Vietnam’s education making the grade

November 20, 2018 | 10:00
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Vietnam is drawing closer to the target of raising the ­education system to advanced regional level by 2030, and ­accomplishing the tasks set out by a government resolution on regulating comprehensive reforms in education five years ago.
vietnams education making the grade
The Vietnamese education system has been checking off target after target in recent years, Photo: ISHCMC

In the afternoon of ­November 3, at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Party General Secretary and State President Nguyen Phu Trong met with 55 of the best performers of ­Vietnamese schools and ­universities in the 2017-2018 school year. According to the leader, although limitations do still exist in the education sector and the country keeps striving for more, Vietnamese education is on a level it has never reached before.

A recent report by the Ministry of Education and Training’s (MoET) Continuing Education Department shows that the current rate of literate people between the ages of 15 and 60 is nearly 98 per cent, reaching the target set for 2020.

This year was also the first year that Vietnam’s two major universities – Ho Chi Minh City National University and Hanoi National University – made the list of the top 1,000 most reputable universities worldwide.

On the Asian scale, the Hanoi University of Science and Technology, Can Tho University, and Hue University joined the two national institutions in earning high rankings.

The pilot operational mechanism reform model at public higher education units, particularly the deployment of the self-reliant model at universities, have brought positive changes, helping the training units to become totally autonomous in the not-too-distant future.

A new student-centred model of learning and teaching, called the Vietnam Escuela Nueva (VNEN), was deployed extensively at the primary education grade across the country.

The model was designed to better engage students in class, with teachers serving as facilitators, and involving parents as well as other community members more in making learning relevant to children.

The VNEN project, worth about $84.6 million and funded by the Global Partnership for Education, ran across more than 2,300 primary schools and about 1,000 secondary schools between 2013 and 2016. After the project ended, the MoET encouraged schools across the country to continue applying the model.


The achievements of the country were attained after five years of implementing Resolution 29-NQ/TW on comprehensive reform of Vietnamese education and training, which set the target of Vietnamese education reaching regional advanced level by 2030.

The recent improvements of the Vietnamese education system have been praised by prestigious international organisations. The World Bank noted that seven out of the world’s 10 leading education systems are in the East Asia-Pacific region, which includes the impressive development of the Vietnamese and Chinese education systems. Meanwhile, the quality of Vietnamese students aged 15 has surpassed the average level of students in the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries.

In 2016 the MoET enacted the national qualification framework with a view to standardising the national education system and pushing up co-operation in education.

Vietnam’s current qualification framework matches the ASEAN region and Europe’s reference qualification framework, and equals about 70 per cent of the global qualification ladder. The eight-level structure perfectly fits the existing system, of which the elementary grade features three levels, making it convenient to flexibly organise training courses.

According to experts, effective implementation of the national qualification framework could promote life-long learning for all.

The MoET is finalising a network of higher education units linked to the country’s socioeconomic development plans and human resources development plans, as well as penning investment projects on the development of high-quality higher education units. It is also striving to reach regional and international standards in key sectors, presenting policies in the direction of reducing the establishment of public units, and encouraging the establishment of private and non-profit foreign-backed training units at the higher education level.


About 20 per cent of the state budget is channelled into the education and training sector annually, and this sum has increased by VND92.5 trillion ($4.02 billion) in the past five years.

There is a big gap, however, between Vietnam and other countries when it comes to average spending per student. Statistics show that the US takes the lead in this respect with $19,000 per student, followed by Australia with $17,000 and the UK with $15,000. While China’s figure sits at $3,500 and Thailand’s $2,500, the average spending per student in Vietnam is a mere $630.

The call for investment into education has attracted considerable resources from the private and foreign-invested sectors into founding non-public training units.

In the 2017-2018 academic year, there were a total of 43,907 education units in the whole sector, including 40,952 public training units (93.2 per cent) and 2,955 non-public units (6.8 per cent).

In addition, the international school model has been developing robustly in recent years, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City which is home to 19 foreign-backed schools employing 1,345 teachers and 10,799 students, 5,080 of whom are Vietnamese.

The international school format has created a conducive learning environment for the children of foreigners working in Vietnam, as well as of overseas Vietnamese coming to work here, and plays a part in luring foreign investment.

Before the enactment of government Decree No.73/2012/ND-CP on foreign investment and co-operation in education, Vietnam was only home to 10 foreign-backed schools, but today the country hosts a total of 29 such schools. Similarly, the number of foreign-backed universities rose from two in the period before the enactment of Decree 73 to five at present.

Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have taken the lead in attracting foreign investors into education where about 450 English training centres were founded.

The recent influx of foreign capital into education has attested to the potential of the international education format in Vietnam. Some of the most eminent cases include the International Finance Corporation (IFC) venturing into Vietnam-USA Society and VUS English training centre, investment fund Mekong Capital partnering with YOLA English teaching centre, and the Institution of American Education (IAE) investing in Western University.

Earlier, leading global schools group Cognita bought both the International School of Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon Pearl Primary School. Investment fund North Anglia purchased British International School, and alternative asset firm TPG had acquired Vietnam-Australia International School (VAS).

Besides deals in education in the form of investment funds venturing into international schools and English teaching centres, joint training programmes have experienced a boom to meet burgeoning requirements for high-quality training but at a lower cost compared to that of international schools.

MoET figures show that as many as 531 joint training programmes with foreign partners have been approved, 339 of which are operating and 192 have ceased operations. About 80,000 people have taken part in these joint training programmes and more than half have received certificates.

One of the largest advantages of privatising education is that Vietnamese education has benefitted from the transfer of new modern technologies in teaching, learning and educational management which has enabled the sector to integrate deeply and broadly into the region as well as globally.

In respect to Vietnamese education, one of the reasons that make Vietnam very appealing to international investors is the high number of Vietnamese students going abroad to study each year. The number of Vietnamese studying overseas has increased by 10-12 per cent annually, according to a MoET source.

In 2017 the figure surpassed 150,000, more than 6,000 of whom (4 per cent) went abroad to study with scholarships funded by the state. In 2012 the figure was only 100,000 students.

According to Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha, the annual expenses of Vietnamese students abroad came to $3-4 billion, which explains the robust development of firms providing overseas study consultancy services in Vietnam.

According to figures from the MoET’s International ­Co-operation Department, ­Vietnam is currently home to 1,312 organisations providing overseas study consultancy services.

By Hai Ha

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