Photos: Duc Anh
Universities and enterprises need to work together more closely to ensure graduates have the necessary skills to be job-ready.
Much has been said and written about the quality of Vietnam’s university graduates. The issues that have long plagued the country’s tertiary education sector are yet to be fully resolved and the institutions continue to churn out graduates who lack the skills to move seamlessly into their first job upon graduation. While universities need to continue reforming their curriculum there is also a role for enterprises to play in improving the quality of new graduates, by linking with universities to define what knowledge and skills are required now and into the future.
The Profession Oriented Higher Education (POHE) project, sponsored by the Dutch Government, began in 2005 and aimed at helping Vietnam complete a legal framework to achieve the target of 70 to 80 per cent of graduates being ready to take up employment after graduation. It also sought to change mindsets at three levels: the university level, the teaching level, and the ministry level. Its second phase was conducted from 2012 to 2015 and a report on its endeavors was released in June.
It has taken a lot of time to change the mindset of Vietnamese universities to persuade them to change their academic curriculum to adapt to the needs of enterprises and society, Mr. Siep Littooij, Co-Director of the POHE project, told VET. While they have made a lot of effort in attracting students, upon graduating most lack the skills demanded by employers.
The teaching of entrepreneurship at Vietnamese universities was gradually strengthened under the POHE project, with universities better understanding the need to connect with enterprises in establishing teaching programs. Under the project, from 2012 to 2015 more than 4,800 students received support in finding employment, with 556 enterprises agreeing to cooperate with eight universities in improving the quality of their graduates. Though only eight out more than 300 State-owned universities participated in the project, the teaching of entrepreneurship at universities is starting to take hold.
Entrepreneurship at universities
“University lecturers in Vietnam have knowledge about their particular field but don’t know how their students apply that knowledge after graduation,” Mr. Littooij said. “We have to change teaching methods to focusing on practice more than theory, which presents many challenges.”
In new and dynamic sectors there is less of a gap between enterprises’ demands and students’ level of knowledge because teachers also find these subjects interesting to teach, he said. With classical subjects, meanwhile, there remains a fear of change because teaching programs must be paid greater attention.
However, enthusiasm among teachers over the reform of teaching methods is not the greatest obstacle, as changing teaching methods requires teachers to work harder without being paid extra. The renewal of teaching methods will not only update the curriculum so it is based on academic research, it will also mean universities must have contact with enterprises to understand their needs and they must also persuade enterprises to accept their student’s for internships.
Though many are keen to have contact with enterprises, Mr. Littooij said, they lack the budget to do so. “If teachers are enthusiastic about new methods and a new style of teaching they will accept working harder for no extra pay,” he said, adding that the major challenge comes from internal spending restrictions at universities.
Universities can decide on their curriculum under Circular No. 7 released in 2015. If they wish to change their curriculum they can seek advice or consultancy from enterprises on whether the changes are suitable with the latter’s demand. “The demand of enterprises should define training purposes, not scientists or universities,” Mr. Littooij said, which he finds to be the greatest change in mindset needed at universities.
Via the Circular, universities have had more freedom in deciding on their teaching programs to meet enterprises’ demands. Despite a readiness for change among a number of teachers, Mr. Littooij remains concerned that universities are reluctant to make independent decisions and too often only do what the ministry asks them to do.
More effort from enterprises needed
Almost every year, POHE’s conferences hear of the difficulties universities have in linking with enterprises. Many enterprises ask universities to pay when the latter requests internships be made available. “Students would like to have an internship but neither they nor the universities can afford to make the arrangements,” Mr. Littooij said. “This is common in Vietnam.”
In Malaysia and Singapore, determining an appropriate salary is the most important factor when conducting recruitment efforts. In Vietnam, however, only 14 per cent of companies surveyed by JobStreet.com see salary as the most important issue, while 84 per cent view the quality of applicants as the most important issue. “Fresh graduates not only lack experience but need a lot of training,” the survey results, released in September 2015, found.
The quality of Vietnam’s human resources ranks at the bottom in the region, especially regarding English skills, the survey revealed. “A lack of loyalty and the desire to change jobs also make employers wary of recruiting recent graduates,” the survey found. Twenty-nine per cent of employee respondents said they will try to change jobs after their first appointment, whereas in Singapore and Malaysia the figure was only 12 per cent. JobStreet.com also revealed that 67 per cent of enterprises in Vietnam do not want to recruit recent graduates because of concerns over skills while 33 per cent do not want to because they believe they will quickly change jobs.
Enterprises have complained often but the quality of graduates has not really improved, Mr. Littooij said. “I call upon enterprises to think about their own role,” he said. “Big or small, all need to look to universities for human resources and work towards determining training needs and not only providing internships.”
Enterprises should think about their long-term human resources demands. “They should then explain to universities what they expect of graduates over the next three or five years, so that universities have time to adapt.”
While unemployment among graduates remains high, enterprises are unable to find suitable candidates. Ms. Van Thi Anh Thu, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Suntory PepsiCo Vietnam Beverage (SPVB), has made a lot of effort over recent years to change this situation. For a decade the company has presented a range of opportunities for graduates in its annual Management Trainee Program and Graduate Sales Trainee Program. The company, of course, can only improve the quality of recent graduates after they have graduated.
If graduates are trained well, she said, they can quickly adjust to working life. “We don’t hesitate to provide hard skills and soft skills to graduates,” she said. Via the company’s programs it can identify new talent and improve graduates to help its development.
“Giving recommendations or putting pressure on universities is difficult because there are no official links between enterprises and universities,” she added. She therefore believes an association is needed to assist in creating such links.
Enterprises often share their problems with the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce in Industry (VCCI) at the national level rather than directly with universities. “Universities are now willing to work with enterprises but enterprises should consider universities as partners in improving the quality of graduates,” Mr. Littooij suggested.