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close this bookPolicy Development and Implementation of Technical and Vocational Education for Economic Development in Asia and the Pacific - Conference Proceedings - UNESCO - UNEVOC Regional Conference (RMIT, 1997, 520 p.)
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View the documentThe Role of Technical and Vocational Education on the National Economic Development of Cambodia and that of the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Growth Zone
View the documentFrom Central Command to Doi Moi: Transforming and Renovating the Vietnamese Technical and Vocational Education System
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View the documentTechnical Education for the Hi-Tech Era

From Central Command to Doi Moi: Transforming and Renovating the Vietnamese Technical and Vocational Education System


John Freeland
Senior Research Fellow
Research Centre for Vocational Education and Training
University of Technology, Sydney

Vu Thanh Binh
Senior Specialist
Department of Vocational and Technical Education
Ministry of Education and Training
HaNoi Viet Nam

A paper presented
at the
UNESCO UNEVOC Regional Conference
RMIT, Melbourne

11-14 November 1996


Over the past decade most countries in both the developed and developing worlds have been confronted by the imperatives of survival in a global economy. One common response has been to develop new or at least to considerably strengthen regional economic and political groupings to more effectively address those imperatives. Another common response, again in both the developed and developing worlds, has been to undertake a major re-configuration of their technical and vocational education (TVE) systems. There have been a number of common elements of the re-configuration:

· increased industry ownership of TVE;
· modularised competency based curricula, pedagogy and assessment;
· an increased emphasis on work place delivery; and
· flexible responsiveness to changing industry requirements.

In the developed countries these reforms have generally been prefaced on the prior existence of a relatively well established, resourced and administered TVE systems, the existence of well established industry bodies and variable levels of direct industry involvement and provision. Despite this the reform process has not been easy, has not been fully implemented and it has not been unambiguously successful. Most of the developing countries have not had the benefits of these foundation stones, but despite this have sought to fast track the reform process. In many cases developed countries have sought to sell their competency based models, systems and products to the developing countries. Very little research appears to have been undertaken into the applicability of developed world systems to the developing world.

For a number of reasons these issues and questions attain a particular potency in Viet Nam. As a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the realisation that it had to join the global market if it was to survive in it Viet Nam embarked in 1986 on the path of Renovation or Doi Moi. It sought to transform itself from a central command system to an open market based system in the space of a decade.

The task was and continues to be immense. Administrative structures, mechanisms and procedures designed for a command system are particularly inappropriate for the development and management of a market based system. No appropriate legislative framework existed. No appropriate regulations and procedures for the processing of applications for investment and development existed. Even the most basic foundation blocks such as a building code or detailed plans of the existing electricity grids in major cities did not exist.

In the area of TVE, the policy formation and administration structures and procedures had been developed for a central command system in which line Ministries with responsibility for meeting production targets were also responsible for accepting and training their allocation of recruits. They were responsible for curriculum development and training delivery and they all developed their own network of single purpose TVE schools. Other TVE schools were administered by Provincial Boards. In all there was very little role for a central administrative body with overall responsibility for TVE policy development, funding allocation, management and quality control.

This legacy was not and is not appropriate for developing a market oriented TVE system. Thus Viet Nam has been faced with the task of rapidly developing more appropriate central policy formation and administration structures and processes. One of the earlier steps was to form a single Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and to give it responsibility for developing the new system. Unfortunately, the creation of the new body and the allocation of responsibilities were not immediately accompanied by the transfer of the necessary staff, resources and authority to realise the objectives.

However, the scale of the TVE Renovation task has not been confined to developing an administrative system appropriate for a market based TVE system. Paralleling the necessity for new administrative structures and processes, there has been a reform process focussed on the transforming the form and content of TVE in Viet Nam. Along with most other South East Asian nations Viet Nam has sought to address its skill deficits by pursuing a strategy of outcomes based TVE reform. In so doing it has been confronted by all the difficulties associated with grafting a very complex capital and skill intensive system onto a system best characterised as outmoded, largely irrelevant to the emerging needs of industry and starved of physical and human resources.

This paper seeks to address some of the issues and problems raised by the dual TVE reform process in Viet Nam. It begins with a brief contextual overview of the labour force, Doi Moi and the place of human resource development within the Renovation process. It then provides a brief descriptive analysis of the TVE system before addressing issues relating to reforming the national management system, funding mechanisms and TVE curriculum. Finally it draws together some conclusions relating to a strategic and staged reform process.1

1 Much of the material presented draws on work undertaken for a recent Australia/Viet Nam cooperative project designed to provide strategic policy advice on the reform and development of TVE in Viet Nam. The views, however, remain those of the authors and are not to be confused as those of the Report.

