Clear roles of school council and dean needed for better university autonomy: experts

May 17, 2023 - 09:39
In Việt Nam, the laws have defined the role and responsibilities of the university council, but actual implementation has failed to keep up.
Students during a lecture at a university in Hà Nội. —VNS Photo Sean Nolan

HÀ NỘI — University autonomy has been a focus of the education sector for better development of local higher education, but multiple shortcomings in management personnel and scope of responsibility must be addressed as the change continues.

The Law on Higher Education, which came into effect on July 1, 2019, defined the role of the university council. However, experts say that this governing body has yet to fully play its part in higher education institutions.

One of the examples was the case of HCM City University of Technology and Education, in which the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) rejected the institution’s decisions for managerial roles due to incompliance with the laws.

According to Dr Bùi Văn Ga, former deputy minister of education and training the role of the university council, in many cases, is to introduce candidates for the positions of the dean and vice dean, which will be followed by a selection process per regulations.

The council can conduct reviews on the dean’s and vice deans’ performance, but doesn’t have the authority to appoint or dismiss personnel in these positions.

Regarding the shortcomings in management and human resources, Dr Trình Quang Phú, deputy chairman of Việt Nam Association of University and Colleges suggested that there should be specific regulations on the university council.

This legal document should define the criteria for a university council’s chairperson, while its role, duties and responsibilities must be approved by the Prime Minister or education and training minister.

According to Dr Ga, a university with a well-performing council will see better operation and development through effective management.

The universal trend now is to gradually shift from state control to supervision.

The modern higher education governance system also separates the administrative role (of the university council) from the managerial role (of the management board).

These clearly defined responsibilities can help improve the education institution’s policy, strategy, growth direction, activity supervision and accountability to the State and society.

In Việt Nam, the laws have defined the role and responsibilities of the university council, but actual implementation has failed to keep up.

Dr Ga said: “The university council also needs coherent regulations that clearly define the responsibilities of its members, methods of communication and discussion to reach a decision.

“The council’s members need to have actual power. Problems of the school must be reported to the council, which should be addressed immediately through the collective opinion of the council.”

A deputy dean of a HCM City university said that per regulations, the university council is the voice of the collective, which is selected by the school’s employees and lecturers. Therefore, they should be given the power to appoint the dean.

The university’s leader added that it would be difficult to fully exercise autonomy when personnel decisions still require approval from the higher level.

Dr Nguyễn Thị Mai Hoa, deputy chair of the National Assembly’s committee in charge of culture and education, said that the roles of the university council chairman and the dean must be included in regulations for actual implementation, as the dean currently retains the decision-making power in the school’s operation.

She added: “The relations between the state management, the university council and the dean must be better defined.

“The dean is the manager of the school in training, research and services for the community. This is also the person with the highest academic responsibility and authority.

“This is the key and fundamental role of the dean, which the university council should not interfere with.

“The university council has the collective responsibility in strategies, policies and planning new initiatives of the institution, including academic aspects to keep up with social, learners’ and the labour market’s demands; preventing and addressing the risks that arise during the transformation and bearing the responsibility for those plans,” said Hoa.

According to Dr Hoa, when staff are concerned with whether the dean or the university council chairperson has more power - as with the case in many schools -, it shows that the management reform in that institution is not going well, and power conflicts remain.

Therefore, a comprehensive and transparent legal framework on university autonomy is necessary.

Dr Hoa added: “Whether university autonomy is practical relies a large part on transparent and realisable regulations stated in the laws and guidelines.” — VNS