Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam

Recently, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and the National Assembly’s Committee for Culture and Education organized a conference on university autonomy. The conference, with 900 participants, was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam. 

Pham Hong Quang, chair of the Thai Nguyen University Council, cited problems in management, decentralization, and the financing situation during the process of university autonomy.

He said that university autonomy is not only covered by the Law on Higher Education (amended), but also by other laws, including the Law on Public Assets, Law on Public Investment, Law on State Budget and the Law on Civil Servants and Public Employees. 

However, the provisions of the laws and other regulations are inconsistent, making it difficult to develop the autonomy mode. In many cases, if schools want to follow the Law on Higher Education, they have to wait for other laws to be enacted and state regulations.

Quang said that it is necessary to come to an agreement about university autonomy.

“Autonomy doesn’t mean self-governance and that schools can do anything they want. It also doesn’t mean self-sufficiency,” he said. 

“I sometimes hear that certain schools have a high autonomy level because they don’t use money from the State budget. This is right, but not enough. The State still has to support private and 'self-determined' schools through tax and land policies,” he said, adding that the UK, US and Australia governments still give support to universities, even though the schools have sources of revenue.

Prof Dr Tran Duc Vien, Deputy Chair of the Vietnam National Academy of Agriculture Council, emphasized the need to have a transparent legal framework for university autonomy.

Vien said that legal documents regulating the autonomy regime of universities are unsuited to the goals of autonomy. As a result, autonomy is allowed only on paper. 

Vien agreed with Quang that the operations of universities are covered not only by the Law on Higher Education, but also other laws, including the Law on Public Employees, the Law on Science and Technology, Bidding Law, the Law on Public Investment and the Law on State Budget. The provisions of the laws are inconsistent.

“The Law on Public Asset Management is not synchronous with the Law on Higher Education which allows education establishments to use legal non-state budget sources of revenue,” he said. 

“The Law on State Budget is not synchronous with the Law on Higher Education which allows school councils to approve financial plans and balance sheets,” he said. “The Law on Investment doesn’t specify the development of public-private partnerships."

As a result, autonomy exists only on paper.

Vien said the policy tools for implementation for the autonomy regime are limited. For example, in terms of organizational autonomy, there is no "democratic independence" in the selection, appointment and dismissal of university heads as well as in the decisions on terms of office.

Regarding autonomy in financing, many barriers exist because of inconsistency in regulations and misunderstanding of autonomy, which is equated with "self-determination" and with "self-sufficiency" in financing.

Schools operate under the mode of autonomy, but they still have to comply with procedures and norms prescribed by the law on management and use of the state budget.

There are also problems in autonomy in human resource management. The recruitment, use, rotation, and appointment of workers and the termination of labor contracts with public employees at public schools must follow procedures set by the laws on public employees and labor. In many cases, schools also have to follow procedures set by governing bodies as well.

Regarding academic autonomy, current laws stipulate that enrollment, organization and management of training is the responsibility of training establishments. However, legal documents that cover school enrollment and training still set many requirements, which shows that schools’ right to autonomy is not respected.

According to Dam, university autonomy has been included in central resolutions and legal documents. However, some problems still exist, which will be solved step by step during the implementation of the autonomy regime.

Dam stressed that giving autonomy to universities is the right decision. He cited many international school rankings as saying that Vietnam’s higher education has jumped from 80-90th in the world to the 60-70th positions.  

In the past, 70-80 percent of Vietnamese publications in international journals belonged to research institutes, but now 70 percent belong to universities.

Thanh Hung