eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
May/June 2000
Feature
Volume 13, Issue 3
The Higher Education System in Vietnam
by Kristy Kelly, Director, Institute of International Education/Vietnam
CONTENTS
Acknowledgements: This report was compiled from information provided by the World Bank
and the Ministry of Education and Training in Vietnam. World Education Services and the US

COVER PAGE
Information Agency also provided information. The Higher education system in Vietnam is in
Return to cover page
great flux, therefore, the most current data was not available to include in this document. A new
Minister of Education and Training has recently been appointed, and several new presidents of

FEATURE
the leading universities have or are about to be selected. It is expected that many important
The Higher Education
changes affecting curriculum, the structure of higher education and nature of degrees will be
made in the next year.

System in Vietnam
REGIONAL NEWS
E veryday one quarter of the total population of Vietnam is directly involved in formal
Africa
education and training activities, either as students or teachers. Education is an important part
The Americas
of the society. It is a major preoccupation of government and is a highly valued and respected
Asia & Pacific
activity in Vietnamese society. The Vietnam education and training sector is large, present in
Caribbean
almost every village and touches virtually every family. There are almost 18 million students in
Europe
the education system and over 0.5 million teachers and instructors. The structure of the
Middle East
education system is 5-4-3 i.e., five years of primary education (grades 1-5) followed by four
years of lower secondary (grades 6-9), and three years of upper secondary (grades 10-12).
Newly Independent
Higher education programs last between two and six years.
States
Government spending on education and training grew rapidly during the 1990's and in 1995
PRACTICAL
education and training's share of the overall discretionary State budget was about 12 percent or
INFORMATION
about 3.5% of GDP. Household expenditure on education and formal cost-recovery adds a
Education in Post-
further 2.5% of GDP. Thus, aggregate expenditures of education in 1994/95 were
Revolutionary Iran
approximately 6% of GDP with households meeting 43% of overall educational expenditures.
INFO
The above thumbnail sketch shows the level of commitment to education and training in
Vietnam. Indeed, recognizing the fact that as Vietnam's growth increasingly depends on
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knowledge and technology as it enters the global economy, the Government recently pledged
eWENR and its editorial staff.
to increase spending on education to 15% of the State budget by the year 2000. It also recently
completed a review of the past "Doi Moi" reforms ("Renovation" policy that began in 1989 with
the opening of Vietnam to private sector involvement in all areas of Vietnam's development) in
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education and training and is in the a process of updating the nation's sector strategy, five-year
plan and legal framework for education.
Workshops: See a listing of
upcoming workshops
"DOI MOI" AND EDUCATION IN VIETNAM
sponsored by WES.
Prior to Vietnam's partition under the Geneva Agreement in 1954, formal education was
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constrained during the 20th century. Under French colonial rule, only a relatively small and elite
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group of Vietnamese attended public educational institutions, most of which were located in the
this newsletter or search for
larger urban areas. In response to this exclusionary policy, non-government schools were
specific words or terms.
started in many parts of the country, including many of Vietnam's rural villages. This satisfied
some part of the strong household demand for education, but few poor families could, in fact,
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eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
Useful Links: See a list of Web
afford the private school fees. Hence, illiteracy was widespread in Vietnam, at least until 1945
sites that may be helpful to
when Ho Chi Minh, the nationalist leader, launched a grassroots literacy campaign in those
eWENR readers.
areas under the control of his revolutionary forces. At the end of French colonial rule, private
schools in the North were incorporated into a free public education system. Expansion of this
system was a priority goal of the Government over the next thirty years.
Despite high overall literacy and high enrollments in Vietnam today, and despite relatively small
differences in access to education among males and females, wide regional differences do
exist. The mountainous northern province of Lai Chau, for example, has a reported literacy rate
of only 49 percent, and in this province there are twice as many literate men as women. School
participation rates remain lower in the mountainous areas of Vietnam's North and Central
Zones, and in the Mekong Delta Region, particularly for girls. Whereas ethnic minorities
account for over 13 percent of Vietnam's population, ethnic minority individuals account for only
4 percent of the student population.
