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Friday, 04 November 2016 09:57
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Solutions to increasing coordination in training between universities and businesses

(LLCT) - In the context of international integration, close cooperation between universities and businesses is now regarded as a condition for ensuring the survival and growth of both institutions. In recent years, Vietnam’s tertiary education has become larger and more diverse in terms of forms and areas of training. For university graduates to meet the requirements of hiring organizations and businesses, and especially to avoid imbalance between the supply and demand of high-quality human resources, the State has introduced policies encouraging universities to cooperate with businesses in training, scientific research and technological transfer.

Coordination between schools and businesses is an objective necessity based on some educational principles, for example: “Learning must be accompanied by practice, education must be combined with labor and production, school education must be connected with familial and social education” and “Schools train for what the society needs, not what they have”. In Vietnam, this issue has not been thoroughly discussed and coordination between universities and businesses is rather superficial, poor, and ineffective. As a result, there exists a serious imbalance between the supply of high-quality human resources and the demand for them.

In joint training programs between schools and businesses, the former play the central role and responsible for delivering training curricula, ensuring training quality, and granting degrees for trainees while the latter acts as the coordinator and takes responsible for operating the training process, and using the output products of such training.

The cooperation between universities and businesses is a dialectical relationship for mutual benefit, though it also benefits the society. Based on this relationship, universities can further the quality of their training and create “products” with practical experience. From the standpoint of businesses, stable, high-quality human resources will be useful in the long run and allow them to become tough competitors and successful integrators. Thus, in general, cooperation between universities and businesses has helped them advance towards their respective goals, enabling the former to churn out “products” that meet the actual demands of the labor market and helping the latter to build up their competitiveness and contribute to the development of the national economy.

In recent years, Vietnam’s tertiary education has become larger and more diverse in terms of forms and areas of training. For university graduates to meet the requirements of hiring organizations and businesses, and especially to avoid imbalance between the supply and demand of high-quality human resources, the State has introduced policies encouraging universities to cooperate with businesses in training, scientific research and technological transfer.

The Agricultural and Forestry College of Hue University was one of the first colleges to experiment with the Profession-oriented higher education (POHE) model in 2005. The college has since made efforts to cooperate with businesses in adapting its training curriculum and helping its students get in touch with job experience more regularly, improve their professional skills, and meet the increasing requirements of the markets. POHE students have opportunities to participate directly in managerial, production and business activities of organizations and businesses at home and abroad, including those from Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. The college has built cooperative relations with nearly 500 businesses, offering many opportunities for its students. This training model has allowed students to be confident, dynamic, and able to find jobs that are suitable for their strengths and majors after graduation. According to a survey by the college in 2013, all of its POHE students found proper jobs after graduation and were highly regarded by their employers for their professional abilities. Some other universities such as the Ho Chi Minh City University of Agriculture and Forestry and Vietnam National University of Agriculture have established relations with more than 100 businesses.

However, cooperation between universities and businesses in Vietnam remains insufficient in both quantitative and qualitative terms and inadequate in terms of training, scientific research and transfer of technologies and human resources. These problems originate from various reasons, both objective and subjective.

According to some studies and sociological surveys conducted by local and international organizations on the relationship between businesses and university-level training establishments in Vietnam, only 4% of the surveyed businesses reported cooperating with university-level training establishments in scientific research and technological development. Further, 29% of the surveyed businesses participated in conferences, talks and lectures at such establishments. Much of the cooperation between universities and businesses originated from businesses’ immediate needs and short-term plans rather than long-term vision (78% versus 22%). This limited cooperation has mainly taken the form of “development of mutual understanding” (with businesses “cooperating” with 214 out of 493 universities) or “short-term cooperation” (with businesses “having short-term cooperation with” 174 out of 493 universities). Businesses only considered 58 universities as their “long-term partners” and 47 as their “strategic partners”.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, on the 24th of December 2015, 225,000 people holding bachelor’s degrees or higher were unemployed. The unemployment rate of this group was the highest among groups with professional training.

Obviously, cooperation between universities and businesses is very limited and mainly occurs in two ways: the two sides jointly develop students’ practical skills during apprenticeships or businesses recruit university graduates, playing the role of headhunter rather than breeder of high-quality human resources for society.

In terms of their functions and tasks, the core values of universities rest on their ability to train people and to fulfill the requirements and needs of the general society, businesses in particular. Therefore, universities should initiate this cooperation. In fact, most universities in Vietnam have yet to take on this role, and cooperation has been primarily on a situational, short-term, or spontaneous basis.

In the context of international integration, close cooperation between universities and businesses is now regarded as a condition for ensuring the survival and growth of both institutions. If businesses serve as a lever, stimulating creativity and technological transfer, receiving products of training and providing extra resources for universities, then universities, in addition to their traditional role as providers of high-quality human resources, will create new knowledge and seek solutions for operational issues of businesses.

The cooperation between universities and businesses is relationship of equality and mutual benefits. In developed countries, prestigious and famous universities are strongly supported by the business community and general society. They are research centers that create technologies to satisfy the needs of businesses and the people.

