Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture bravely getting out of the “Ivory Tower” – Associate Prof, PhD. Pham Tu-Former Rector.


With the authorization of resolution of the 10th National Congress of Vietnamese Communist Party and the trend of university development in the region and throughout the world, the Prime Minister adopted the resolution No. 14/2005/NQ-CP approving the project “Substantial and Comprehensive Reform of Vietnam’s higher education in the period of 2006-2020” conducted by Ministry of Education and Training.

Conclusion No.51-KL/TW dated 29 October, 2012 of the 6th plenum of the 11th Party Central Committee Congress and Directive No.2/CT – Ttg dated 22 January 2013 by the Prime Minister on the substantial and comprehensive reform of Vietnam’s training & education.

On that basis, the Minister of MOC promulgated the action program on the substantial and comprehensive renewal of Vietnam’s education and training in the period of 2013-2015 to develop the human sources in the relevant institutions of construction field.

Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture is currently in the process of reform with an attempt to fix short-comings and disadvantages of Vietnam’s higher education in general and the university in particular. obsolete training, full of subjectivity & conservatism. The root that curtails the development of institutions, of Vietnam’s higher education is to “live” (both literal & figurative sense) inside “ivory tower”. Therefore, it is essential to have a comprehensive look at the “ivory tower” so that training institutions will head for the right direction.

The ‘Picture’ of the “ivory tower” in the Vietnam’s higher education:

      1.  Ivory tower of subsidized thinking:
It won’t be too hard to notice that there has been a ‘uniformed’ higher education system –top-down thinking to action, every higher education institution. This phenomenon is contradictory to the the nature of higher education – creativity and professionalism. Every profession, every institution has its own distinctions to create its own ‘voice’. So it is be a shame that distinctions are fading. Furthermore, the state-owned budgetary “baby bottle” and “humble” tuition fee only mean keeping “order” in training not increasing the training quality to regional and international standard. The subsidized thinking of “the superiors thinks for the subordinates” or “the superiors shows the subordinates what to do” has caused trouble to university, society, family, students and institutions.

       2.  Ivory tower of power:
Vietnam has conducted the educational reform 3 times (1950,1956, and 1981) and the substantial and comprehensive reform of Vietnam’s higher education (2006-2020), which revealed weaknesses from macro-levels related to the synchronization in the policies. There even appeared to be hastiness, imprudence in promulgating instructions, decisions, causing side-effects for society. One powerful decision attracting our attention was to build an international standard university or called “university of excellence” funded totally by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in an attempt to build 4 new universities whose investment capital rose up to 200 million dollars and would become one of 200 prestigious universities in the world. That was impossible in such a short period of time!

       3.  Ivory tower of monopoly:
Ultimately, the whole educational system from Central agencies to institutions attempts to create a “person” of good deed and expertise. The term “good deed & expertise” is literally meaningful; it leads the learners to international standards after graduation, both professional ethics & ability. However, most institutions are currently offering what they have, not what the society needs. As a result of that, the “products” created are weird failing to meet the needs of the high-quality working environment.

       4.  Ivory tower of dishonesty:
Formalism, good-grades-matter, and rigid-administration of higher education make traditional values of pedagogy gradually erode. One common issue is the top-down self-evaluation and awarding which make it hard to reveal short-comings and weaknesses. Inaccurate and biased evaluation leads to some serious consequences, such as deceitful examinations at institutional levels. Let’s ask ourselves how honest the higher education of Viet Nam is the “talk more, do less”, which is popular in the direct & non-direct training, is the most dishonest performance in the higher education.

       5.  Ivory tower of conservatism:
Vietnam’s higher education is full of conservatism, and finance takes the lead. Tuition fee as well as other fees is a sensitive issue and so is the portion of money subsidy for training institutions within the subsidy mechanism. The two budgetary sources reflect the “weirdness” and “international off-standard” of Vietnam’s higher education financial system. As finance itself plays the key role in the success of Reform, it makes no difference in training. Therefore, the financial mechanism of higher education has to be reformed promptly and efficiently. Besides, the equal tuition fee policy applied for all areas, disciplines and students has been causing more and more short-comings, disadvantages, and bias to students. The financial mechanism is one of the causes that obstructs the competition and international integration of training institutions. That lecturers have to work two or three times more than usual without making both ends meet leads to many problems. It’s time to alarm that there exist now a number of lecturers who work under expectation, which implies many threats to students. Conservatism, therefore, has become a dangerous obstacle to the development of Vietnam’s higher education. The saying “if we don’t act, even angels leave us” (Voltaire) is worth thinking.

Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture bravely getting out of the “ivory tower”:

Facing the reality of higher education, HCMUARC actively “save itself before too late”. Since 2007, the university has been checking institutional curricula, improving competence of lecturing staff and upgrading training facilities. These are the 3 fundamental ‘columns’ to improve training quality.Getting out of the ivory tower is one of the important directions that the university takes to fulfill its training philosophy and solution.
     1.  Training philosophy:
-        Training quality is the moral principle

-        Training objective is corresponding with contemporary course

-        Training method is realistic-based

-        Training management in training is the key

-        Academic staff is decisive factors

       2.  Training solutions
-        Boosting practical skills: “learn to practice, from practice, within practice”

-        Putting great concerns to the “ local context”, solve upcoming goals

-        “3 in 1”Lecturing staff: educator – career specialist – scientific researcher

-        Professionalizing working staff

-        Bravely overcome the own barriers
From the aforementioned philosophies, lecturers & students of HCMUARC are resolved to get rid of the ‘wall’ between the university & society with the slogan: “professional training, theory-based and creative thinking based on practice”. In conclusion, getting out of the ivory tower will bring great benefits to learners, families, university and society.

Former Rector Pham Tu – A submitted article for publishing in the Review of MOC

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