Contextual Profile

Viet Nam, with a land area of over 300,000 square kilometres is a very poor but potentially rich country with major rice growing areas in the Red and Mekong River delta areas and major reserves of coal, petroleum and natural gas. Its population of over 70 million is very young (almost 40 per cent are under 15 years and only 13 per cent are over 50 years), growing quickly, and concentrated in the rich rice growing areas. 80 per cent of people live in rural areas but some five million live in Ho Chi Minh City with another 2.5 million in HaNoi.

Their labour force has been estimated to be over 34 million with a growth rate of over three per cent per year - over a million young people enter the labour force each year. Women represent 47 per cent of the labour force. As with the population, employment is dominated by agriculture. In 1993:

· 72 per cent of total employment was in agriculture;
· eleven per cent were engaged in industrial production;
· three per cent in education and training;
· one per cent in health, social insurance and sport; and
· one per cent in housing, public services and tourism.

Employment is also dominated by very small business, with some 79 per cent of the work force being self employed in 1992-93. The remaining 21 per cent was divided into:

· eleven per cent in private firms;
· four per cent in government employment;
· three per cent in state enterprises; and
· only one per cent in cooperatives.

The overall labour force is relatively unskilled, with only 13.8 per cent holding a vocational, technical or higher education qualification.

Unemployment has become a serious problem, particularly in the larger urban areas and the Mekong delta. The transition from a centrally planned economy led to many workers being transferred from state employment, and upheaval in the previous Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and the Middle East has seen over 200.000 migrant workers return to Viet Nam. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have been demobilised. In addition, underemployment is a serious problem with half a million workers in state and cooperative enterprises being in surplus.

In response to severe economic difficulties being experienced, partly as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a series of fundamental economic, social and political changes were introduced under the Doi Moi or Renovation policy from 1986. The decision was taken to move from a centrally planned to a market oriented economy but with the state set to play a leading role in the transition and in market activities. The results of the reform process have been impressive, with Viet Nam moving from a position of insufficient food production to a position as one of the world's leading rice exporting nations in five years. Gross Domestic Product has increased by an average of 8.5 per cent since 1991, and inflation has been brought down to below 13 per cent from more than 700% in the late 1980s. The secondary and tertiary sectors have grown relative to primary production. The private sector and individual enterprise have developed.

Living standards have increased, particularly in the urban areas, but Viet Nam remains one of the world's poorest nations.

At the most recent party Congress the decision was made to continue with the process of Renovation despite reservations about some of the socio-cultural side effects of opening the society to the pressures of global economic, social, political and cultural forces. Work is proceeding on developing the necessary economic and social infrastructure to foster foreign investment and economic growth and on determining and developing an appropriate set of regulatory mechanisms to structure and control the rapidly emerging market economy.

The development of human resources was identified as a priority area for government initiative, and the target of increasing the proportion of the workforce with a vocational or technical education qualification from 13.8 to 25 per cent by the year 2000 was established. Along with the need to rapidly renovate and develop the vocational education sector, the government has identified a range of ambitious targets for developing primary, lower and upper secondary education and higher education. A range of international agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are undertaking major programs in these areas.

The Education Sector in Transition

At present the basic general education system starts at the age of six and consists of five years of primary education (grades 1 to 5); and four years of lower secondary education (Grades 6 to 9). This is followed by an additional three years of general education in upper secondary school (Grades 10 to 12), or secondary vocational schools. Most villages have a primary school or a combined primary/lower secondary school, and each of the 550 Districts has at least one upper secondary school. Due to the severe funding crisis many of me schools operate on a basis of two, and in some cases three shifts per day.

In 1995 there were 1200 upper secondary schools, 270 secondary technical schools, 242 vocational schools, more than 500 vocational training and employment promotion centres, and 105 universities and colleges.

Vocational education is provided in a number of forms through a number of institutional structures:

· Short term vocational training and retraining courses for both employed and unemployed people. Students undertake specific vocational training and receive a vocational certificate at me appropriate skill level.

· Short term elementary vocational training courses of under one year for students who have completed primary education. Students receive a vocational certificate at the semi-skilled level. This form of provision remains very undeveloped.

· One to two year vocational training in Vocational Schools for students who have completed lower or upper secondary education, depending on the trade. Students undertake a combination of general education subjects, generic and specific occupational training and receive a vocational certificate at the skilled worker level.

