities and then release a ranking list. Students can then use this to choose the university most suitable for them. 

 While some universities are keen to join the autonomy pilot, others are hesitant. Why is this? 

The government is implementing the pilot but has not had a specific roadmap because not all universities can be autonomous, for example military universities. Some universities cannot afford to be autonomous, and the government cannot force them. Autonomy at universities must be combined with accountability to improve the quality of graduates and ensure there are proper mechanisms for the poor to access education. Autonomy does not mean that the State ceases investing in education in general and in universities in particular.

 When will public universities be fully autonomous in financing? What advantages will public universities possess after becoming autonomous compared to foreign universities in Vietnam? 

I think it will take five to seven years for Vietnam to have autonomous universities because MoET needs time to test the quality of universities. If autonomy is widely implemented I believe that, in the near future, the quality of education and training of public universities will be no less than at foreign universities. It should be noted that not all foreign universities are good in terms of quality. 

 What advice does the Association of Universities and Colleges Vietnam give to the government to successfully implement autonomy at universities? 

We plan to hold a conference on university autonomy at the end of October. The Association is also focusing on autonomy models and proposing the government speed up inspections and rankings of universities. We intend to offer a roadmap to advise public universities in effectively implementing the autonomy project. 

VN Economic Times

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