Industrialists help bring relevance to Vietnam’s burgeoning private university sector

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Nguyen Manh Hung

Under the leadership of its president, Professor Nguyen Manh Hung, Vietnam’s private Nguyen Tat Thanh University (NTTU) has grown to become a comprehensive university of more than 20,000 students, offering more than 50 educational programmes in fields from business and engineering to sciences and healthcare. Tony Martin asked Prof Hung how NTTU and other private universities in Vietnam are contributing to the country’s growth and development.

Vietnam has a long history of education and learning yet its universities seem not to match the levels of those of many of its neighbouring countries. What are the main challenges for higher education in Vietnam, both in producing more well-educated graduates and in becoming better recognised in the world? What are the opportunities for its modernisation? What is the Vietnamese government doing to upgrade the public universities?

Challenge: Higher education in Vietnam is facing many challenges and one of them is the inconsistency between the growing number of students and the quality of training which are not in line with social needs. The other reason is low investment ratio leading to inefficient research projects and training programmes.

Opportunity: The modernisation of Vietnamese education is at a good stage. Therefore, education should be considered to be one of top national policies of the Vietnamese government. Being globalised, Vietnam’s higher education has a broader and clearer goals, e.g. educational massification and privatisation.

The Government of Vietnam has worked very hard to improve the quality of Vietnamese education. It is crucial for Vietnamese higher education to catch up with the world. In recent times, the issue of quality assurance has been placed at the forefront. This process is in accordance with not only Vietnamese standards but also international standards.

What is the present role of the private universities in Vietnamese higher education? What can they offer that the public universities cannot?

The number of private universities within Vietnam has been on the rise since 1993. Additionally, private universities have been developed rapidly into facilities and education quality. Up to now, private universities account for 20% of the total number of universities in Vietnam and their students account for 14% of the total.

The speedy development of private universities within Vietnam has helped the Vietnamese government in reducing financial difficulty as well as improving the education quality. In addition to financial sharing with the Vietnamese government, these private universities have proven effective in management practices. As a result, there are many private universities in Vietnam with high quality and large-scale training, demonstrating the credibility of society and government in this form of education. In comparison with public universities, the private sectors are more responsive to changes in social needs, and focus on the increasing employment rate for graduates.

Nguyen Tat Thanh University (NTTU) belongs to Texgamex, one of Vietnam’s largest companies. Why did Texgamex choose to create a university? What are the benefits that this ownership brings to NTTU’s students? Are industry leaders involved in the planning of degree programmes and the management of NTTU?

The original business of TEXGAMEX (Saigon Textile and Garment Company) is textile and apparel production. In 1990s, the textile and garment industry in Vietnam was booming and TEXGAMEX received many orders from foreign consumers. With the rising demands, TEXGAMEX faced the problem of shortage in skilled workers and qualified technicians. At the same time, the government asked TEXGAMEX to relocate its inner-city workshops to the outskirt. To solve the challenges, TEXGAMEX decided to establish a training centre at its inner urban factory, first to train its own staff and then provide skilled workers to other companies. This training centre has gradually grown to a university that we know today – Nguyen Tat Thanh University.

This ownership makes a huge difference – it is a university integrating a business – providing a lot of benefits for students. With the mind-set of a business, our university knows the requirements and skills graduates need when they start working. We offer training strategies to suit the business’s requirements, in line with the social development. At the same time, with the relationship in the labour market, we have the advantage of introducing internships, and workplaces for students.

TEXGAMEX leaders are not entirely involved in the planning of NTTU programmes and management though. Our university is handled by the leadership team, the management board of NTTU. However, TEXGAMEX still advises NTTU to grasp the human resource needs of society.

In recent years a very high proportion of Vietnamese graduates was unsuitable for employment as the degree syllabuses did not match the needs of the workplace. What is NTTU’s strategy that has enabled you to announce 95% employment of your graduates?

We realised this a long time ago so we have designed appropriate guidelines for our students. They are to meet the needs of the business and the requirements of the labour market. Entrepreneurs with high academic qualifications, theoretical knowledge and practical experience are invited to participate in the programme reviews. Our university focuses on theoretical training in combination with practice. Beside practical programmes and laboratories, students also learn at enterprises with experts in the fields. During the course, from the second and third year, our students have studied at companies to practice and to get familiar with the actual working environment. In addition, other soft skills such as English, communication, text editing, and information technology are emphasised. By virtue of the factual curriculum, shortening the distance between school and business, 95% of college graduates have jobs; even many students have found part-time jobs since their second or third year.

In 2018, NTTU is just 19 years old, yet has already been awarded three stars in the global QS Stars University rating scheme. What is NTTU’s further ambition for achieving regional or world ranking, and other forms of accreditation? What policies are you adopting to reach higher status and wider recognition?

NTTU is a relatively young university. Therefore, the only way to develop rapidly and strongly is to learn from reputable local and international universities. The award of 3 stars in QS Stars is a testament to our efforts. Regional, international and other forms of accreditations aim at demonstrating to students, parents, and the public about our university’s ability in bringing good things to learners. Our ambition is to serve the best for learners, for the development of our society, and for the country.

