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New government decree tightens regulations on foreign-based educational institutions in Vietnam

As reported on ICEF Monitor earlier this year, the government of Vietnam has been tightening regulations on foreign-linked educational institutions and cross-border programmes. Recently, a new decree, officially called 73/2012/ND-CP but often referred to as Decree 73, was approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and comes into force this week on 15 November 2012.

Decree 73 regulates the cooperation and investment of foreign participants in education, training, and vocational training, and covers educational institutions working with a full spectrum of students – from early childhood to university level. Foreign linked educational institutions had not been previously allowed to offer classes to Vietnamese primary and secondary students. This is now legal, but under strict guidelines, as reported by The Saigon Times.

In the higher education sector, a Vietnamese commitment to the World Trade Organization now permits the development of wholly foreign-invested higher education institutions in natural sciences, technology, business administration, economics, accounting, international law, and linguistics, but again, under certain guidelines.

ICEF Monitor takes you through the new regulations, as well as other ongoing initiatives to strengthen Vietnam’s educational sector.

Some specifics of the new regulations

Decree 73 covers everything from naming requirements, to procedures and authority, to approval of curriculum, to the square meterage allotted to students in classrooms, but University World News and Voice of Vietnam outline some of the more important provisions as follows:

  • Foreign investors in nursery school projects must invest VND 30 million per student, exclusive of land use fees.
  • For secondary education, the compulsory expenditure is VND 50 million a student, and total investment capital must be at least VND 50 billion.
  • Investors in short-term training centers, vocational schools and professional education facilities must invest respectively VDN 20 million, VDN 60 million, and VDN 100 million per student.
  • Foreign higher education institutions should have an initial investment in Vietnam amounting to at least VDN 300 billion (US $15 million) and a minimum cost per student of VDN 150 million (US $7,500).
  • Teacher-to-student ratios in science, engineering, and technology (i.e. STEM studies) should not be higher than 1:15, while the ratios in social sciences, humanities, economics and business should be 1:25 or better.
  • Student English proficiency must be equivalent to a minimum B1 level in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. (In the past, limited English proficiency of local students led to dual lecturers for courses, with a foreign lecturer, and a local tutor in charge of translation or interpretation. To help improve English proficiency this will not be allowed under Decree 73.)
  • The quality of foreign-linked programmes must be verified by quality assurance agencies overseas.
  • The content of foreign affiliation programmes that are five years in length must include material developed by Vietnamese institutions.
  • Foreign-invested kindergartens with foreign programmes are only for foreign children. Vietnamese children under five years of age are banned from foreign educational programmes.
  • Foreign-invested schools, which contain foreign educational programmes and issue foreign licenses, at primary and secondary levels are allowed to recruit Vietnamese students, but no more than 10% of the total number of students; at high schools this maximum is 20%.

The roots of Decree 73

Decree 73 is part of a broad effort by the Vietnamese government to stop the unregulated proliferation of foreign-linked educational institutions, to ensure that foreign investors have a strong financial capacity to invest in the nation’s educational sector, and to raise standards in the sector. This last is perhaps the most important goal, since foreign-linked programmes, particularly at the higher education level, had been criticised as substandard by academics and the public.

The sweeping changes of the Decree have arisen close on the heels of multiple rules violations by foreign-invested Vietnamese institutions. According to a recent report by the Government Inspectorate, nearly 120 education affiliation programmes with 94 foreign partners at 18 domestic universities were offering courses that violated content rules related to courses and quality of foreign institutions.

For example, the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET)’s inspection agency fined eight institutions for enrolling students without possessing a license, and asked Ho Chi Minh City authorities to revoke the licenses of four schools offering courses illegally affiliated with foreign education institutions.

The effort also dovetails with moves in Asian countries such as India, Singapore, and China to crack down on fraud after a number of scandals relating to bogus degrees, misleading institutional advertising, and even entirely fake colleges (see the ICEF Monitor article titled “Governments crack down on fraud, industry continues to strengthen standards“).

Unfortunately, students enrolled in the Vietnamese programmes that lost their licenses had the certifications they had acquired invalidated. According to Pham Ngoc Truc, Deputy Chief Inspector at MoET, the students’ tuition was refunded, however the time and energy they spent on studies has been lost. But in the end, one of the many aims of Decree 73 is to protect Vietnamese students.

Because over 60% of the country’s population is under 30, young Vietnamese see international education credentials as the key to acquiring high-paying jobs. Many of them cannot afford to study abroad, which often results in them enrolling in locally based foreign-affiliated colleges. The new changes will help ensure that their hard work is rewarded with an internationally recognised credential. For more background on the recent efforts to tighten standards, please see our article “Continued crackdowns on foreign-linked institutions in Vietnam.”

Other educational initiatives in Vietnam

The Vietnamese government sees language training as a key to improving employment prospects. To that end, a national programme on foreign language teaching, launched in June 2011, aims to get more children into language classes. Part of that plan is to gradually increase the level of English language learning so that 70% of third graders and 40% of six graders are enrolled in classes by 2015.

The government also recently announced that it would provide VDN 15 trillion (US $730 million) in an effort to improve general education and training under the National Target Program. The programme consists of three projects. The first seeks to make education compulsory at all levels, the second will make additional reforms within the education sector, and the third project aims to increase educational access to disadvantaged children.

On yet another front, the business sector is joining in the effort: the Asian Development Bank (ADB) plans to provide US $90 million to help Vietnam strengthen teaching skills and courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and social sciences. The initiative, entitled the Second Upper Secondary Education Development Project, will focus on improving teaching by introducing international standards, new training methods, and providing new training and teaching materials.

The ADB will also introduce targeted assistance for ethnic minority students, and will create opportunities for teachers to receive training abroad. The project will run for about seven years, with an expected completion date of December 2019.

Vietnam has also expanded its vocational training network and increased the scale of training. The number of people taking vocational training courses is at 32%, and the government plans to have 190 vocational training centres, including 26 of national standard, operating by 2015. It also expects to have 51,000 qualified vocational trainers, as well as 23.5 million workers by 2015 and 34.4 million by 2020.

In the long term, Vietnamese authorities hope these sweeping changes will prepare the population to compete in the globalised economy. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations expects the Vietnamese labour market to be opened from 2015 to foreign labourers in Vietnam. Preparing the local labour force to be competitive in the market is of the utmost importance to prevent Vietnamese from becoming second tier labourers in their own country.

Ultimately, the elevation in standards brought about by Decree 73 should have a profound effect on the entire Vietnamese educational sector, and consequently on the lives of Vietnamese citizens.

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