As in other Asian societies influenced by Confucianism, Vietnam places a premium on education. The Temple of Literature in Hanoi, built in 1070 in honor of Confucius, is the site of Vietnam's first university. Under Confucianism, education was
the gateway to the ruling class of generalist-administrators known as mandarins. During the French occupation, education was a prerequisite for employment in the colonial civil service.
After Vietnam declared independence from France in 1945, one of the first actions of the government was to carry out a campaign that ultimately resulted in a literacy rate of 93%, an astounding feat in the midst of war, poverty and social dislocation. Today,
education is one of the top priorities of the government and, with Vietnam’s recent accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and an economic growth rate rivaling that of China (8.4% in 2005), public participation in educational policy
discussion is prevalent in the media.
In spite of its achievements and positive trends, education in Vietnam suffers from a number of fundamental weaknesses. These include a lack of quality control, insufficient resources, low salaries, an emphasis on theory over practice, the prevalence
of rote-learning, teacher-centered classrooms, curricula and materials that are often outdated, the "extra study industry," the separation of teaching from research, and petty corruption related to one or more of these issues. The consensus among
employers, Vietnamese and foreign alike, is that most Vietnamese university graduates are unprepared for a knowledge-based economy and require additional training and retraining after they are hired. There is also an acute shortage of skilled
workers in Vietnam and for export to other countries in the region.
Established in 1990, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) is responsible for all education and training at the national level. MOET is divided into many departments, the most important of which are those responsible for primary and secondary
education, higher education, teacher education and adult education.
During the 2004 — 2005 school year, there were 17,246,299 students attending primary and secondary schools. Demand for higher education is strong, and as the government has acknowledged, the current system is unable to meet it. At the
postsecondary level there were a total of 1,786,295 students, including 273,500 enrolled in three-year colleges, 1,046,291 in universities, and 466,504 in vocational training centers. The government forecasts that the percentage of university
students will increase 5% per year until 2011 and then 4% until 2015. Vietnam spends about 17% of its GDP on education.
In order to gain admission to a university, students must pass the university entrance examination, which tests in six subjects, including math, literature, foreign language, and three other subjects. Students must then take one of the eleven groupings
of university admission examinations:
- Group A - tests knowledge of math, physics and chemistry (for students of engineering, computer science, physics, Chemistry, Economics, Finance and Banking, and Math)
- Group B - tests knowledge of math, chemistry and biology (for students of medicine, environment studies, food sciences, and biology)
- Group C - tests knowledge of literature, history and geography (for students of social sciences and humanities)
- Group D - tests knowledge of literature, math and foreign language (for students of foreign trade, and foreign languages)
- Language options include: English, Russian, French and Chinese
In 2006, nearly 1.7 million students applied to take the university entrance examination in order to study at one of Vietnam's higher education institutions. These include multidisciplinary national and regional universities and various types of
private institutions. In an attempt to meet the demand, the latter are gaining in popularity and official support.
In November 2006, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) announced that the Prime Minister had agreed in principle with the establishment of 20 new universities, five public and 15 private.
At the same time, an additional 10 universities (4 of which are private), were in the process of seeking approval from the Prime Minister’s office. According to the MOET, 23 private universities enroll 119,464 students, or 11.7% of all students
in postsecondary education. In early December 2006, the government encouraged the establishment of more private universities that would enroll 30-40% of students by 2020.
Finally, based on the December 2006 entrance examination results, 500 students were accepted to FTP University,* a new institution focusing on software engineering. FPT is Vietnam’s leading telecom corporation. They are committed to offering
jobs to all graduates of FPT University. The FTP admission cut-off scores were set at a higher level than the common university entrance exam, which is given every July.
Types of Students
Vietnamese students enroll in one of the following categories:
Full-time: admitted through the examination process and granted the “chinh quy” degree. About 20% of the students receive scholarships ranging from 30%-50% tuition reduction to 100% tuition waiver plus small stipend; others
pay full tuition.
Open: students who pay full tuition for the same teachers and coursework as the full-time students but receive the “mo rong” (open) degree. To date, this degree does not enjoy as high a status as the “chinh guy”
(full-time) degree because the admission exam and entrance requirements for “mo rong” students are less rigorous than for “chinh qui” students.
Part-time: Students seeking admission to a part-time program must have a baccalaureate.
In service: students undertaking abbreviated course while employed and receive the degree “tai chuc”.
Specialized or re-training: students returning to university to upgrade their skills in the particular areas they may have previously studied (“chuyen tu”).
Short-term training students taking short courses to enhance their knowledge and skills.(“ngan han, or ham thu”).
Types of Programs
Short Cycle (Cao đẳng): three-year programs at junior or community colleges which lead to the Certificate of Higher Education, Junior College Diploma or Associate degree.
Long Cycle (Đại học): approximately four to six year programs offered at universities. A Bachelor degree is granted.
Master’s Degree: A two-year program of course work and thesis. Entrance examinations are competitive.
Doctoral Degree: Minimum program length is two years for those who have obtained master's degrees. Completion of a thesis or project is required. Students may sometimes be able to pursue an accelerated program right after obtaining
a bachelor’s degree.