“Universities to have self-control rights”.

The headlines in the Viet Nam News read “Universities to have self-control rights”. In English having “self-control” is a laudable attribute.  The other meaning is that “self-control” defines the boundaries of discourse and autonomy in places like here.

“Universities should have the right to decide their enrollments and take responsibility for the quality of education” could have come out of a manual on American education.  In the same paragraph the official noted that the education law should “also regulate the criterion, standards, classification of universities based on their position, role and function”.

A similar news article highlighted the importance of “absolute autonomy for universities” in one sentence while reminding readers those institutions “should follow adherence to national purpose, solidarity, and should not “infringe upon the legitimate interests of the State”.

Welcome to Vietnam.

As the country evolves to a market economy and expanded educational opportunities, these internal contradictions are part of the ongoing, sometimes public yet coded, often private and more direct, debate. 

The Vietnamese high schools produce nearly 1.5 million students annually for a state university system than can absorb less than a quarter of them.  Wealthy, connected students migrate to the US or elsewhere for higher education (Vietnam ranks 8th in the world as an exporter of college-bound students to the US).

Vietnamese young people are as wired as any in the world and restrictions on Facebook access at “sensitive” times is easily circumvented by savvy teens.   There is no palpable sense of oppression (unless you are an activist or pulled over by the traffic police) yet it is clear that the government is wrestling with issues such as autonomy, intellectual inquiry and exposure to ideas not in synch with its policies and history. It is an internal debate at the highest levels of the society.

Change is happening.  New schools – ranging in quality from diploma mills to quite good – are popping up in the urban areas.  Distance learning, professional workshops, language centers continue to evolve. 

Even more positive is the fact that national debates embodied in the earlier quoted article referenced the importance of “quality control and assessment” for education, a cry echoed in the US with  our owns share of tainted SAT scores, false graduation and employment rates, diploma mills, and spate of financial aid fraud.  Perhaps Vietnam can leapfrog ahead of the West on these issues in the future.

American educators arrived late in Vietnam after the Aussies, the Europeans and Asian investors, but the American education brand remains the gold standard for young people and for their parents so more change can be anticipated, at a snail’s pace, rapidly or maybe both!



About Dr. Roy Nirschel

Thirty years experience as an educator; international traveler, occasional writer, on a personal journey. Author of My Seasons in Saigon (available at Upon the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States I promised to go to Mexico; I did! Carol and I are here now. In the spirit of full disclosure, I promised to go to Mexico if Hillary Clinton was elected president too. The Seasons in Saigon are over; I am uncertain about Vietnam for many reasons despite my love for the country. Now it is Mexico time.

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