by Le Quynh Anh
HA NOI — Vietnamese students have been warned to thoroughly check out home-based international learning programmes involving local and overseas universities before sending in their applications.
Students attend an information session on studying in the US at the American Centre to mark International Education Week yesterday. Prospective students are warned to research information carefully about joint training programmes to save them from falling prey to bogus schools. — VNS Photo Thanh Tung
The caution came from the director of the Ministry of Education and Training's International Education Development Department, Nguyen Xuan Vang, who said present legal mechanisms were not enough to protect them from bogus institutions.
Partnership learning involves Vietnamese universities co-operating with foreign counterparts to develop courses. The scheme is supposed to make advanced foreign education more available in Viet Nam.
The idea began to mushroom after Viet Nam's accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2007. However, the Government and the ministry still have not established any legal compensation for students supplied with sub-standard programmes.
Vang said some students had paid for unauthorised joint-training programmes. He said this could have been avoided if they had properly researched the offers being made by universities.
Mark Ashwill, former director of the International Institute of Education in Viet Nam, said students dissatisfied with the quality of higher education in Viet Nam were turning to international institutions, often without properly considering what was really on offer.
Prestige and the misconception that all foreign higher education was better than in Viet Nam regardless of the provider were also factors.
"For example, in many people's eyes ‘made in the USA' is synonymous with quality and excellence without regard to the status of the institution offering the degree programme," Ashwill said.
The ministry requires authorities in provinces and centrally-run cities to check the operations of joint-training programmes - and the numbers of those operating.
This was one of the few measures taken by the department following widespread local media investigations revealing that the foreign partners of many joint training programmes were often "education mills", a term used to describe operators who grant academic qualifications to those who do little or no academic study.
Degrees and diplomas granted to these people are unrecognised by mainstream educational authorities and could be said to be not worth the paper they are printed on.
Vang said that a big obstacle to keeping tabs on these shonky operators was that often more than one Vietnamese agency had the authority to grant joint-training licences, making it difficult to inspect and assess activities.
|Not all are bad
One student who took an 18-month-long MBA course offered in a joint programme between a big HCM City university and its European partner said she was quite happy with what she had acquired - even though she found out later that the European institution was not accredited.
The European partner had not been officially accredited in its home country. This was reflected in the evaluation of the New York-based World Education Services that her degree was "only equivalent to one year of post-secondary study" when she applied for higher education in the US.
"The European course cost me US$11,000, but I still think it was worth it because most of the subjects were taught in English by lecturers who had studied in Europe and the US," the student said.
"What's more important was what I learned from my classmates, who were very experienced in the business field," she said.
She said many of her classmates were quite satisfied because it was the knowledge not the credentials that they sought.
"A number of organisations that don't come under the supervision of the ministry still open joint-training programmes without ministry permission and without any reports," he said.
"Degrees granted by those unaccredited schools are of course invalid."
In the meantime, the department has listed authorised joint-training programmes on its official website at www.vied.vn.
"The department has received hundreds of e-mails asking about the legal status of some training programmes. It will report those it thinks are bogus institutions and start investigations if necessary," Vang said.
Ashwill has also published a list of 24 US-based or affiliated unaccredited schools that have entered the higher-education market in Viet Nam on his blog.
He said rogue providers took advantage of students' desire for foreign credentials to build up a steady supply of customers.
"Most are very good at appearing to be legitimate. Their websites are slick, sales pitches convincing, and sometimes they even have reputable local partners," he said.
One of the names on Ashwill's blog, Irvine University in the United States, successfully affiliated with the Ha Noi National University to open a programme that granted Master of Business Administration degrees.
However, according to the university's director, Vu Minh Giang, it dropped the linkage with Irvine in 2008 - but not before 160 students had participated in the programme.
Vang said normally it took about two months to process an application to open a joint-training programme. The main factors taken into consideration included the legitimacy of both partners, the partnership agreement and quality-assurance mechanisms.
"Only foreign universities that are officially accredited by a recognised body or bodies in their home countries are eligible to affiliate with a Vietnamese counterpart in a joint programme," Vang said.
His department is now conducting research to verify the eligibility of foreign partners - but only by internet. Department officials are looking up information about university facilities, teaching staff and training programmes as well as accreditation.
There are 119 authorised joint training programmes in Viet Nam, but to date, there have been no figures on the number of students who have been involved. — VNS