In order to achieve a higher level and a wider recognition, there is no other way than to ensure the quality of our schools. The current quality goal of the school is accreditation by AUN (ASEAN University Network); in the next 3–4 years we will attain four stars in QS Stars. In order to achieve this goal, NTTU continues to promote infrastructure investment and qualified training programmes, improve staff and management capacity, strengthen scientific research, promote Internationalisation, and enhance community accountability.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall, Vietnam

Internationalisation is a vital component of a university’s advancement. What forms of internationalisation are you prioritising for NTTU? Does this include teaching some degree subjects in English or in Chinese language?

NTTU is well aware of the importance of Internationalisation since it is a crucial trend in Vietnamese higher education. The prioritised forms of internationalisation implemented at NTTU are attracting foreign students to study in Vietnam and encouraging Vietnamese students to study overseas.

To attract international students, NTTU has provided many international programmes that are instructed in English, and are recognised by international accreditation organisations. At the moment, we have many students coming from Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines, and we would like to extend our number of students in a broader market. Besides that, NTTU has signed several MOUs for student exchange programmes with Korean universities in order to help final-year students gain more knowledge regarding education, traditional culture and life styles.

In recent years, NTTU has developed many international affiliate programmes, such as Pearson Education and Coventry University (UK). In addition, our university offers a master’s degree in nursing affiliated with Meiho University of Taiwan. Furthermore, NTTU is developing affiliate programmes such as distance learning and international standard programmes to improve students’ English proficiency as a prerequisite for enrolling international students to study at NTTU in the near future. Currently, NTTU has no Chinese curriculum, but we have a foreign language department teaching Chinese for students as a separate discipline.

Branding of modern universities has become very important to help students and potential students to know and understand exactly what the institution represents and what are its special characteristics. What is NTTU’s brand? How does it fulfil and communicate that brand?

We understand that branding is essential to the benefits of a university and its students. NTTU’s brand is focused on training associated with business, and one associated with practice. Therefore, the proportion of students who are employed after graduating is always high.

In spite of the increasing number of graduates annually, the ratio of employed graduates is still low. By understanding that issue, we have created curricula which provide students with useful theories and a lot of practice. This also links to our philosophy “True learning – True practice – True value – True future”. This philosophy has been transmitted via many different channels for example in our work fairs (held at least twice a year). Our career fairs have been attracting hundreds of local and international companies. Many of our graduates have also been selected by recruiters on this occasion. And the most important channel is still via students and parents. It is indeed the best way to promote our brand – via our graduates.

We read that, up till recently at least, 83% of Vietnam’s university students were studying at undergraduate level which means that the scope for producing all-important academic research at postgraduate level is very limited. What steps is NTTU taking to establish a strong research base? In what subject areas are you prioritising research? Are you attracting faculty with international doctorates to lead your research?

Our university is aware that training and scientific research are two inseparable tasks of higher education. Hence NTTU has increased investment in its facilities and laboratories, and cooperated closely with key national laboratories to serve scientific research for lecturers and students. Besides, our university has improved the mechanism and policies for managing laboratories, and developed scientific and technological potentials to create products of great scientific and practical significance. So far, we have had 70 scientific projects funded by the Vietnamese government and two projects cooperated with international partners (University of Indianapolis, USA, and Korean Institute of Science and Technology, Korea). It is considered to be competitive because previously research projects were only conducted within public universities, however recently private universities have also been conducting research projects. The subject areas of research that NTTU is prioritising are: biotechnology, medicine and pharmacy, advanced material technology, environmental and energy technology, information and communication technology and high-tech agriculture.

NTTU has many policies to attract top scientists and PhD students graduated from countries with advanced science such as USA, UK, Australia, France, Singapore, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan etc to form and develop research groups. There have been 170 articles published in prestigious international magazines in the SCOPUS/ISI category, and over 400 articles have been published domestically; this proves that scientific research activities of our university are gradually approaching the international proclamation.

As the chief executive officer of TEXGAMEX, Prof Nguyen Manh Hung has led the reviving of the corporation, making it from a small state-owned company on the edge of shutdown to a prosperous corporation that keeps growing in scale and scope of operation. Dr Hung’s relationship with education started in 1999. Facing the shortage of skilled human resources at the company, he has established a training centre, which focused on training skills that were relevant for textile and garment industry. Besides a successful career in public service and business, Prof Hung is also a noted academic. He has authored and co-authored four books and has published more than 30 research papers in economics and management. Prof Hung completed his doctoral study in economics at National Economics University (Vietnam) in 1997. Prior to that he had graduated with honour in the former Soviet Union. In recognition of his contribution to public service, he has been bestowed numerous titles, including the medals of labour, class I, II and III. For his academic achievement, he was awarded with the title of associate professorship by the State Council for Professor Title of Vietnam in 2015.