by Dennis C. McCornac, PhD, Department of Economics, Loyola University Maryland
A skilled labor force is critical to the promotion of long-term economic growth. Yet the development of such a force requires a higher education sector that is efficient, effective, and widely accessible. In Viet Nam, however, corruption in the higher education sector undermines such an outcome.
If Viet Nam is to obtain an international standard educational system, a sea change in both thinking and culture is necessary, particularly from "gatekeeper" entities, namely the faculty and administration that control resources and opportunities in higher education by virtue of their location in the higher education system.
Fighting corruption requires policies that promote transparency and accountability in the education sector, but it's difficult to know how to make the best use of limited funds. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that combating education corruption is imperative if Viet Nam is to continue its development path.
A first step begins with improving the skills of the faculty. Faculty and administration must be exposed to systems in which corruption is the exception, not the norm.
Although practices such as selling grades, cheating in exams and payments for admittance may exist in economies with more advanced educational systems, such instances are relatively rare.
This can be attributed to severe penalties for those caught as well as institutional and social mindsets that condemn such behaviour. In addition, the competition for employment creates an incentive for graduates to prove themselves as individuals.
Ideally, faculty members should be sent abroad to quality post-graduate programmes to obtain advanced degrees. Not only would they receive high-level training, they would be able to observe the workings of other economies and different teaching methodologies.
This would be a form of co-operative education in that the work environment for a faculty would be the classroom of the international institution. Hopefully the practical skills learned would be transferred to home colleges. The university and returning faculty members who fill positions within their departments and institutes would provide the resources for internal reform.
The study-abroad option, unfortunately, may be cost prohibitive and generally limited to a few selected individuals. However, the long-term benefits of this investment in human capital are expected to outweigh any short-term costs, particularly if these individuals can be recruited into administrative programmes.
A less costly option to conduct faculty training in Viet Nam involving teaming invited foreign with local faculty to develop curricula and teach courses. The benefits accrue not only to the participants, but also to faculty team members who often learn new and more effective ways of teaching.
This can foster changes in teaching methodology and curricula - and address the significant problems of cheating and plagiarism that may be rampant in the local educational system.
Education administrators and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Training in Viet Nam have also suggested that following a foreign modern education model would be advantageous in the efforts to renovate the curricula.
An additional method would rely on faculty and administrator mentoring. During the past decade, many universities have undertaken co-operative or joint programmes with foreign institutions and branch campuses of international universities have set up campuses in Viet Nam.
Although some of these programmes were suspect and even fraudulent, a number of reputable institutions have survived and meet international standards. In addition to the transfer of knowledge in given disciplines, the faculty at these institutions can be particularly helpful in conveying modern teaching methodologies and pedagogy. Emphasis will need to be placed on explaining concepts of plagiarism, cheating and academic integrity.
Finally, increased efforts to enforce anti-corruption laws must be undertaken. Engaging in corruption is more prevalent when the risks are low, the penalties mild, and the rewards great. In Viet Nam, the risk of being caught is relatively low and the benefit is perceived as high. This applies to the "gatekeepers" as well as students and parents.
Parents must be made aware of the effects corruption has on the quality and access to education and understand that acceptance on the issue of corruption will harm their children in the future.
At the same time, stakeholders such as managers, principals and teachers must resolutely say "no" to bribes from parents. Fairness in and respect of the education system are at stake.
While laws and regulations issued by the Vietnamese Government addressing corruption have proliferated over the past decade, enforcement has been lax. Although the Ministry of Education and Training has implemented programs to educate society on the negative effects of corruption and newer and stricter measures on national exams have been adopted, much more needs to be done.
Increased media attention on corruption and its harmful effects is a step in the right direction, but society must change its awareness of the various forms of corruption and consider corruption as a significant risk that deteriorates the traditional values and the quality of Viet Nam's future human resources.
Fighting corruption will require policies that promote transparency and accountability in the education sector and combating education corruption is imperative if Viet Nam is to continue its development path.
Perhaps, most importantly, there must be a monumental change in the attitude and thinking by students, faculty and parents to recognise that education is a right and privilege that is earned, not a commodity to be sold by administrators and faculty. — VNS
* This Op Ed piece was sent to the Viet Nam News in response to "Plea to uphold exam integrity" published on June 6.