Several important changes have occurred since the introduction of "Doi Moi" and these have
impacted the education sector in important ways. First, government spending on education and
training has increased both in absolute terms and as a percentage of overall government
spending during the 1990s. Particularly large increases occurred in 1993 and 1994 — 46% and
33% real spending on growth in these two years, respectively (figures after 1994 were not
available at the time of this writing).
A second major change during the 1990s has been the elimination of many regulations
restricting or proscribing the private sector's role in education and training. New decrees and
resolutions have been passed that encourage the private sector's expansion. "Semi-public" and
"people-founded" institutions account for only a tiny proportion of total enrollments, but are
increasing rapidly in number. Non-public education is especially common in pre-school
education, in vocational and technical education and training, and increasingly also at the
tertiary level of general education. Non-public institutions cover nearly all of their operating
costs from student fees.
A third and related policy change has been to allow public institutions to levy tuition fees,
though only within rather strict limits, and to charge for other goods and services sold to the
public. Household outlays on education and training at all levels accounted for 43% of total
government and household spending on education and training in 1994. This proportion varied
from as little as 12 percent and 19 percent in vocation/technical and tertiary education to as
much as 48 percent, 59 percent and 62 percent in primary lower secondary, and upper
secondary education. As in many other countries, government spending on education in
Vietnam reflects an implicit bias in favor of the rich — because this spending covers a relatively
small share of the costs at the lower levels of education, which are attended by more children
from low-income families, and covers a larger share as one moves up the education ladder,
where one finds fewer low-income students.
THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING: ADMINISTRATION AND FINANCE
OF EDUCATION

Before 1987, three agencies shared responsibility for the provision of educational services in
Vietnam: the Ministry of Education, the General Department for Vocational Training, and the
Ministry of Higher and Secondary Technical Education. In 1987, the two latter bodies merged to
form the Ministry of Higher, Technical and Vocational Education, and in 1990, a single ministry
— the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) — assumed the responsibility for all
education and training at the national level. The MOET is divided into many separate
departments, of which the most important are those responsible for primary and secondary
education, technical and vocational education, higher education, teacher education and adult
education. In another move to consolidate resources, in April 1998, the Prime Minister decreed
that vocational and technical education would no longer be MOET's responsibility, but rather
under the control of the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA). At the time
of this writing, no information was available regarding how or when this move would occur.
MOET has major responsibility for planning and directing Vietnam's system of education and
training as well as for many aspects of curriculum development and materials production.
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eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
MOET has partial responsibility — shared with the Office of the Government, which is attached
to the Prime Minister's Office with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning and
Investment — for broader decisions of policy formulation, target setting, and sectoral financing.
The management and financing of education and training are becoming more decentralized in
Vietnam. This can be seen from two different perspectives: vertical decentralization and
horizontal decentralization.
Vertical decentralization refers to the functional departments responsible for education and
training in the central government. Although MOET plays a pre-eminent role, many institutions
in Vietnam fall under other line ministries and government agencies (for example art schools
and conservatories are under the Ministry of Culture and Information). The multiplicity of actors
can result in duplication, confusion and waste. Well over two dozen line-ministries and
specialized agencies retain some role in administering public education institutions in Vietnam.
Horizontal decentralization refers to the different levels of government responsible. With respect
to the administration of public financing for education, expenditures of the central government
account for only a relatively small share of the total percent of capital (28 percent of total). A
much larger share (72 percent of budgeted expenditure) is administered by the provinces,
which in turn delegate many responsibilities to districts and communes.
In higher education and vocational/technical education, with the exception of universities, the
role of provincial governments in running educational institutions is at least as large as the role
of the central government. However, the lack of a formal legal management system leads to
extreme dependency on MOET which in turn reduces the ability of each institution to respond to
community needs in the market economy.
One final note is that MOET does not yet have a system of evaluating each institution for
accrediting purposes. At this time, all degrees granted by Vietnamese institutions are officially
approved and signed by MOET. However, as more private institutions develop and more joint-
programs are offered by non-Vietnamese institutions, MOET recognizes the need for and
creation of an accreditation system.
