“Corruption in Education Creates Serious Consequences for the Poor”

This the title is a wide-ranging interview that I did last month with a reporter from Báo Giáo dục Việt Nam (Vietnam Education News).  This education news website ranks 8,829 in the world, 51 in Vietnam and is linked in 2,093 websites (as of 20.10.12).  As you can see from some original English language excerpts below, corruption in education is just one of a number of points that I touched on.  Vietnamese title:  Tham nhũng trong giáo dục gây hậu quả nghiêm trọng với người nghèo.


Dr. Mark Ashwill is Managing Director of Capstone Vietnam, a human resource development company based in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. From 2005-2009, he was country director of the Institute of International Education (IIE) in Vietnam.  In areas related to “Disappointments and Expectations in Education in Vietnam,” Dr. Ashwill shared a lot of valuable experiences about how the Vietnamese education system can integrate with the world’s most advanced education systems.

1.  Dr. Ashwill, who has lived in Vietnam for a long time and knows a lot about education in Vietnam, and is currently working on the development of human resources as well as serving as a bridge to America for many young people, commented on the advantages and disadvantages of education in Vietnam.

Some of the advantages include the cultural value that people place on education, the amount of money and time that parents invest in their children’s education, and the strong work ethic and desire on the part of most young people to fulfill their potential through education and related activities.

Some disadvantages include underpaid and overworked teachers and professors, substandard facilities, including libraries, an outdated university entrance exam and the rapid privatization of higher education that has, in many cases, been high profit but low quality in nature.

2.According to you, what does Vietnam need to do to break out of the current situation? 

Vietnam needs to continue targeting high-priority areas, including paying K-12 teachers and professors a decent wage. In a recent survey conducted by the Vietnam Institute of Educational Sciences (VIES), 526 primary, secondary and high school teachers from 27 schools in five provinces were asked this simple question: Would you still choose to work as a teacher, if you could make the decision again? Sadly but not surprisingly, 40.9% of primary, 59% of secondary and 52.4% of high school teachers said “no.” In order to recruit outstanding teachers to educate and train young people and prepare them for a rapidly changing society and world of work, salaries, benefits, and working conditions need to be attractive and competitive.

Another issue, one to which the media have devoted a lot of ink and megabytes, is corruption in education. As your readers know, the list of examples of corruption in education is a long one. A Transparency International report published several years ago entitled Stealing the Future: Corruption in Education, listed six (6) damaging effects of corruption in education. In my opinion, these three are the most corrosive:

1. If children come to believe that personal effort and merit do not count and that success comes through manipulation, favoritism, and bribery, then the very foundations of society are shaken.

2. Corruption in education affects more people than corruption in others sectors, both in rural and urban areas.

3. Its consequences are particularly harsh for the poor who, without access to education or with no alternative but low-quality education, have little chance to escape a life of poverty.

Without a workable system of accountability (i.e,. checks and balances), this trend is likely to continue indefinitely. Vietnam’s growth will be stunted if this corruption is not addressed on a systematic basis.

3. According to you, what are the conditions for successful education reform in Vietnam?

Some problems can be solved with additional money (e.g., teacher salaries, infrastructure improvement, etc.), while others can be addressed with policy changes and effective implementation. Given how much value Vietnamese place on education and the fact that these reforms have to be carried out by the government, it becomes a question of political will, commitment and follow-through. 

4.In the 2010/11 academic year, 14,888 students from Vietnam were studying in the United States (up 14% from the previous year). Vietnam is the eighth leading place of origin for students going to the United States.  Do you know why US education system is so attractive to Vietnamese students? 

When you look at the top ten countries sending their young people to study in the U.S., Vietnam really stands out. It ranks 8th in the number of students it has studying at American high schools, colleges and universities but 43rd in GDP. (The closest country is Saudi Arabia at 24th.) What this means is that Vietnamese are investing extraordinary sums of money in overseas education in proportion to GDP. Last year, there were over 100,000 Vietnamese studying abroad, according to the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), 90% of whom were self-financing.

Why the US? Because of the well-deserved reputation of its higher education system for quality, choice, flexibility and diversity. It really is unique in the numbers of institutions from which students have to choose, the options are their disposal (e.g., 60% of all Vietnamese in the U.S. begin their studies at a community college before transferring to a four-year school to complete their bachelor’s degree). Vietnamese and other international students can even join high school completion programs that enable them to earn a high school diploma and associate’s degree (the first two years of undergraduate education) at community colleges, mostly in Washington state.

While US higher education is very expensive, there are ways to lower the cost, including attending public and private institutions that offer scholarships and financial aid, and attending a community college for the first two years.

5. What should Vietnamese education do to intergate with other educational systems?  

I think Vietnam is doing exactly what it should be doing:

  • Actively learning about other education systems in the tradition of comparative education and seeing what it can adapt and use at home and what is not relevant and applicable. A point I’ve made repeatedly over the years in my discussions with Vietnamese, Americans and others is that foreign countries are negative and positive role models, sources of inspiration, as well as cautionary tales.
  • Focusing on the all-important issue of learner protection to make sure that only accredited foreign educational institutions are permitted to partner with Vietnamese universities and operate in Vietnam. (Unfortunately, most of the unaccredited institutions of higher education that have entered the market here are based in the U.S.)
  • Reaching out to officially accredited foreign educational partners to develop mutually beneficial relationships that involve teaching, research, university-industry cooperation and service.

2 thoughts on ““Corruption in Education Creates Serious Consequences for the Poor”

  1. I agree with the very last point, i.e. Vietnamese universities should actively reach out to credited foreign partners. RMIT Vietnam, the university I went to, is trying to set up a research institute within its existing structure and one of the problems is that it’s hard to get competent research collaborators. The paradox is Vietnamese research entities have a lot of local insights, but have yet to open themselves up to work with international players.

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