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Vietnam’s increase in educational opportunities and development of highly-skilled human resource in light of systems theory approach

(PTOJ) - Vietnam has brilliantly succeeded in opening up educational opportunities to all of its citizens. As a result, the last two decades have witnessed an increase in the proportion of both people with professional and technical training and those with higher education in the workforce. However, it is the inequality in educational opportunities and the slow growth rate of highly qualified human resources that still remain challenging. In the light of the systems theory approach, the solution is to radically and comprehensively renovate education and training, including education universalization, learning society construction and lifelong learning capacity development.

Students at Hanoi University of Science and Technology - Photo: tapchicongsan.org.vn

1. Openned education opportunities in Vietnam since Doi Moi (Renewal)

In order to take advantage of the systems theory(1) in education, it is important to consider the national education system against the backdrop of the socialist-oriented market economy during international integration. The education system interacts with and adapts to society through inputs, including educational opportunities, and the output, namely the technical skills of the workforce. In light of the general systems theory approach, it is clear that educational opportunities in Vietnam, especially at 5-year-old kindergarten, primary and lower secondary level, have been provided for all children and adults. However, educational opportunities at upper secondary and higher level are still limited. These categories of education should be more accessible in order to ensure social equity in higher education and to build a learning society for innovation, sustainable social development and human development.

Since 1986, when Renewal was at its very beginning and the economy was still fragile, there has been a continuous growth in educational opportunities. Between 1992 and 1993, the gross attendance ratio was significant, at 48.1%(2). To be more specific, regarding primary education, the gross attendance ratio was 110.6% and the net attendance ratio was 78%. At lower secondary level, the net attendance ratio was 36%. However, there was a significant gap in educational opportunities between the rich and the poor(3). Specifically, when comparing the net attendance ratio in lower secondary education, the figure for the richest quintile (in terms of expenditure) was 54.7%, while the one for the poorest quintile was 18.6%. It is clear that the relative educational opportunity gap between the rich and the poor was 2.94 times and the absolute gap is 36.1%.

Thanks to the policies of poverty reduction and primary education universalization, in only 5 years, from 1993 to 1998, the educational opportunities of different levels ranging from primary school to university, shown in net attendance ratio, went up sharply(4). To be more specific, net attendance ratio in primary education grew from 78% to 92.6% in the given period. The figure for lower secondary schools nearly doubled, from 36% to 61.6%. Upper secondary education saw an over twofold increase in its net attendance, from 11.4% to 28.8%.  Meanwhile, the figure for university education rose by approximately 5 times, from 1.8% to 9.3%. Nevertheless, educational opportunities are unevenly distributed among Vietnamese families. Gini coefficient, the index on educational expenditure (excluding foreign language and computer expenditure) of households with a person of school age (6-24 years old) collected 12 months before the survey starts increased from 0.564 to 0.570 between 1993 to 1998. It can be seen from the statistics that educational inequality in Vietnam, instead of decreasing at times, increased during the given period.

Noticeably, during Renewal, educational opportunities rose and inequality fell at a speed greatly affected by the State’s policies, especially the universalization of education. Thanks to the universalization of primary education and the gradual universalization of lower secondary education, educational opportunities at both levels went up, heading towards equality among different social groups. The successful implementation of preschool education universalization for 5-year-old children(5) can be cited as the latest example.  On the basis of this success, Vietnam is aiming at preschool education universalization for 4-year-old children in the years to come.

Another factor that increases educational opportunities, especially at higher education, is the added value of knowledge and technical skills(6). According to a study on social mobility between 2004 and 2014(7), it was knowledge that raised income. For example, per capita income of households with head member graduating from colleges or universities was 3 times higher than that with head member having not finished primary school. College and university graduates were more likely to get access to well-paid jobs than people with lower levels of education. On average, one more year spending on education was equal to a 5% increase in wages and salaries. In addition, education increased the likelihood of promotion from manual positions to higher skilled ones. Parents’ education could lay a foundation for children’s better education, thus promoting children’s upward trend and hinder their downward trend of social mobility in terms of employment and standards of living.