TERTIARY EDUCATION IN VIETNAM TODAY
Higher education in Vietnam is similar to that of the former Soviet Union with a multiplicity of
small mono-disciplinary institutions with limited linkage between teaching and research. The
present structures and procedures have been inherited from the era of central planning when
higher education was segmented by economic sectors with many specialized institutions, each
with little autonomy of its own, reporting to a particular line ministry. Between 1993 and 1995,
total higher education enrollments grew by 117% (from 162,000 to 354,000), while expenditures
grew by 63%. The number of institutions have grown from 120 in the early 1990s to 157 in 1998
despite the consolidation of several public institutions into larger multi-disciplinary institutions
(called national or regional universities).
Higher education programs consist of short-cycle programs of three to three-and-a-half years'
duration, offered mainly by what are referred to as colleges or junior colleges ("cao dang").
About two-thirds of Vietnam's degree granting junior colleges specialize in training teachers for
lower levels of the education system. In addition to short-cycle programs, there are long-cycle
bachelor degree programs offered at universities ("dai hoc") and postgraduate programs at
master and doctoral levels.
The chart below shows the rapid increase in tertiary education enrollments, which has more
than doubled each year, far outstripping the modest increase in primary education and even the
quite rapid increase in secondary school enrollments.
Enrollment trend in Higher Education Relative to Primary and Secondary Education
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eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
There are three broad types of universities in Vietnam¹; two of which are more traditional forms
meaning that they rely on classroom lectures as their principal medium of instruction. The first
of this type are the "specialized universities," each of which focuses on a single area of study,
such as economics, engineering, fine arts, or law. The second of this type are the "multi-
disciplinary universities," including five newly established national and regional universities in
some of Vietnam's largest cities. The third and newest category of university education in
Vietnam is the "open university" system n Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Already by 1995, only
one year after they opened, these accounted for 52,583 students, or approximately one out of
every seven higher education students in Vietnam. (For more information, see Categories of
Higher Education Students).
According to the Ministry of Education and Training, in 1998 there are 157 higher education
institutions, 78 of which offer bachelor degrees and 10 of which are private. This figure includes
some 69 junior colleges, but excludes institutions under the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs. The junior college sector now consists of 45 teachers colleges and 24
technical and vocational and training colleges offering courses in areas such as agriculture,
allied health, fine arts, banking, and policy studies.
Each university is administered by a rector ("hieu truong") who is chosen by faculty members
and serves a 4-year term with a possible extension depending on faculty vote, with no limit to
the number of terms possible. The universities are divided into departments ("khoa"), each of
which is under a department head who is responsible for all administrative and academic
matters within the department. Since 1989, universities have been able to choose their own
rector, the academic staff and students both voting, but the result must be ratified by MOET.
POLICIES FOR FUTURE CHANGE IN HIGHER EDUCATION REFORM
The system in which specialized and professional education was offered in a comparatively
large number of small institutions is changing. Now that Vietnam is no longer operating a
completely centrally planned economy, and graduates are no longer assigned jobs and
guaranteed employment upon graduation, the narrowly focused training provided is no longer
considered appropriate. In order to increase the ability of the system to respond to the demands
of the market economy and to increase the efficiency and quality of the education, the
Government has embarked on reform. Tertiary education policy changes include the following
seven strategies:
Introduction of semi-public and non-public tertiary education (see following section)
Tuition fees and charges for students, coupled with an extensive range of student
scholarships
Encouragement of entrepreneurial activity by institutions to raise additional non-government
revenues
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eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
Reducing the system's segmentation with the consolidation of the responsibility for
pedagogical functions of all institutions under a single authority
Experimentation with a new unified structure of education to promote coherence in course
structures, qualifications and standards (see general education on page 12)
Preliminary testing of a credit system of pedagogical organization
Limited consolidation of a few existing mono-disciplinary institutions into multi-disciplinary
universities (see Multi-Disciplinary Universities)
PRIVATE (NON-PUBLIC) EDUCATION AND TRAINING
The Government's objectives for education and training include increasing educational
coverage and changing educational content so as to prepare workers to perform effectively in
the labor market. A major reform designed to further these objectives is the development of a
"non-public" system of education to parallel the public system.
Vietnam's history of free education and centralized planning made this a politically sensitive
direction in which to move. This may explain the reliance on euphemisms, such as "non-public,"
in most contexts instead of clear reference to "privatization" of education. Nevertheless, these
policy changes introduced over a relatively short period of time will have a profound impact on
the future of Vietnam's education system.
