Workshop on Higher Education Admission Reform in Vietnam

On Saturday, 27 September, I participated in a workshop on the reform of Vietnam’s higher education admission system hosted by Vietnam National University-Hanoi.  The workshop, which was led by VNU-Hanoi President Phùng Xuân Nhạ and Vice President Nguyễn Kim Sơn, received extensive print and electronic media coverage.  For those of you who read Vietnamese, here is a sampling of articles:

Nhiều trường ĐH sẵn sàng tham gia phương án đổi mới TS của ĐHQGHN (VNU-Hanoi)

Hội thảo về đổi mới tuyển sinh đại học, sau đại học theo hướng đánh giá năng lực (Quân đội nhân dân)

Nhiều trường “tốp trên” sẽ thực hiện phương án thi đánh giá năng lực (Dân trí)

Các chuyên gia nói gì về phương án thi đại học 2015 của ĐHQG Hà Nội?  (Infonet)

Đổi mới tuyển sinh ĐH theo hướng đánh giá năng lực (Pháp Luật thành phố Hồ Chí Minh)

GS Bành Tiến Long và TS Mark (thứ nhất và thứ 2 từ phải sang) đánh giá cao phương án đổi mới thi bằng bài thi đánh giá năng lực của ĐHQG Hà Nội. Ảnh: Bùi Tuấn. (Source:
GS Bành Tiến Long và TS Mark (thứ nhất và thứ 2 từ phải sang) đánh giá cao phương án đổi mới thi bằng bài thi đánh giá năng lực của ĐHQG Hà Nội. Ảnh: Bùi Tuấn. (Source:

  (Ảnh) Một số hình ảnh Hội thảo “Đổi mới tuyển sinh đại học, sau đại học theo hướng đánh giá năng lực: thực tiễn triển khai thí điểm ở ĐHQHN” (Photos from VNU-Hanoi)



Vietnam Education Dialogue: Higher Education Reforms

cg hcmcOn July 31st and August 1st, US Consul General, Rena Bitter, hosted a conference on Vietnamese higher education.  The star-studded list of guests included Dr. Ngo Bao Chau, the first Vietnamese to receive the prestigious Fields Medal, known as the Nobel Prize of Mathematics, Dr. Nguyen Quan, Minister of Science and Technology, and Professor Bui Van Ga, Vice Minister, Ministry of Education and Training.   About 150 people attended the conference.  You can find the agenda here, along with a number of presentations in the form of PDF downloads.

The 1.5 day conference, entitled “Vietnam Education Dialogue: Higher Education Reforms” and organized by the Education Dialogue Group and Dr. Chau, “brought together senior government officials, educators, college and university representatives, and businesspeople to discuss strategies and recommend reforms to Vietnam’s higher education system,” according to a US Consulate General press release.  “The Vietnam Education Dialogue is part of the U.S. government’s commitment to this joint goal, based on enhancing educational, cultural, and people-to-people ties between the United States and Vietnam,” the statement added.

My two cents:

  • Soft Power:  Given the fact that education looms large in the US government’s exercise of soft power in Vietnam and other countries, I view these events primarily as political exercises, something to write about and showcase in a press release, media report, and post-conference diplomatic cable.   They are part of an ongoing charm offensive that began in earnest during “Education Ambassador” Michael Michalak’s tenure. 
  • Impact:  I wonder about the impact of these types of events, short- or long-term.  Aside from the fleeting PR value, you can’t claim that they’re networking opportunities on this scale – in contrast to the annual education conferences of AMB Michalak.
  • Authority:  A couple of sources told me that while the academic presenters who hold positions overseas may be experts in their fields, they wonder A) how up-to-date all of these experts are vis-à-vis Vietnamese higher education; and B) why they think that what works in another country will work in Vietnam.
  • More Inclusive?  I know this is asking a lot of what is essentially a very conservative entity with its own narrow agenda but… why not expand the circle and include other voices?  This is about dialogue, after all.


2014 VietAbroader Summer Study Abroad Conferences

Below is a note I sent to US higher education colleagues about the summer VietAbroader Study Abroad Conferences.


vac 2014

I’m pleased to announce that the 2014 VietAbroader Conferences – Passing of the Torch will be held on Saturday, July 19th in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and Sunday, July 20th in Hanoi.  Follow this link to download both sponsorship documentsBenefits Information for Institutional Sponsors and the conference proposal.  You can register here to become an institutional sponsor.

Although the registration deadline is May 9th, the Diamond, Platinum, and Gold sponsorship levels tend to fill up quickly, so if you’re interested in becoming a sponsor, register ASAP.  Thank you for giving some thought to sponsoring this unique, high-profile event.

