How to move forward in the post-COVID-19 pandemic context is a question that the higher education sectors in many countries including Vietnam need to answer. Below are three important trends that I believe Vietnamese higher education should take into consideration for both short- and long-term development plans.
Digital transformation of education has been widely introduced and strengthened during COVID-19 and needs to be sustained because this is a trend we can expect to continue. In fact, the pandemic was a spur to awakening Vietnam to recognise its existing resources and potentials. Vietnam has many advantages that can benefit the further digitalisation of education, of which the two most important ones are: its young population who can catch up with technologies quickly, and cheap and widely used technological services, especially the internet and mobile phone — an important asset that many more advanced countries do not have. However, the Vietnamese higher education system is one of the least digitalised, especially public universities. Fostering a technology-based education system will help the country build a workforce that is highly skilled and technologically literate to serve its economy, especially the knowledge-based one that Vietnam is targeting to develop. Besides, today’s internationalisation and globalisation are increasingly characterised by “reverse mobility” — a phenomenon in which an increasing number of Western countries and their students become interested in and seek opportunities to come to non-Western countries. For example, Australia and the UK have supported their students in sourcing opportunities for study and work abroad, through policies and other activities. The Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan has enabled many of its students to undertake work placements and internships in the Indo-Pacific region. Similarly, between 2008 and 2011, there was a 27% rise in the number of British students moving overseas (mostly to Asian countries) for job opportunities.1 When education is more digitalised, it will create easy access to a larger number of students who have an interest in learning about Vietnam. As such, opportunities to sell its education and culture will become more possible.
2 Australian Government, “2017 Foreign Policy White Paper” (Canberra: DFAT, 2017), 113.
Be Selective With “Borrowed” Values and Practices
In my co-authored article in HESB 8 we discussed a range of educational and cultural values that Vietnam should maintain and use as its strengths.2 In this article, I discuss how Vietnam should prepare its workforce after the pandemic as another example to be added to this argument. Since 1986, one of the biggest reforms in Vietnamese higher education is the implementation of a market-based education model, which strongly emphasises the need to train skilled workers. Consequently, higher education has been expanded rapidly and increasingly under pressures of fostering the preparation of students’ work-readiness. To respond, an increasing number of higher education institutions have shown their enthusiasm towards the employability skills agenda — a strategy prioritising the embedding of a range of professional skills (or soft skills) in teaching and learning programmes initiated in Europe around the mid-1990s.
Undoubtedly, this initiative would help enhance graduates’ practical knowledge and skills — a longstanding issue in Vietnamese education — and to some extent respond to employers’ concern about deficit communication, problem-solving and creative skills and insufficient work experience of fresh graduates.
However, the employability skills agenda has, in fact, been criticised by those who have used it because possessing a list of skills does not prepare students for post-study career life. Extensive evidence has showed that it is more about how individuals use their knowledge, skills, attitudes and resources to win job opportunities and maintain employment, and not simply possess a list of skills. In our studies, we consistently found graduates needed to build social connections to facilitate their market entrance, understand working culture to navigate barriers, nurture resilience to overcome difficulties and pressures, and develop positive personal qualities to establish fruitful collaborations.3 Many of these qualities are actually rooted in Asian educational values, especially Confucian values that highlight respect, community, diligence and persistence. In advanced countries where the employability agenda was born, more and more research has now argued for the incorporation of these Confucian values in higher education programmes so that graduates can be equipped with a more-rounded package of a range of expertise knowledge, practical skills and positive personal qualities. As such, borrowed practices in Asian education have been widely discussed as to their pros and cons. Here I would like to emphasise that preparing students for the future workforce is another scenario in which Vietnamese higher education should carefully consider what and how to adopt foreign practices so that it does not lose values that are, in fact, its strengths.
Actively Reach Out to the World
Globalisation and internationalisation have become unavoidable phenomena in an increasing number of countries, including Vietnam. The fundamental meaning of internationalisation is exchanging or two-way trading of cultural values and practices. However, the dominance and popularity of Western culture and practices in many socio-economic aspects of our lives have made people often misperceive it as the opportunity for the West to disseminate sharings and the chance for the non-West to learn. This perception is being challenged by today’s mobility trends. As discussed above, “reverse mobility” might still be a new concept but it has happened and will be strengthened in coming years, especially after the pandemic. This is because European countries are facing one of the biggest economic recessions in history and Vietnam has become one of very few countries that have gradually recovered and could still develop economically based on its own resources and traditional cultural values. This means the country is building a very good image on the global map in terms of both economy and education. Therefore, this is the right time for the country and its higher education to not simply learn from, but reach out to other countries. Some suggestions for this scenario to happen are:
- Making better use of foreign-trained human resources who have English competency, advanced technological skills and updated knowledge in management and business;
- Investing more in marketing educational programmes and practices, especially unique ones;
- Developing better collaborations between industries and education so that graduates having a Vietnamese education could obtain better employment opportunities — a strategy that Japan has been using to boost its international student enrolments.
Thanh Pham is Senior Lecturer in Education at Monash University, Australia.
- Thanh Pham and Denise Jackson, “The need to develop graduate employability for a globalised world,” in Developing and Utilizing Employability Capitals: Graduates’ Strategies Across Labour Markets, eds. Tran Le Huu Nghia, Thanh Pham et al. (London: Routledge, 2020), 21–40.
Thanh Pham and Huong Nguyen, “COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities for Vietnamese Higher Education”, HESB 8, June 9, 2020, https://headfoundation.org/HESB8/covid-19-Challenges-and-Opportunities-for-Vietnamese-Higher-Education.
Thanh Pham and Denise Jackson, “Employability and Determinants of Employment outcomes”, in Developing and Utilizing Employability Capitals: Graduates’ Strategies Across Labour Markets, eds. Tran Le Huu Nghia, Thanh Pham et al. (London: Routledge, 2020), 237–255.