Universities yearning for autonomy

University of Agriculture and Forestry Thai Nguyen University
University of Agriculture and Forestry – Thai Nguyen University

Education & Times Newspaper - In an Aus4Skills course on Leadership, Governance, and Strategic Planning, Australian experts were impressed by a strategic plan developed by participants from the University of Agriculture and Forestry, Thai Nguyen University (TUAF). The plan outlines a long-term vision for university autonomy.

University Restructuring

“After participating in Aus4Skills activities, we started the restructuring. All colleagues said to me: “It’s too tiring and stressful!”. We had to work day and night. However, experiences obtained throughout the plan implementation raised the awareness of the people involved. We established a common understanding and attitude towards reforms and difficulties that had to be tackled.” said Assoc. Prof. Dr Tran Van Dien

“Recently, with knowledge obtained from an advanced course on Leadership, Governance, and Strategic Planning and experiences from Australian universities, which have been autonomous for long time, we have developed a comprehensive plan for transitioning to an autonomous mechanism.” said Assoc. Prof. Dr Tran Van Dien, Rector of TUAF.

There are a number of activities which have been implemented immediately after the course, including: reviewing all strategic plans of the university, learning and applying the experiences of famous universities in Australia, the United States, and in the Southeast Asia region; reviewing and developing a university restructuring plan for effective operations; specifying job standards associated with performance indicators, etc. 

This plan will be presented to the University Management Board for consideration and approval within August 2018. TUAF’s leaders are expected to bring the most favourable working conditions and opportunities for staff and officials. University members will receive adequate support and benefits, in line with their contributions. 

“After the restructuring, staff redundancy will occur. We will establish new positions which support new competencies and the university’s future responsibilities, such as technology transfer, products with intellectual property.” shared Dr Dien.

Prof. Dr Tran Van Dien Rector of TUAF
Assoc. Prof. Dr Tran Van Dien, Rector of TUAF 

A comprehensive revolution in curriculum

The second proposal in TUAF’s strategic plan this year is reviewing and re-designing curriculum taking into consideration of labour market demands. Previously, curriculum review was conducted annually but without significant changes.

After discussions with Australian universities, TUAF’s leaders established a working group on industry-led curriculum development. With 18 faculties and training programs, all academic staff have worked diligently towards positive reforms. We closed programs and faculties which do not have collaboration and connection with enterprises and employers.

“These actions can be considered as a comprehensive revolution in the university.” said Assoc. Prof. Dr Tran Van Dien.

Higher education is required to satisfy not only workforce demands but also international educational standards. Therefore, after the Aus4Skills course, Dien and his colleagues have developed a quality assurance system in accordance with ASEAN Quality Assurance standards. This year, three TUAF programs are registered for assessment under the ASEAN Quality Assurance framework. In 2019, three more programs will be improved and registered for the assessment. It is expected that all TUAF’s programs will be comparable to international standards by 2030. 

To support the examination system, TUAF is implementing three advanced programs which use tailored curriculum, invite professional lecturers to come and teach directly, and share lectures, and training materials with TUAF staff during the training, in order to ensure high quality graduates. University leaders will register these advanced programs to be assessed for international standards, then ordinary programs will be assessed later. 

Another interesting point about the programs which Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tran Van Dien referred to as a “technical” requirement is: all advanced classes shall be assessed and shall have around 10 – 15 international students. This criterion helps to improve lecturers’ English abilities. Currently, these classes attract many foreign students. 

Dr Tran Van Dien receiving a Certificate of Course Participation from the University of Sunshine Coast
Assoc. Prof. Dr Tran Van Dien receiving a Certificate of Course Participation from the University of Sunshine Coast (Australia) 

An inspiring course

After the Aus4Skills course and discussions with international experts, Assoc. Prof. Dr Tran Van Dien was very excited with university autonomy, university governance, and the role of a university council. Earlier, some TUAF members had the opportunity to go to Australia and have discussions with experts. However, thanks to this course, all TUAF leaders, Heads of Divisions, Deans of Faculties are given the opportunity to learn comprehensively new knowledge and perspectives, forming a common understanding about advanced university governance.

In addition, the course provided additional, practical knowledge and skills which helps university leaders, like Dr Dien, recognize what should be changed and what can be adjusted in the current situation. International experts shared techniques and analysed current issues before setting out appropriate university visions and missions which are appropriate with the Vietnamese context.

At a higher level, the course has established linkages between Vietnamese and Australian universities. Take Dr Dien for example, during his visit to Australia, apart from time in training, he came to Australian universities to network, negotiate, and sign cooperation agreements, discussing about importing the whole programs, lecturer exchange, and free access library among universities, etc.

At a personal level, the course also established a strong, supportive, and forward thinking network comprising lecturers and colleagues at universities in the northern mountainous region.

“We are well prepared to be an autonomous university. It is expected that the amended Law on Higher Education will be enacted soon, followed by Decrees which facilitate and instruct universities in implementation. Given this legal base, universities will move forward on many fronts!” – asserted Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tran Van Dien.

Source: Translation of an article on GD&TD