National and International Accreditation and Rankings on the rise in Vietnamese Higher Education

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By Professor Dr Nguyen Loc • Vice President, Nguyen Tat Thanh University, Vietnam

1076 is considered the birth year of Vietnamese higher education with the establishment of the first ‘university’, known as the Quoc Tu Giam (Royal National University). However, the first Western-style university, the College of Medicine, was established in 1904. Later, the University of Indochina was established in 1943 in Hanoi.

Today, Vietnam’s higher education system includes 235 universities, institutes, with nearly 73,000 lecturers and a total student population of nearly 1.8 million. On the other hand, in 2004 the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) of higher education of Vietnam surpassed the threshold of 15%, signaling a new stage in its development, the stage of massification.

Despite significant contributions to the socio-economic development of the country, Vietnam’s higher education generally faces many challenges. General assessments show that the quality of training is not high enough to meet the needs of society and enterprises in terms of the number and structure of occupations, being ranked low in international rankings, high unemployment rates among the graduates, inadequacies becoming increasingly apparent, all leading to greater social anxiety.

The beginning of the massification also marked the establishment of the Department of Testing and Accreditation (now renamed Quality Management Department) by the Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam with the function of implementing and managing quality assurance activities for the education system, including higher education. The role and importance of quality assurance and the accreditation of higher education has been officially institutionalised in the 2005 Education Law and reaffirmed in the first Higher Education Law of Vietnam in 2012.

Accreditation was initiated in 2004, but by 2017, still, relatively few – 80 – Vietnamese universities have been accredited for the first time. Like elsewhere, in Vietnam accreditation can be conducted at both institutional and program levels. The accreditation work is assigned to five accreditation centers, of which four are located at Hanoi National University, Ho Chi Minh National University, Da Nang University and Vinh University, and the remaining center is under the Association of Universities and Colleges of Vietnam.

Vietnam’s accreditation standards are heavily based on reference to the standards set by the ASEAN University Network for Quality Assurance (AUN-QA). In order to reach the national accreditation standards, universities must ensure the quality of their development strategies, systems and performance in such areas as training, scientific research, international cooperation etc. The period of accreditation validity is five years.

In recent years, Vietnamese universities have paid special attention to international integration in the field of quality accreditation. To date, six Vietnamese universities have been accredited by the two international accreditation bodies, the Higher Council for the Evaluation of Higher Education and Research in France (Le Haut Conseil de l’Évaluation de la Recherche et de l’Enseignement Supérieur – HCERES) and the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AUN-QA). 111 training programs across 23 Vietnamese universities have been evaluated according to regional and international standards such as the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AUN-QA), Commission for Engineers Degrees (Commission des titres d’ingénieur – CTI); Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), and the Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation (FIBAA).

Recognising the importance of international ranking for Vietnamese universities, early in 2018, the Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam invited 22 leading universities in the country to attend a national workshop to discuss strategies to develop higher standing of some leading Vietnamese universities in the regional and international ranking systems. Mandy Mok, CEO of QS Asia delivered a keynote speech. Many initial efforts have been made by universities and the result is quite encouraging. In the 2019 QS World University Rankings®, two Vietnamese universities, namely: Vietnam National University of Hanoi (VNU of HN) and Vietnam National University of Ho Chi Minh City (VNU of HCM) have been ranked among the top 1,000 for the first time in the 701-750 and 8011000 bands respectively.

Further, the 2019 QS University Rankings: Asia, includes the top seven universities of Vietnam, including: VNU of Hanoi, VNU of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi Polytechnic University, Ton Duc Thang University, Can Tho University, Da Nang University and Hue University. In particular, Hanoi National University stands at 124, compared with 139 in 2017. Ton Duc Thang University has been included in the top 500 in Asia for the first time. This is the best position Vietnam has held in this ranking in recent years. In 2013, Vietnam was only represented by VNU of Hanoi and VNU of Ho Chi Minh City, which were listed in the QS Asia 201+ rankings. Five years later, VNU of Hanoi has jumped to the 124th position and Vietnam has five more universities among the top 500 Asian universities. From another perspective, in 2012, only one university in Vietnam – FPT University – achieved a three QS Stars™ excellence rating. There are now two more three QS Stars™-rated universities: Ton Duc Thang University and Nguyen Tat Thanh University.

“… in the years ahead, further improvements will significantly contribute to the fruitful development of higher education in Vietnam.”

In November 2018, the Vietnam National Assembly passed a law amending and supplementing some articles of the Law on Higher Education. One of the main contents of this latest version of the law is ensuring high levels of autonomy for universities in relation to their accountability. The core of the university’s accountability requirements is based on its institutional and program accreditation. Under the new law, for example, universities will be autonomous to open new bachelor programs or conduct international joint bachelor’s degree training programs if they are institutionally accredited. Furthermore, universities will have the autonomy to open new postgraduate programs if they are accredited for the relevant bachelor’s degree program.

Despite the delays in the implementation of accreditation and participation in rankings, in recent times, the awareness of their importance and benefits has grown among a number of Vietnamese universities. With initial encouraging results, it is certain that in the months and years ahead, further improvements in both accreditation and rankings will significantly contribute to the fruitful development of higher education in Vietnam.

Before joining Nguyen Tat Thanh University as vice president, Professor Dr Nguyen Loc was vice director general of the Vietnam Institute of Educational Sciences (VNIES), which serves as the think-tank for the Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam in the areas of strategy, policy and curriculum development. He previously worked for the Secretariat of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), becoming the founder and first director of the SEAMEO Training Centre in Ho Chi Minh City. Over the last 30 years, Professor Loc has devoted his research to issues of education and training. His scientific interests include human resource development, education management, curriculum and strategy development, foreign languages teaching and learning, learning outcome assessment and lifelong learning. His most recent research includes issues of higher education such as private education, autonomy and governance in higher education, accreditation and rankings, education in the 4th Industrial Revolution, and open education. In 2012, Professor Loc was honored to serve as visiting professor at the University of London, UK and Aarhus University, Denmark. Professor Loc earned his PhD in Theories and History of Educational Sciences from The Academy of Educational Sciences of Russia in 1989.