· Three year vocational training in Secondary Vocational Schools for students who have completed lower secondary education. Students undertake a combination of general education subjects, generic and specific occupational training and receive a general education certificate and a vocational diploma at the skilled level.

· Three years of technical secondary education for students who have completed lower secondary or upper secondary education. Students who have completed lower secondary school undertake some general education subjects and generic and specific occupational courses while those who have completed upper secondary education take only the vocational courses. Graduates receive a diploma of technical or professional secondary education at the skilled technician level.

· Vocational training courses of variable length provided by the emerging private TVE sector.

The separation between the vocational and technical secondary schools is a product of the historical evolution of two separate strands. Before the formation of the present Ministry of Education and Training vocational education was administered by the Vocational Training Board and technical education was administered by the then Ministry of Higher and Secondary Technical Education. The two systems tended to provide training for different occupations, and vocational training was more workplace oriented and practical while technical education was more theoretical.

Management System Reform

As previously indicated MOET has been given responsibility for delivering the whole TVE reform package but does not have the power and resources to do so. The present system is based on the old central command system, with Vocational and Technical Schools being administered by line Ministries, Provincial Education and Training Boards, and Provincial Boards of other central Ministries. These line Ministries and the Provincial Boards are directly funded by the Ministry of Finance and not by MOET. (The central Budget allocations cover little more than facilities and salaries and it has to be supplemented by institutional revenue raising activities such as tailored short re-training courses for industry and entrepreneurial activities.)

MOET is directly responsible for curriculum approval, TVE teacher education, approval for institutional development, and student enrolment, and overall policy development. It directly administers but a few TVE institutions. Without central administrative responsibility for Vocational and Technical institutions and without control over funding, MOET is not in a position to implement the reform process.

Effective horizontal and vertical management systems do not exist There is no means to effectively monitor and coordinate the TVE activities of the various line Ministries, and there is no really effective management system to ensure quality delivery by individual institutions. Even though curricula are supposed to be approved by MOET, in practice it tends not to occur. There is no effective national management information system, and no national qualifications framework. Moreover, MOET does not have adequate staff and resources to develop these.

Perhaps most importantly, MOET does not have the necessary political influence and bureaucratic power to secure the resources, control over funding and overall TVE development. There is no fast solution to be found by adopting any other country's management system, particularly a developed country's. Even when assistance is offered and accepted, the structures and resources generally are not in place to make effective use of that assistance, whether it be in the form of a management software package or a pilot competency based curriculum development project. MOET does not have the foundation stones in place. It does not have:

· An established legislative framework.
· An established industry representative system.
· An established level of staff expertise.

Given these realities what elements should constitute a new national management system? First there is a need for a central human resources policy determination body with sufficient political power to give effect to its decisions. It is doubtful if MOET itself could play this role so the creation of a new central policy making body is desirable. Second there is a need for more adequate labour market and human resources needs analysis and for a mechanism to undertake industry skills analysis. Again these functions would not rest with MOET and the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs is well placed to assume some of these responsibilities and to coordinate others. Third, there is a need for a more direct and effective central funding mechanism, with the Ministry of Finance allocating TVE funds MOET, and MOET allocating funds to both the line Ministries and the Provincial Boards.

With these policy and administrative features in place MOET would be more able to assume the role of a central TVE policy advising, implementation and administration agency with control over:

· curriculum standards and development;
· development and administration of a national qualifications framework;
· establishing TVE teacher standards and coordinating TVE teacher education;
· national TVE system planning and administration;
· development and administration of a national management information system; and
· monitoring and quality control.

Direct administrative responsibility for specific vocational and technical schools could and in most cases should remain with the line Ministries and Provincial Boards so long as they are a coherent part of the emerging national system and maintain established standards of relevance and effectiveness.

There is a need for a rationalisation of the number of TVE institutions, particularly, single industry schools, and MOET should retain the responsibility for rationalising the emerging system. There is an increasing tendency and need for multi-faculty and multi-level TVE institutions to develop - especially in rural provinces and to service the labour market requirements of the Export Processing Zones. Such developments will see the demise of some line Ministry schools, and a tendency towards Provincial Boards assuming greater responsibility for direct administration.


As previously indicated Viet Nam is one of the poorest countries and its taxation base is very small. Most individuals do not earn enough to pay tax. Although there is a very significant underground or informal economy (some estimates suggest it is equivalent to 60% of GDP), and although there is a need for a more effective, efficient and equitable taxation system, the relative size of the taxation base will not expand quickly.

This has led to pressure to develop alternative TVE funding mechanisms such as:

· student fees;
· student loans;
· industry levies;
· industry course fees; and
· TVE institution entrepreneurial activities.