There are three different types of non-public educational institutions as of this writing:
Semi-public ("ban cong"): The facility is owned by the state and managed by a public
authority at the central, provincial, district, or commune level, but all operating costs are
covered by student fees.
People-founded ("dan lap"): People-founded institutions are owned and managed by non-
government organizations or private associations such as trade unions, cooperatives, youth
organizations and women's associations. As with semi-public institutions, there is close to full
cost recovery.
Private ("tu lap"): These are private institutions in the usual sense of the world, owned and
managed by private individuals. Fully private institutions are not allowed in primary and
secondary education, but only in pre-school, vocational/technical schools, and tertiary
education.
MULTI-DISCIPLINARY UNIVERSITIES
In the interests of strengthening the university system and improving and streamlining research
at this level, a fundamental reorganization of the institutional basis of higher education is taking
place. This has involved the consolidation of the relatively large numbers of small, specialized
institutions into several pivotal universities, with the aim of enhancing the links between basic
research and university teaching.
The new universities are of two types — national and regional — and are multi-disciplinary in
character. Two national universities and three regional universities have already been
established. At present, the national universities offer bachelor, master and doctoral programs,
while the regional universities offer bachelor, masters and other college-level programs.
Vietnam National University Hanoi, initially known as the Hanoi National University, was
established in 1993 as an amalgamation of Hanoi University, Hanoi Pedagogic University and
Hanoi University for Teachers of Foreign Languages. These institutions have been reorganized
into five colleges: general education, natural sciences, social sciences and humanities,
pedagogy and foreign languages. The university is in the process of adding seven more
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eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
colleges specializing in law, business, engineering and economics.
Vietnam National University at Ho Chi Minh City, initially known as the Ho Chi Minh City
National University, was founded in 1995 from nine institutions — University of HCMC,
University of Technology, University of Economics, University of Education, Teachers'
Technical Training College, University of Architecture, University of Finance and Accounting,
University of Agriculture and Forestry and the School of Law. The new university is divided
into10 colleges, four research centers and 47 scientific centers.
Da Nang University was established in 1994 from two university-level institutions (Da Nang
University of Technology and the Da Nang University for Teachers of Foreign Languages), one
college (Da Nang Teachers Training College) and the Nguyen Van Troi Secondary Technical
School for Technical Workers. The new university maintains its emphasis in preparing in
technical fields, while Hue University to the north, prepares students in social sciences and
humanities.
Hue University, was also founded in 1994 from the following institutions: the University of Hue
Teachers College, Hue University of Agriculture No. 2, Hue University of Medicine, and Hue
College of Fine Arts. The new university has six colleges including the college of general
education.
Thai Nguyen University was established in 1994 from four university-level institutions (Vietnam
Bac Teachers College, Bac Thai College of Agriculture No. 3, Thai Nguyen College of Industry,
and Bac Thai/Thai Nguyen/Vietnam Bac College of Medicine), and the Bac Thai Secondary
Technical School for Mechanical and Electrical Workers. The new university has five separate
colleges and numerous research centers. The university is responsible for providing education
for students from all provinces in Vietnam north of Hanoi.
ADMISSION TO COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
Admission to universities is a two-part process coordinated through MOET. Students must first
pass the Secondary School Leaving Examination (SSLE) with a score of at least 20 in order to
be permitted to take a university entrance exam. The SSLE consists of comprehensive
achievement tests in four subjects each with a maximum value of ten points, for a total of 40
points possible. In order to graduate, students need to have at least a cumulative average of 20
points. (For more information on scoring, see Grading). In addition, students must be in good
health within clearly stipulated regulations and under 32 years of age or 35 years for women,
those who served in the military or those from ethnic minority groups.
Until 1996, all university entrance exams were centrally administered by MOET. Four different
exams were offered, and students sat for the examination in the subject combination
appropriate to the university faculty, college or institute they wished to enter. The student was
only permitted to sit for one exam for admission to one department of only one university each
year.
Since 1987, the universities and other institutions of higher education have carried out the
selection process. University entrance via examination has always been highly competitive.
