Vietnam's higher education system was designed to generate and circulate knowledge under prescient central management. In practice, these arrangements produced poor results. In the face of urgent new challenges — such as economic globalization — the Vietnamese Government has decided (once again) to reform higher education. While the current round of higher education reform resembles previous reforms in some respects (such as calls for increased autonomy), other aspects of the reforms are novel and even promising. One such example is a Dutch-sponsored project on the development of professional higher education — the Vietnam– Netherlands project on Professionally Oriented Higher Education (PROFED, March 2005– March 2009). Commencing in 2005, eight universities were chosen to participate in this project which, in agreement with Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), provided the participating universities with increased managerial autonomy, so they could develop curriculum following competency-based principles.
Researchers at Hưng Yên University of Technical Teacher Education (HYU) — one of the eight universities chosen — used this opportunity to develop a curriculum responsive to the needs of regional employers. Specifically, researchers undertook a survey of employers in sixty-two representatively selected enterprises in the Red River delta, including interviews with nearly two hundred managers and engineers. Based on the data, graduate competency profiles were developed and used as the basis for development of two curricula for undergraduates majoring in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology. For these curricula to be implemented successfully at the university level, a new learner-centred pedagogy would also be required, as would a new learning environment. Unfortunately, the absence of such conditions at the university undermined the implementation of the new curricula.
The analysis suggests tremendous challenges remain in Vietnam's higher education system. If innovative programmes such as the Dutch programme are to yield results, higher education reforms will have to address outstanding rigidities and pathologies in the organizational management of higher education more effectively. Doing so will enhance the prospects for more innovative reforms and help improve the quality of graduates.