However, such sources will be severely limited and a number carry additional negative consequences. The cost, including fees, of sending a student to a vocational or technical school is equivalent to the average family income, so that fees will have a negative impact on equity of access and participation. Already there are indications that the introduction of fees for TVE courses has been a contributing factor in a reduction in student numbers.

Similarly, the initially attractive idea of an industry training levy does not have the capacity to deliver sufficient funds for TVE Renovation and development. Only 14 per cent of the work force is employed in private and state enterprises which would be in a position to pay an industry training levy, but many of these have not reached a position of profitability. Although certain industries such as telecommunications and petroleum and sections of other industries such as tourism are in a position to and should pay the costs of vocational training to ensure world standards, general industry levies will not provide a reliable funding base in the short to medium term,

This means that the bulk of TVE funding will continue to come from general Budget allocations, but they will have to be subsidised by variable industry contributions, selective student fees and institutional income earing activities including cost recovery courses.

Curriculum Development

MOET has made a number of policy decisions relating to the adoption of a modular outcomes or competency based TVE curriculum. Implementation of the decision is seen as being central to the task of making TVE more relevant to the needs of industry. The transition to outcomes based curricula carries with it implications for the transformation of TVE delivery (from institution to work place), pedagogy and assessment procedures. There are a number of major barriers to the full and rapid implementation of the policy:

· There is no tradition of work place training or even work based placement, and in situations where it has been initiated, the TVE institutions or students have to pay the firm to accept trainees.

· There is a massive problem of obsolescence of equipment, so that meets industry relevance expectations is difficult (how do trainees develop state of the art motor mechanic skills on a 1966 American army truck?).

· There are not enough people with the knowledge and skills to undertake across the board curriculum and materials developmental tasks. Far too few TVE teachers have teacher education and very few have actual industry experience.

· The resources do not exist for the rapid across the board competency based curriculum development, materials development and teacher education.

In these circumstances it is tempting to adopt off-the-shelf curriculum packages from developed countries but it is extremely doubtful if such packages can adequately meet the needs of Vietnamese industry. Sensibly, Viet Nam has rejected this approach in favour of developing their own.

The only realistic way in which they can hope to develop an outcomes based approach to TVE delivery is to adopt a strategically staged approach. Such an approach is based on the realisation that not all industries are at the same stage of development and that they do not have the same competency requirements. Some industries have a need to develop competencies to an international standard while others have a need for quite elementary level competency development. Similarly, some industries are in a much better position to pay for the development costs, and some TVE institutions and teachers are more able to contribute to the development process.

It should be possible to bring together the variable needs, resources and capabilities to develop a staged approach to developing an outcomes oriented curriculum, materials and to developing the concomitant teacher competencies. A priority development list could be established, appropriate innovative TVE teachers and researchers identified and assistance provided to initiate staged standards, curriculum and materials development. Development would be uneven, but it would take place and it would be tailored to the circumstances of Viet Nam. Ideally, it would be accompanied by a similarly staged TVE teacher development program.


In this paper we have argued that Viet Nam has made a decision to embark of two parallel courses of TVE reform and development. First it has decided to transform the whole socio-economic system from a central command to a market based approach. This has necessitated major structural and procedural changes in the horizontal and vertical management and administration systems. Second Viet Nam has decided on a path of outcomes based curriculum reform to ensure that its TVE system meets the quantitative and qualitative requirements of a rapidly evolving labour market.

We have attempted to identify some of me key areas of reform and some of the major problems confronting them in the reform process. It is doubtful that the reform process will succeed without an effective central policy making, funding and management systems. In developing its new structures and procedures Viet Nam will be able to learn from the lessons of other countries while ensuring that it does not attempt to graft other countries' structures and models. We have argued strongly that Viet Nam has to retain control over its reform processes and that while seeking ideas and while accepting assistance from other countries it should ensure that the assistance complements its own agenda, and not those of the other parties. For example while the idea of a representative industry controlled National Training Board is initially attractive, it is a little difficult to develop where there are no established representative industry associations.

Similarly, with curriculum reform. While the basic ideas of outcomes based TVE curricula, materials, pedagogy and assessment have considerable merit and will be pursued in Viet Nam, they will be adopted and adapted to their own circumstances and needs in the light of their own capacity to develop and deliver. Viet Nam has accepted that it has to be an integral part of the global socio-economic system, but it is seeking to do so on terms that it defines for itself.

As a last comment, while me Renovation process will be difficult and blemished, the energy, commitment, competence and good will of many of the people involved indicate that the most likely outcome will be positive.