Under the former system, only about one in 15 student gained admission. Overall figures are
not readily available for the new system, but enrollment statistics and individual universities
suggest that the situation may have eased as regards actual admission, but some students will
pay fees. Each institution is now permitted to set a minimum score in the Secondary School
Leaving Examination as an eligibility requirement to sit for its entrance examination and eligible
students may sit for more than one entrance exam at more than one university.
Today, the entrance exams are divided into four categories according to the fields of study the
student plans to pursue and the university offering that subject. The categories of exams and
the subjects tested follow:
Group A: tests knowledge of math, physics and chemistry (for students of engineering,
computer science, physics, etc.)
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Group B: tests knowledge of math, chemistry and biology (for students of natural sciences
and business)
Group C: tests knowledge of literature, history and biology (for students of social sciences
and humanities)
Group D: tests knowledge of literature, math and foreign language (for students of foreign
languages, either in education or translation/interpretation tracks)
The results of the entrance exam determine the category of student that they enroll under.
CATEGORIES OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS
Vietnamese higher education programs have been distinguished historically by their flexibility,
particularly as regards professional and technical education. In-service courses, shortened
programs, accelerated courses and upgrading programs have been a feature of the system and
will continue to be as the higher education system is continually forced to provide new
programs to meet the emerging market demands.
Regular full-time students ("sinh vien chinh quy dai han"): Regular students gain university
admission through the examination process outlined above following clearly defined and
selective criteria. They may receive full scholarship, but most pay some fees which usually only
represent a fraction of the actual cost of undergraduate study. Students who complete a regular
program of study receive a graduation diploma or degree endorsed with the words "chinh quy."
Older awards may include the words "dai han" indicating a long-cycle program, normally
undertaken in full-time mode. At this time, only students graduating from regular programs are
eligible for continued post-graduate study in Vietnam, and only in the same field as their
bachelor degree. This group is still the largest of the five higher education groups but has
declined in recent years as a percentage of the total number of individuals attending colleges
and universities.
In-service ("tai chuc"): In-service is another well-established program in Vietnam. In the
current system, in-service students, sometimes referred to as "part-time," undertake an
abbreviated course while employed. For the most part, these students are civil servants
sponsored by their government offices. They are studying to upgrade their skills and to prepare
for more difficult or more responsible positions upon completion of their training programs. Until
recently this was strictly an employer-nomination scheme, but arrangements are now more
flexible as regards courses studied. Courses undertaken in this mode are usually focused on
more practical experience rather than the theoretical or academic. Students who complete a
degree or diploma in this mode also receive a graduate degree, but it is endorsed with the term
"tai chuc."
Open: After 1988-89 a combination of factors, including the abandonment of guaranteed
employment for graduates and the acknowledged need for universities to fund themselves to a
significant extent, led to the establishment of "open" programs at many universities. Students
access to these courses was based on their ability to pay fees, in some cases almost
irrespective of the academic credentials. In general, the curriculum and the teachers were the
same for regular and open students, although the classes themselves were not mixed. Students
who completed the open mode degree received a graduation diploma endorsed with the words
"mo rong." These degrees did not usually have a high status and were not normally accepted
for entry to postgraduate programs.
It was argued that the perceived low quality of the open degrees devalued regular degrees from
the same institution, and that the money received did not compensate for the strain on
resources. Accordingly, MOET decided in 1992 to modify the open system. Open admission is
not restricted to the designated open universities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and to the
junior and community colleges.
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Open Universities offer a range of specialties designed for intellectual enrichment, rather than
professional development. The schools have only been in operation for three to four years, so it
is still too early to be able to assess the quality of education offered.
Part-time: Regular universities will no longer offer open admission programs, but they are
granted the authority to offer part-time programs comparable in requirements and standards to
the regular programs. MOET is encouraging the expansion of enrollment in the part-time
programs and to open even newer college-preparation programs to assist students without the
academic preparation for regular or part-time programs. How diplomas for part-time degree
programs will be marked has not yet been determined.
Short-term Training ("ngan han chuyen tu"): Students who have completed two or three
years of secondary technical education or vocational education training and have a diploma or
certificate can undertake upgrading courses and obtain a degree after three years rather than
the four or five years required by regular students entering directly from upper-secondary
school.