The conferences include morning seminars that provide pre-screened attendees and their parents with information about U.S. education and fairs in the afternoon that are free and open to the public, where students and parents can meet face-to-face with students, alumni and official representatives of more than 80 top U.S. schools.  Here is the tentative agenda:

08:40-09:20 Opening Ceremony & Keynote Speech
09:25-09:40 Overview of U.S.Education
09:45-10:00 Mini Talk Show on College Life
10:05-10:45 Scholarship Opportunities and School Selection
11:20-11:35 Q & A
11:40-12:10 Standardized Examinations
12:15-13:00 High School Admission & Scholarship Opportunities
13:00-14:00 Lunch Break & Networking
14:00-17:00 College Fair Featuring Representatives from 80 U.S. Institutions
Community College Admission
17:00-18:00 Networking

What is VietAbroader (VA)? 

VA picVA is Vietnam’s premier student-run nonprofit, which provides students with information and guidance to encourage them to study abroad, primarily in the United States.  The VA Study Abroad Conference (VAC), the organization’s flagship program, was launched in 2005.  I had the honor of speaking at the first Hanoi conference.  It is also my honor to serve as one of two VietAbroader advisers, a position I have held since the organization’s founding 10 years ago.  When I joined the VA forum in 2004, the year of its founding and before it evolved into a full-fledged student organization, there only a few hundred members.  There are now over 80,000.

Every year, I help VA’s leadership reach out to potential institutional sponsors.  Why should U.S. colleges and universities that welcome Vietnamese students to their campuses consider becoming a VAC sponsor?  Because it’s one of the hottest and most widely publicized events of its kind, and will help you brand and market your school to a very targeted audience.


Creating and Maintaining Productive and Effective Partnerships

ccid logo

This was my first presentation in absentia.  I was scheduled to present at the 2014 CCID Conference in late February about Creating and Maintaining Productive and Effective Partnerships for community colleges, along with my distinguished colleagues, but wasn’t able to attend.  Below is the abstract and list of presenters.  Follow this link to download a PDF version (2.4MB) of the PowerPoint presentation.  Thanks to my friend and colleague, Judy Irwin, for representing me.



Partnering with reputable international educational consulting companies is an effective way to boost international recruitment, develop new partnerships (faculty/student exchange, in-country training, articulation programs), and safeguard the interests of higher education institutions and their international students.  This session describes different ways of screening and evaluating prospective partners.  Panelists include representatives from an organization promoting professional recruitment standards and ethical principles; a community college working with agents and a leader in best practices; and a full-service educational consulting company working with both institutional ( U.S. colleges and universities) and individual clients (students and parents).


Judy Irwin, AIRC (American International Recruitment Council), Session Chair
Ross Jennings, Green River Community College
Mark Ashwill, Capstone Vietnam

2014 VSN International Conference “What Is A Good University?”

conf2I was recently invited to speak at a conference in Hanoi organized by the Vietnam Scholar Network (VSN), the Vietnam Centre for Economic and Policy Research (VEPR) and the University of Education, and sponsored by the British Embassy Hanoi.  The conference, which was kicked off with remarks from Prof. Dr. Nguyen Huu Duc, Vice President, Vietnam National University(VNU)-Hanoi, Dr. Nguyen Duc Thanh, Executive Director, Vietnam Scholar Network, Dr. Antony Stokes, British Ambassador to Vietnam and Assoc. Prof. Le Kim Long, Principal, University of Education, VNU-Hanoi, included Vietnamese and foreign scholars and practitioners.  The themes were:

  • Rethinking Universities
  • Universities in a Changing World
  • University Research and Teaching
  • Drivers for Innovations in Universities

My talk, entitled Higher Education Admission Reform in Vietnam:  The Next Generation, focused on the pressing need to reform a system that no longer meets the needs of Vietnam’s rapidly expanding higher education system and developing society.  It included a brief look at the redesigned SAT and U.S. higher education admission as a negative and positive role model.

Now & Then

Vietnam’s is undergoing a transition from an elite to a mass higher education system.  In 1987, there were only 101 colleges and universities; there are now 419.  The number of students jumped from 133,000 students in 1987 to over 2 million in 2013.

So what is a “good university” as it relates to admission?  One that…

  • is able to accommodate and channel demand for higher education (this includes postsecondary vocational programs)
  • selects students whose qualifications meet or exceed admission requirements and academic standards
  • admits students who will succeed

The Time for Reform – on Many Fronts – is Now

With a median age of 29.2 Vietnam is currently enjoying a “demographic bonus,” defined as 2 or more persons of working age for every person of dependent age (under 15 or 60+).  Experts say this is likely to last until 2040, when the country look like the U.S. and Canada do today, demographically speaking. (At that time, the U.S. and Canada will look like Germany and Japan, both of which have a median age of 46.1 years.)  With the gradual graying of the population, this window of opportunity will begin to close, which means that Vietnam has to do everything in its power to improve the quality of education and training for its young people, as well as the quantity and quality of employment opportunities.  (It’s estimated that 50% of all unemployed Vietnamese are between the ages of 15 and 24.)

The Annual Rite of Passage

If it’s July, it must be exam time. Every summer, the media is filled with inspirational stories about young people from the countryside who travel long distances at great expense to take and pass an exam that will allow them to gain admission to a university, presumably, a ticket to a better life.  This is a one-shot deal, a make-or-break scenario for those who have neither the time nor the means to retake this annual exam, should they not receive a satisfactory score.