Any training program must strike a certain balance between theory and practice. The proportion of theory to practice may vary depending on level and field of training. However, not all universities maintain sufficient labs or workshops for their students. If training was provided by the private sectors rather than the state and industry-based training was introduced, Vietnam may take advantage of the strengths of all concerned parties.

Recently, university-level training in Vietnam has yet to meet recruiters’ requirements. Many businesses have to retrain their newly recruited staff and a considerable number of trained people are turned down after interviews or skill examination. Moreover, businesses do not believe that relations with universities will be beneficial.

On the other hand, most universities do not have sufficient information about employment demand. Given the technological innovation among businesses is an ongoing process, the training program should be improved in order to meet new requirement of technology. At universities, the concept of “excellence” is only understood as being outstanding in class or scoring high on exams rather than having great practical skills. The “real learning, real practice” mentality is not yet popular at universities, so training has yet to meet requirement of real practice.

Most small to medium-sized enterprises in Vietnam continue to make investments without vision and pay little attention to long-term, sustainable development, so they invest very little into human resources. Large corporations or state-owned enterprises are still funded by the State or receive preferential treatment while universities are providing the outdated or inflexible training program.

Thus, the relationship between universities and businesses in Vietnam is only in the potential stage because, in the short run, both sides do not feel any urgency of cooperation.

Recently, in the context of international integration, the country has made a lot of efforts in participating into the global value chain, combination with the imbalance between the supply and demand of jobs due to the recent economic crisis and recession, universities and businesses have been forced to renew their development models and strategies. They should pay attention for long-term  and sustainable development rather than training or investing on a short-term basis.

On a larger scale, Vietnam has introduced regulations that aim to promote cooperation between universities and businesses, the first of their kind. The Education and Training Minister’s Decision 42/2008/Qd-BGDDT dated July 28th, 2008, which concerns the cooperative training at high school, college and university levels, as well as recently issued documents by the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs on vocational training have facilitated the relationship between universities and businesses.

For effective cooperation in the future, consistent policies and solutions must be enacted.

Solutions from universities

Firstly, universities should increase their training capacity by retraining their teaching staffs, investing in essential infrastructure, and updating and adapting their curricula for improvement of educational quality.

Secondly, universities should set up units with specific tasks to partner or cooperate with businesses. They should make use of intermediary organizations and individuals to sign cooperation agreements with businesses that operate in similar industries to their areas of training, or buy shares in order to become stockholders. Universities may be alone in these efforts or team up with other universities with the same areas of training. Becoming stockholders of businesses, especially large or strategic ones, is an important condition for the two sides to connect their rights and responsibilities. By this way, universities have chances to closely observe a business’ entire operation, particularly its human resource needs. Also, universities may have the opportunity to increase the efficiency of their financial investment in the face of the “university autonomy” trend expected to begin in 2020.

Thirdly, universities should regularly provide businesses with information about their curricula, textbooks and teaching methodologies and also mention other essential needs. They should meet with businesses on a regular basis to learn about the human resource needs on the market, which in turn will assist them in developing effective student outcomes.

Fourthly, universities should establish reasonable mechanisms to encourage comprehensive agreements of strategic cooperation with businesses to facilitate their students’ apprenticeship, practice, and vocational orientation and also provide themselves with equipment.

Finally, universities should invite business people to teach subjects that are more practically oriented.        

Solutions from businesses

Firstly, businesses should be fully aware of the benefits of business-universities cooperation and adjust their human resource strategies accordingly for the future.

Secondly, they should limit and overcome post-recruitment re-training by establishing units in charge of advising universities on their curriculum design, taking into account industrial employment needs.

Thirdly, businesses should introduce strategies for nurturing talents at universities by way of scholarships, investments in physical facilities and pre- and post-graduation recruitment opportunities. They can also order research into difficult relevant issues from universities.

Finally, businesses should proactively cooperate with universities in designing textbooks and teaching methodologies and presenting research projects and graduation theses so that training curricula mesh with industrial and social needs. The idea of introducing business people into universities’ councils has been regarded as a step forward in comprehensive market strategies for education and providing training according to social needs.

Solutions from authorities

Firstly, authorities should regularly produce up-to-date statistics on the needs for human resources, particularly high-quality ones, in order to improve the education and training sector. They must enhance the present mechanisms for operating education quality control centers, which are meant to be competitive, independent, and autonomous and operate under the law.

Secondly, authorities should establish more channels of communication between universities and businesses. Management bodies can organize contests, forums, technological exchanges or meetings during which universities and businesses have opportunities to meet each other. They can also facilitate reflective meetings between universities and businesses after each period of cooperation to improve the efficiency of their future endeavors.

Thirdly, authorities must change the management mechanism so that universities and businesses have greater autonomy. Universities should be allowed to decide on their own curricula for training in order to catch up with the needs of society and employment recruiters. Businesses should be free to select or recruit quality human resources. The two sides will then cooperate with each other towards their critical interests with the State serving as an arbitrator, settling disagreement or conflicts of interest between them. 

Finally, authorities must introduce mechanisms that assist universities and businesses with common development funds, allowing them to become more interdependent, dynamic, and responsible.

Dr. Vu Tien Dung

National University of Civil Engineering

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