Specialized or Retraining Courses ("boi duong va dao tao lai"): Another group of students
receiving "upgrading" are those who graduated from higher education institutions in the past
and are pursuing training or re-training, often in subjects that were not available previously, in
order to deal more effectively with their current jobs or to prepare themselves for new jobs. For
example, computer programming is a common subject now being studied by people who
graduated from the various engineering and science fields.
UNDERGRADUATE COURSES AND AWARDS
There are two types of undergraduate programs: short-cycle and long-cycle.
Short-cycle programs refer to programs offered at junior or community colleges. The programs
normally require three years of study and lead to the Certificate of Higher Education, Junior
College Diploma or Associate (Bachelor) degree.
Long-cycle programs are offered by universities and require between four and six years to
complete. Upon graduation from a long-cycle program, the Diploma of Higher Education or
University Graduate Diploma and/or Bachelor Degree is conferred. Programs in arts, sciences,
education, economics, and foreign languages usually require four years of study, although
courses involving a major foreign language component in addition to the other major may
require five years. Engineering, agriculture and pharmacy degrees normally take five years,
although some universities are planning to reduce this to five and expand the graduate
programs. Medical and dental programs take six years to complete.
Credit System: A credit system is slowly being introduced around the country to replace the
previous tightly structured subject-based model. In the old system, a class of students entered a
program together and stayed together throughout the entire degree program, following the
same curriculum. In the new credit system, courses will be assigned a credit value and students
must complete a prescribed number of credits before being eligible to graduate. In this system,
each credit represents one hour of theoretical lectures (or two thirds of an hour of practical
work) plus one hour of preparation per week, over a 15-week semester. Four year programs will
normally require a total of 210 credits, five-year programs require 270 credits and six-year
programs require 320 credits. The purpose of implementing a credit system, more in line with
education systems around the world is two-fold: to provide students the flexibility in their studies
to learn more than one main subject and to allow students a way of transferring to other schools
or taking classes at other universities.
Two-phase Education System
General Education: A two-tier degree program has been introduced, whereby the first three
to four semesters of study constitute the general stage, preparing students for more specialized
studies during the second phase. In the first phase, often referred to as general education,
students take general subjects such as a foreign language, physical fitness and military training,
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and political theory, as well as core subjects related to their intended field of study. There are
seven core groupings: social sciences, humanities, foreign languages, business and
management, economics, mathematics and physics, biology, and chemistry.
Completion of the first phase (or the first 90 credits) leads to the award of a Certificate of
University Studies which determines eligibility to take the selection examinations for admission
to phase two, or the specialized education component. At the end of the general education
program, a student's status and scholarship are reviewed. It is also possible for students to
change universities at this stage, but in practice this is restricted due to the nature of the core
studies program.
Specialized Education: During the second phase, students take more specialized studies
in one or two areas. Programs are based on the list of specialties issued by MOET and
comprise about 34 groups and 127 disciplines. This phase concludes with a graduation thesis
or project or with comprehensive exams. Formerly, the thesis option was restricted to the best
students, but now may be considered as a major equivalent of credits. Not all institutions have
adopted the two-phase system, but the universities under complete MOET control have done
so.²
Degree certificates offered upon completion of the full bachelor program include the title "cu
nhan," followed by the area of specialization. Although this regulation is said to apply across all
disciplines, the traditional titles of "engineer," "doctor," "architect," and "pharmacist" are still in
use at the same schools rather than "cu nhan."
GRADUATE COURSES AND AWARDS
Until very recently, postgraduate education remained undeveloped in Vietnam, only available at
major universities, with higher doctorates only awarded by the University of Hanoi. Students
tended to go overseas to further their studies (see Overseas Study for more information). In
addition, research institutes at centers of which there were more than 300 in 1993 normally
conducted research.
Early postgraduate education programs were based on French models, but from the 1960s in
the north and 1976 in the south, Vietnamese postgraduate education followed the Soviet
pattern. With the reduction of study opportunities in the former Eastern bloc countries and the
increased interest in Western economic methods, the development of a more flexible and
streamlined postgraduate system is now in place. This section will only focus on current
postgraduate programs available in Vietnam since 1990.
