Vietnam’s education system has grown competitive over the years, thanks to the government’s demonstrated commitment to education. When the country made sweeping market reforms in the 1980s, Vietnam especially highlighted education as one of the core strategies in achieving further economic growth.
While it’s obviously lagging behind its Southeast Asian counterparts when it comes to state-of-the-art facilities, teacher-student ratio and academic curriculum, the local education system has made great strides in establishing standards around teacher content knowledge and developing innovative teaching methods.
In fact, in April this year, four Vietnamese universities reaped international recognition from the Times Higher Education. Vietnam National University, Ton Duc Thang University, Hanoi University of Science and Technology, and Phenikaa University made it to the list of ‘World University’s Impact Rankings,’ which measured quantifiable efforts of over 1000 universities globally in creating a “better and more sustainable future for all.”
To help Vietnam further advance its higher education system and afford Vietnamese students with more modern academic programs that are at par with global standards, the United States Agency for International Development has awarded the Partnership for Higher Education Reform for modernizing the three largest universities in Vietnam to Indiana University. The five-year $14.2-million project is expected to help strengthen teaching, research, innovation and governance of Vietnamese universities.
During US Vice President Kamala Harris’ historic visit to Vietnam in August, she underscored her government’s commitment to further nurture the US-Vietnam relationship through various strategic programs and project partnerships, including education.
Led by Indiana University, this project by the current US administration will support inclusive economic opportunities for nearly 150,000 Vietnamese students in support for a strong, prosperous and independent Vietnam as a vital US partner.
The project will be spearheaded by O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs professor Anh Tran and Teshome Alemneh, associate vice president for international research and development and head of IU's Office of International Development.
Supporting three major Vietnamese universities — Vietnam National University-Hanoi, Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City and the University of Danang — the program will help these institutions become more sustainable, accountable and autonomous; improve academic quality; and advance research and innovation.
"IU has been selected as the right partner in this project among many US universities that applied, in part because of IU's rich experience working in Vietnam and training many faculty members, scholars and policymakers for the country," Tran said.
"For Vietnam, modernizing higher education will upskill its labor force, allowing Vietnam to enter more high-tech industries and achieve higher economic growth in the future."
What this partnership means to Vietnamese universities
The Vietnamese government has been proactively responding to meet economic and social demands by increasing funding for education. The rise of vocational education and training providers as well as curriculum reforms in universities, specifically in areas such as information and technology and engineering, have adequately prepared graduates with the competencies they need to standout in the professional world.
The USAID’s education reform project is aimed at complementing these efforts by the local government. The project’s strategy will center on four key programs — governance, teaching and learning, research, and university-industry linkages. In the next five years, core activities under the program will strengthen the three universities’ governance and financial systems, provide faculty training in designing state-of-the-art courses, facilitate research collaborations and expand research capacity, and develop guidelines and incentives for partnerships between universities and the private sector.
Virtual knowledge repositories will anchor these four program pillars, and will provide flexibility during the project's COVID-19-era launch. IU and the participating Vietnamese universities will also be working on content development throughout the project’s lifespan.
Hannah Buxbaum, IU vice president for international affairs, said that this partnership with USAID will enable the university to mobilize its experts and resources to Vietnam, a reflection of Indiana University’s long-term standing commitment to “collaborative, research-driven work in institutional development around the world.”
In addition to the four focus areas, the project will also promote cross-cutting strategies in higher education policy advocacy and reform, technology and digitization as well as gender empowerment. Through policy research, workshops and seminars that dive deeply into key policy issues, IU and its partner universities will develop recommendations to improve efficiency and create a culture of innovation within the Vietnamese higher education system.
"One of USAID/Vietnam's priorities is to strengthen the partnership between the US government and the government of Vietnam to advance reforms," said USAID/Vietnam Mission Director Ann Marie Yastishock.
"This partnership between USAID, IU and the Vietnam National University system is a strategic opportunity to significantly broaden higher education reforms that have been enabled by the 2019 Revised Law on Higher Education. As this project will address both the legal framework and institutional capacity of the three largest universities in Vietnam, it will benefit not only nearly 150,000 students but also the higher education sector more broadly."