1. Openned educational opportunities and emerging problems

The greatest educational achievement of the country’s socio-economic renovation since 1986, especially the fundamental and comprehensive reform of education and training since 2013, has been the opening up of educational opportunities to all people, which can be clearly seen in the 2019 Population and Housing Census data base(8). In 2019, at upper secondary level, net attendance ratio was over 68%, nearly 12% higher than the ratio in 2009. Regarding college and university education, the figure grew from 16.3% to 26%. The rise in secondary and primary educational opportunities led to the decline in inequality of educational opportunities between urban and rural areas between 2009 and 2019.

These are considerable achievements of the fundamental and comprehensive renovation in education and training in the last decade. However, upon closer examination, three problems can be pointed out. Firstly, the speed of educational opportunity expansion was relatively low. On average, the annual growth of net attendance ratio at upper secondary and college/university level were over 1% and nearly 1%, respectively. Therefore, in the absence of an intensive investment on opportunities for upper secondary and higher education, after 10 years, by 2029, the net attendance ratio at these levels will be over 78% and nearly 36% respectively. Secondly, in 2019, the net attendance ratio at upper secondary level was 68.3%, which means that 31.7% of the population aged 15-17 did not go to upper secondary schools. Moreover, in 2019, 74% of young people aged 18-22 in Vietnam did not attend colleges and universities. Thirdly, despite the rise in educational opportunities, the net attendance ratio at higher secondary and university level remained relatively low, failing to meet the education needs of people and the requirements of the socio-economic development during global integration.

2. Demand for highly qualified human resources

Over the past decade, thanks to education and training, the proportion of workers with professional and technical training has risen from nearly 15% to over 23%. To be more specific, the figure for college-graduate employees doubled, from 1.8% to 3.9%, and employees with university or higher degrees experienced an over twofold increase from 5% to 10.6%. These are impressive achievements of the fundamental and comprehensive renovation in education in order to train and enhance the quality of the Vietnamese workforce.

However, the problem lies in the significant rate of untrained employees, which was at about 77% (in 2019) and decreases relatively slowly by an average of 0.8% per year. If this trend continues, by 2030, the proportion of untrained employees in Vietnam will stay high, at about 68%. Noticeably, Vietnam’s workforce has a low level of education. The proportion of employees with university or higher degree was only 10.6% in 2019 and in 2030, this rate will approach 16%. Another problem is the uneven technical skills of employees among economic regions. In 2019, the proportion of technically trained workers in rural areas was less than half in urban areas. Among the six economic zones, the Red River Delta had the highest proportion of trained workers, at 31.8%, which was 2.3 times higher than the rate of 13,6 % in Mekong River Delta. Moreover, a significant inequality was reported in advanced professional and technical qualifications, namely university and higher education, as the rate of university or higher graduates in urban areas was 22.2%, quadrupling that in rural areas (5.2%). Therefore, Vietnam’s education has its limitations, which gives rise to the need of an investment as high as development investment, in order to increase the proportion of technically trained employees, especially ones with university or higher degrees. This requirement was clearly stated in the Party’s Resolution No. 29 in 2013 on fundamental and comprehensive innovation in education, serving industrialization and modernization in a socialist-oriented market economy during international integration(9).

3. Some solutions to increase educational opportunities and enhance technical expertise

According to the systems theory approach, in order to build qualified workforce with further education, especially university education, it is necessary to increase school education opportunities and build lifelong learning capacity. First and foremost, the key solution is education universalization, of which effectiveness was manifested in the increase of educational opportunities in primary, lower secondary schools and recently, 5-year-old kindergartens. Therefore, in line with the Secretariat’s conclusion on continuing to fundamentally and comprehensively renovate education and training(10), education universalization should be carried on to increase educational opportunities at upper secondary level and prepare to expand the opportunities for further, college university education. This policy plays a key role in increasing secondary education opportunities and the proportion of employees with advanced technical qualifications of university or higher education.

The second solution is to build a learning society. Towards the education and training that meets both the requirements of socio-economic development and people, building a learning society is of paramount importance. This solution is included in the Government Project on building a learning society in the period from 2021 to 2030 with specific goals(11), for example, by 2015, 15% of Vietnamese over 15 years old will have a university degree, and by 2030 the figure will be 15%.