Master's Degrees are awarded following a two-year program of course work and thesis
defended before external examiners. Entry to the program is by competitive examination. A
student needs to have achieved very good marks at the undergraduate level in order to be
considered for entry into the master's degree program.
Doctoral Degrees are conferred following a minimum of two years course work after the
master's degree and completion of a thesis or project. A student may, however, be invited to
enter into an excellerated master's/doctorate degree program of four year's duration upon
graduation from university. The thesis for the doctoral degree is defended before a national
committee selected by MOET. Candidature is usually restricted to students who hold a master's
degree and who are invited to join the program. However, holders of the undergraduate degree
with outstanding achievement may also be admitted to candidature after passing the
examinations of the so-called "minimum" program in political subjects, a foreign language, and
the relevant academic or professional specialization. The doctoral degree is the highest degree
currently available in Vietnam.
This postgraduate structure applies to all disciplines. However, in some professional areas,
such as medicine, there are two postgraduate streams, one leading to the two higher academic
degrees and the other to higher professional specializations.
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eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
GRADING
Since 1971 (1977 in southern Vietnam) a 10-point grading system has been in use at all levels.
The normal passing level is 5. The following is published by MOET as the official "definition" of
grades, but especially at the tertiary level, this can vary with some institutions assigning 8-9 to
the top 5% of students for example.
Official Definition of Grades
uu/xuat
Excellent/
9-10
About 5% of Students
sac
Outstanding
About 35% of
7-8
kha
Good
Students
About 50% of
5-6
trung binh
Average
Students
Less Than
khong
Fail
About 8% of Students
5
dat
Pass
For Pass/Fail Courses
The grade average usually determines promotion from classes to class and semester to
semester. Sources differ on whether an average grade of 5 is always required. It appears that
in some cases, a score of between 4 and 5 with no 0s may result in a pass.
As well as these subject or course grades at the primary and secondary school levels, general
classifications may also be used to describe achievement in major school examinations such as
the Secondary School Leaving Examination in which four subjects are examined. The
classifications are:
General Classifications
36-
Very Good/
gioi
40
Excellent
28-
kha
Good
27
20-
trung
Average
27
binh
Recent sources also say that another grade is coming into use, "trung binh kha" (fairly good),
presumably for grades between 25 and 30.
A final note is that once accepted to university, most students tend not to concentrate on their
grades as much as they had in secondary school. Their focus is more on passing. The top
students, however, remain competitive as their scholarships are based on maintaining certain
marks.
TUITION FEES, SCHOLARSHIPS AND LOANS FOR STUDENTS
Higher education institutions are permitted to charge fees, subject to government regulations on
fee levels, the categories of students permitted to pay reduced fees or exempted from paying
fees altogether, and the institutions' use of the fees they collect.
Under these measures, institutions have a measure of discretion regarding the level of tuition
fees charged, but they are required to report their revenue to the line ministry or provincial
governments that oversee their operations. Now, fees may also be charged for special services,
such as matriculation, examinations, boarding and graduation. In addition, institutions may
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eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
enter into "training contracts" with employers or provincial authorities to provide in-service
training. The fees charged for these services are not regulated and may be set at full cost-
recovery.
The current policies on fees and fee exemptions do not take family income into account in
determining how much different families or students pay. In higher education, fee levels for
different programs are supposed to reflect priority subject areas, while specific categories of
students, including war invalids, orphans and ethnic minorities, may be granted fee exemptions.
In the interest of equity objectives the government does provide scholarships and has recently
established a student loan scheme, on a pilot basis, to assist students whose families cannot
afford the fees or other private costs of public education.
OVERSEAS STUDY OPPORTUNITIES
Although most of Vietnam's universities, and in fact its modern education system, is new, one
way the government made post-graduate education available was through overseas study
opportunities. Most political, economic and social leaders today are products of international
education, and this will continue to hold true as the government continues to place high priority
on sending its brightest students abroad.
In 1951, Vietnam sent its first group of students abroad to the Soviet Union and then after that
to other former socialist countries. The former socialist countries helped train over 30,000
undergraduates, 13,500 postgraduates, 25,000 technicians and thousands of other scientists.
