Higher Education Challenges in Developing Countries: The Case of Vietnam

Article excerpt

Abstract: This review of literature was written in preparation for conducting a research study on the U.S. community college system as a potential model for developing countries, and using Vietnam as a specific case. It is divided into four sections: (a) a discussion of the purposes of higher education (HE), (b) an examination of problems faced by the HE systems in developing countries, (c) a description of Vietnam's HE context, and (d) perspectives concerning U.S. community colleges. The literature shows that problems experienced across developing countries are representative of those faced by higher education in Vietnam. Inadequate access, funding, teacher salaries and qualifications, pedagogical materials, facility conditions, institutional autonomy, and quality assurance mechanisms are all difficult issues that must be addressed. Recommendations are discussed as thematic concepts, including diversification, establishing links between industry and HE institutions, and providing access to adult learners.

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This review of literature was written in preparation for conducting a research study on the U.S. community college system as a potential model for developing countries, and using Vietnam as a specific case. It is divided into four sections: (a) a discussion of the purposes of higher education (HE), (b) an examination of problems faced by the HE systems in developing countries, (c) a description of Vietnam's HE context, and (d) perspectives concerning U.S. community colleges.

Although literature reviews normally include an assessment of prior research on and around the researcher's topic, the absence of such studies precluded using this approach. The lack of published research may be attributed to three circumstances. First, "in the poorest countries, few if any, universities or other institutions exist with research capabilities in education.... Under such conditions, research information is not a priority in education management" (Adams, Kee, & Lin, 2001, p. 221). Second, Sloper and Can (1995) confirmed "remarkably little has been published internationally about higher education in Vietnam" (p.3). Finally, based upon the researcher's review of articles, and discussions with U.S. community college professionals who have some experience in Vietnam, the focus of visiting U.S. experts has been on the feasibility of implementing a U.S. community college model, not on researching its suitability for Vietnam.

Developing Countries and Higher Education

The purpose of this section is to gain an understanding of the context in which a U.S. community college model would have to operate were it in a developing country. The primary focus is on identifying and analyzing problems experienced in the higher education sector of developing countries and to present some conceptual remedies. But it seems prudent to evaluate first the fundamental and sometimes contentious question of "why higher education" when developing countries have not yet met their needs for primary and secondary education?

The purpose of HE

The World Bank, Organization of Economic Cooperation (OECD), United Nations, and other major donors view HE through the lens of human capital theory (Spring, 1998). According to Karabel and Halsey (1977), human capital theory has a "direct appeal to pro-capitalist ideological sentiment that resides in its insistence that the worker is a holder of capital (as embodied in his skills and knowledge) and that he has the capacity to invest (in himself)" (p. 13). This theory appeals to developing countries as it is connected with receipt of funding but also because it holds "promise to support economic growth through the one resource in which these countries have confidence, the latent talents and intellectual abilities of their people" (Oliver, 2004, p. 120).

Yet higher education is not just a matter of economics, as extensive reading of World Bank publications might lead one to think. …