The third solution is to form and develop lifelong learning capacity. According to the systems theory, lifelong learning capacity is the nucleus of a learning society as science and technology have become the force of production. In Vietnam, the construction of a learning society with a focus on lifelong learning has been clearly demonstrated in a Government project, the goal of which is that by 2030 60% of the population will have become studious citizens; 50% of the districts will have become studious districts; 35% of provinces will have become studious provinces. This solution needs to be applied to agencies and organizations, especially business ones, and the government is to support them becoming “studious organizations”. Therefore, it is essential that in the learning society, both employers and employees be motivated to learn and develop lifelong learning capacity in order to timely take advantage of national and international best achievements.

In other words, according to the systems theory approach, in order to build a learning society, radical and comprehensive innovations should be introduced to formal, continuing, initial and further education in order to increase educational opportunities in formal, informal and non-formal education. It is visible from the figure(12) that continuing education is a “further education system” that provides adults with “non-formal learning” as a supplement to “initial education”, which guarantees “formal education” for the population of formal education age (under 24). Continuing education supports “informal education”, in which students learn what they really need. It lies between “formal education” and “nonformal education”.

According to a study, since 2013, there has been a shift in the educational model to an open one - a learning society(14). This trend, which ensures sustainable and widespread growth and social development, is inevitable and epochal. During the development of continuing education and the construction of a learning society, new solutions should be studied and applied. These solutions will be different from formal education and the “not-learning-society” of the previous period.

Modern science, technology and communication of the digital age and the Fourth Industrial Revolution facilitate lifelong learning in formal and continuing education institutions. In addition, thanks to digital technology, such as the Internet of Things, computers and smartphones, people can, immediately, learn to improve their productivity, work efficiency and quality of life.


Received: December 20, 2021; Revised: January 19, 2022; Accepted for publication: March 24, 2022.



(1) Le Ngoc Hung: Social system, structure and classification, Hanoi National University Publishing House, Hanoi, 2015.

(2) Truong Thi Kim Chuyen, Thai Thi Ngoc Dung and Bach Hong Viet: “Factors affecting secondary school attendance” Vietnamese households in light of quantitative analysis; Dominique Haughton, Jonathan Haughton, Sarah Bales, Truong Thi Kim Chuyen, Nguyen Thi Nguyet Nga, Hoang Van Kinh, Truth National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1999, pp.115-332.

(3) In general education, the proportion of female students is higher than that of male students. However, gender inequalities can manifest in different forms than in other levels, such as those presented in textbooks.

(4) Do Thien Kinh: Current education inequality in Vietnam: Based on the database VLSS1993 and VLSS1998 and compared with some Western European countries between 1960 and 1965, Journal of Sociology, 1 (89): 48-55, 2005, http://www.thuvientailieu.vn/tai-lieu/bat-binh-dang-ve-Giao-duc-o-viet-nam-hien-nay-43523.

(5) Prime Minister: Decision No. 239/QD-TTg approving the scheme on universal pre-school education for children aged five years in the 2010-2015 period.

(6) Le Ngoc Hung: Educational opportunities and Vietnam’s policy of fundamental and comprehensive education reform against the backdrop of a socialist-oriented market economy, Communist Review (online), May 28, 2018.

(7) Oxfam in Vietnam: Social mobility and equality of opportunities in Vietnam: trends and influencing factors, Hong Duc Publishing House, Hanoi, 2018.

(8) Central Population and Housing Census Steering Committee: Result of the Population and Housing Census: at time-point 00:00 on April 1 2019, Statistical Publishing House, Hanoi, 2020.

(9) CPV: Resolution No. 29-NQ/TW on “fundamental and comprehensive innovation in education, serving industrialization and modernization in a socialist-oriented market economy during international integration, Hanoi, November 4, 2013.

(10) The Secretariat: Conclusion No. 51-KL/TW of the Secretariat, on further implementing the Resolution of the 8th plenum of the 11th Party Central Committee on crucial and comprehensive reform of education and training to serve industrialization and modernization in a socialist-oriented market economy during international integration, Hanoi, May 30, 2019.

(11) Prime Minister: Decision No. 1373 - QD-TTg approving the project “Building a learning society in the 2021 – 2030 period”, Hanoi, July 30, 2021.

(12), (13) Pham Tat Dong: Continuing Education - Contributor to Sustainable Development, https://moet.gov.vn/Giaducquocdan/Giao-duc-thuong-xuyen, accessed on October 23 2021.

(14) Nguyen Xuan Thuy: Building a learning society in the 2012 - 2020 period and problems in the time to come, http://hdll.vn, accessed on October 23, 2021.


Hanoi National University

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