In 1989, with the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, Vietnamese students were sent
home from all of these countries. Until recently there have been very few opportunities for
Vietnamese students to study abroad, leaving about a 10-year gap between those who returned
with advance degrees from the former communist countries and those with the opportunity to
study abroad today.
Today, there are very few full scholarships available to study overseas. Each year, there are
about 10 Canadian government scholarships, 70 scholarships to study in the UK, 200 for
France, 150 for Australia, Thailand offers 70 short-term scholarships and 10 long-term
scholarships, the Japanese government offers about 60 scholarships and the US has about 30
Fulbright Fellowships available for master degree students only. In addition, about twice this
number of full-scholarships are made available to Vietnamese students directly from
universities, foundations or corporations.
Another estimated 5000 students are studying abroad each year on institutional scholarships or
through their own finances. About one half are studying in the US and the general feeling
among those that are studying in other countries is that they would have preferred to invest in a
US education, but for the cost
VIETNAMESE STUDENTS IN THE UNITED STATES
The information in this summary was obtained from the 1995/96 Country Locator Report
provided by the Institute of International Education through a grant from USIA, E/ASA. These
reports are based on data collected from an annual survey of universities for the publication
Open Doors. Not all universities responded to the survey, nor do all universities which do
respond, provide a breakdown by nationality or by level of study. Particular universities are
missing from the report even through there are Vietnamese students currently studying there.
The following information was extracted from Vietnam's 1995/96 Country Locator Report:
The 790 (the extrapolated number is 922) Vietnamese students studying in the US are
enrolled in over 216 different universities. The University of Central Florida with 92 (12%) has
the largest number of Vietnamese students of any college or university in the US.
Vietnam ranks 66th of all countries with international students in the US.
Forty-five percent of Vietnamese study in the top twenty most popular universities. The
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eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
average number of students per university is four.
Florida is the most popular state with Vietnamese students, attracting 96 (12%). States
following in order to popularity with Vietnamese are California (87); Maryland 78 or 10%); Texas
(73 or 9%); and New York (33 or 4%). Forty-seven percent of the Vietnamese students enrolled
in US institutions are concentrated in these five states.
Fifty-five percent of all Vietnamese are studying at the undergraduate level. Eighteen
percent are enrolled in graduate programs while 11% are listed as non-degree or ESL students.
Number of Vietnamese Students Studying in the US by Year
One final note is that as more information about the US education system becomes available to
interested students in Vietnam, and as more students return from their studies at American
institutions, the numbers of people in Vietnam applying to American colleges and universities
will greatly increase. The interest throughout Vietnam is already very great, and two of the
largest hurdles from the Vietnamese side have recently been removed. The process of
obtaining a passport to go abroad has eased and obtaining an exit visa from Vietnam is no
longer required. The difficulties that remain are from the US side: 1) access to free, up-to-date,
and unbiased information; and 2) meeting the consular requirements to obtain a student visa.
The Institute of International Education in Vietnam is dedicated to providing free student
advising throughout the country and will continue to offer and expand its full-cycle services for
students planning to study in the US. It is our hope that as students have more access to
information, they will be better able to select appropriate programs, and meet the admission
and visa requirements. The Vietnam office will also continue to provide a full range of services
to American institutions interested in learning more about Vietnam, the education system and
its students.
Footnotes
¹ Universities and colleges in Vietnam are known by a number of English terms, including
university, colleges, institute and polytechnic; even "school" is sometimes used. However, in
Vietnamese, the institutional title includes the words "dai hoc" meaning that the institution offers
a four-year degree program or higher. Non-university-level tertiary institutions use the words
"cao dang" meaning they offer associate-type degrees only. Today, most educators in Vietnam
use the English term junior college or community college in indicate the "cao dang" institutions
² MOET is currently considering whether to phase out the separate general education college at
each university in favor of allowing universities to assign part of a teacher's time to teaching
general education courses along with their other specialized course assignments.
E-mail your comments to the editor The eWENR staff welcomes your feedback regarding this article or the
newsletter in general.
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eWENR, May/June 2000: The Higher Education System in Vietnam
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OF
CONTENTS

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