Vietnam should chart own path to create world-class schools. History proves it can.

Students of various ethnic groups attend an assembly at their high school in the northern province of Tuyen Quang. Photo by VnExpress/Duong Trieu

No foreign power should be allowed to dominate Vietnam’s academic world.

By Neal Koblitz 

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A Vietnamese colleague criticized my recent article in VnExpress International for being too negative. It was a warning about what Vietnam should not do in higher education, but it said little about what Vietnam should do. The purpose of this second article is to give an answer to the latter question.

Vietnam must act quickly to improve the conditions at Vietnam National University (VNU) and the other government universities. The university system has the potential for rapid improvement if it is funded and supported adequately.

Vietnamese history and culture give grounds for optimism. Education is highly valued, teachers are respected; most students study hard and behave well in school. Vietnam has a generally good system of primary and secondary education that produces graduates that are talented and well-prepared by international standards.

Even during the most difficult times, education and research have been a top priority for Vietnamese leaders. At the height of the French war, the Viet Minh press published a Vietnamese-language geometry textbook by Hoang Tuy to be used throughout the liberated zones.

At the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology in Hanoi, the Vietnamese government has funded over 30 research institutes in both basic and applied sciences. In 2010 it established the Vietnam Institute for Advanced Study in Mathematics (VIASM), headed by Fields Medalist Ngo Bao Chau.

But unfortunately, funding of government universities has been woefully inadequate. Conditions for students and faculty at VNU, for example, are far below international standards.

Salaries are so low that many faculty have to either work at a second job or else teach extra hours in order to earn enough to support their family. Faculty have no suitable place to meet with students outside of class (for office hours or special projects), and have little incentive to engage in research.

Government funding should be used for the improvement of the well-established universities; this is much more cost-effective than constructing new universities. In order to transform VNU and other leading government universities into world-class centers of learning and research (sometimes called “apex” universities), the government needs to increase both funding and oversight.

Read more at VNExpress

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