In a nutshell, what’s wrong with the current university entrance exam?

  • Costly and inefficient for families and the government
  • Stressful for students, parents, teachers
  • Emphasis on rote memorization, i.e., lower-order cognitive skills
  • Inequitable: urban students spend 2X what rural students spend on exam preparation (i.e., extra lessons)

The Next Generation

The current exam will be replaced with a standardized exam that was inspired by the SAT, administered by the College Board, a U.S. nonprofit.  As I understand it, the “VSAT” will be administered four times a year at locations throughout Vietnam, and offer Subject Tests (11).  This score, along with high school grades, will comprise the admission criteria for most students in the coming years.  In the future, others can be considered, depending upon the level of selectivity of each institution, including a required and/or optional writing component on the VSAT, letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose (SOP), and an interview.

Redesigned SAT

cb_logoIn an attempt to be more useful, relevant, focused and, frankly, to compete more effectively with the other U.S. higher education “entrance exam,” the ACT, a redesigned SAT will be launched in April 2016.  Descriptions of the “new SAT” pay a lot of lip service to college and career readiness.  Significantly, there is a SAT-optional movement that was initiated 30 years ago by Bates College, a highly selective liberal arts college in Maine that is referred to as one of the “Little Ivies.”  There are currently 800 test-optional colleges & universities out of about 2,800 four-year institutions.  (The remainder of the nearly 4,000 regionally accredited higher education institutions are comprised of community colleges, which are open admission.)

nacac-logoLast month, the results of a three-year study entitled Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies and University Admissions were released by NACAC.  One of the key findings, relevant for Vietnam, is contained in this quote on p. 3:

Students with strong HSGPAs generally perform well in college, despite modest or low testing. In contrast, students with weak HSGPAs earn lower college Cum GPAs and graduate at lower rates, even with markedly stronger testing. A clear message: hard work and good grades in high school matter, and they matter a lot.

Obviously, one research priority, as Vietnam rolls out a new university entrance exam is to look at high school GPAs as a predictor of academic success and higher education academic performance over an extended period of time to see what the correlation is.  Something else to consider is whether the current upper secondary school completion exam should be retained, phased out or used a national benchmark.

Other Suggestions and Possibilities

ap logoGiven the high level of Internet penetration in Vietnam (about 40%), especially among young people, why not create localized versions of the following tools and resources?

  • The Common Application common app logo
  • Entity/Website similar to The College Board that includes information about college planning, college search and online registration for the VSAT
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Courses
  • Free VSAT Preparation similar to that being offered by The College Board in partnership with the Khan Academy  khan academy logo

Bottom Line

Reform of the way in which students are selected and admitted to colleges and universities will save time, money and reduce stress for students and other stakeholders in the education system.  I know that my Vietnamese colleagues working in this area have looked at many countries and systems around the world, yet another example of how outward-looking and flexible Vietnam can be and a textbook example of one use of comparative education.


2014 Vietnam Engineering Education Conference (VEEC)


The 2014 HEEAP Alliance Partners and Arizona State University will host the 2nd annual Vietnam Engineering Education Conference (VEEC) on March 25-26, 2014 in Ho Chi Minh City. VEEC 2014 is a major event bringing together global industry, government and academic professionals to discuss transformative ideas and solutions to engineering and technical education programs in Vietnam. The theme this year is “Transformative Change: Educating Engineers to Innovate the Future of Vietnam.”

The annual conference includes interactive plenary sessions, panel discussions, technical sessions and seminars with emphasis on partnerships between education, industry and government to innovate and build capacity in engineering and technology innovation in teaching, research and discovery.

This year, the conference will be organized by the Ho Chi Minh University of Technology.

Sponsorship Opportunities

VEEC 2014 has a variety of sponsorship opportunities for organizations. For information or to sponsor, contact Jeff Goss at jeff.goss AT

“Vietnam battles with poor quality education”

Viet Nam’s education system is grappling with substandard training and dire shortage of teachers, according to a conference held in Ha Noi last week.

This lead-off sentence in a 29 August article about the state of Vietnam’s educational system pretty much sums it up, as another new school year begins.  Pham Do Nhat Tien, former assistant to the Minister of Education and Training, put it this way:  “Education is basically a black box.”  One definition of a black box is “anything that has mysterious or unknown internal functions or mechanisms.”  Dr. Tien also noted that the educational system has grown in size rather than depth (i.e., quantity over quality).

Here’s a laundry list of items that conference participants identified as being in desperate need of attention and remediation “across the vocational, higher education and continuing education sectors”:

  • substandard training
  • teacher shortage due to low salaries and a lack of other incentives
  • the gap between reality and “the requirements of international integration and public expectations”
  • pay more attention to continuing education, including non-degree career training, on-the-job training, personal enrichment courses and self-directed learning
  • focus more on human values, improving students’ self-motivation and life skills rather than just academic knowledge
  • measure and improve educational quality Improving educational quality not solely on the basis of student grades but also on the development of core competencies
  • increase spending to 6% of the total government budget, as planned