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Higher college fees may lead to better employees

Update: August, 25/2016 - 09:00

by Chi Lan

Most Vietnamese, even students, don’t usually give a second thought to what they sometimes
hear on the news or read in the paper: public university’s financial autonomy. The idea is
somewhat vague, distant at a macro-level and generally holds no direct link to common folk. It
was not until the prominent National Economics University (NEU) last month introduced a tuition
hike of up to 30 per cent for the upcoming academic year did it dawn on people what financial
autonomy really means.

The fee increase was and will never be pleasant for students, just like how we complain every
time electricity or petrol prices shoot up. Despite our complaints, they are unlikely to go down.

Many potential NEU freshmen discarded the university as a school choice as soon as the news
hit, while a number of current university students threatened to drop out when the tuition fees rise
far beyond their means.

Vietnamese undergraduates in public schools have enjoyed relatively low tuition fees for
decades, with the exception of the teaching profession’s students who were spared all fees.

Public college students only had to pay between VNĐ7.4 million and VNĐ8.7 million (US$328-
386) for the 2016-2017 year. The costs for higher education were rather affordable when looking
at the gross domestic product per capita last year, which reached about VNĐ45 million.

The Government might have tried to keep college tuition low in order to encourage the young to
study at higher levels and later contribute bigger values to the country’s development. Or
perhaps it wanted to realise its educational manifesto, of which everyone should be granted
equal opportunity to take on college study regardless of their socio-economic status.

The third possibility, the least noble of them all, could simply be that the Government intentionally
controlled public universities via financial ties. Costs to run public universities were
disproportionately allocated from the national budget, which was rather limited, and the majority
of colleges were not allowed to receive any other kind of financial support, other than the
collection of tuition fees.

It might be either reason, or all three combined, or possibly even something else behind the
scenes that I was yet to spot. Regardless of which is the case, the low tuition policy, which
sounded so beneficial for the masses, turned out to be more than met the eyes.

In a 2012 World Bank regional report on undergraduates’ skills in seven countries in East Asia,
Vietnamese employees were deemed to have sub-par creative thinking and lacked various skills
in information technology, leadership and problem solving.

English proficiency was another Achilles’ heel for Vietnamese undergraduates, with most
finding it difficult to use the global language at work, especially listening and speaking skills.

Such skill disadvantages might go some way to explaining why undergraduates accounted for
the highest proportion of unemployed of late. The number of unemployed undergraduates
reached an average of 190,000 last year, or roughly 49 per cent of the average 386,000
unemployed workers who had a post-high school education background.
Low tuition fees in tandem with the blooming of universities in recent years resulted in a mass
flow of around 400,000 undergraduates to the labour market each year, but their quality is rather
questionable.

Yet it may have been too much for us to look forward to a generation of highly-skilled employees
who also excel at language and soft skills when the input resource, the money in particular, failed
to accommodate any ambitious universities in the realisation of their educational goals. They
could not afford to pay for highly-qualified professors, have courses with satisfactory outcomes,
equip themselves with the proper infrastructure for the students or fund their own research
projects.

After the NEU pulled the trigger and became a harbinger for a wave of other public universities
raising their tuition fees, many criticised the decision and cited Germany or Finland as
quintessentially successful nations in keeping their educational quality world-class while having
students pay little to nothing for it.

I personally find this comparison to miss out on some context, as they leave out the big gap in
taxes between the countries, which is the key to pulling off such a beneficial educational policy.
The personal income tax in Germany averages around 42 per cent, let alone many other taxes.
Finland also rests at the top of high-tax countries with various kinds of taxes the residents have
to pay besides income tax. The amount of taxes collected in a developed nation can help its
government subsidise not only the educational system but other social security services.

There are some other countries which also have high-tax policy like the UK and the Netherlands,
but they refuse to subsidise the higher education system. Yet those two are also famous for
outstanding educational quality in prestigious universities which are private and autonomous in
their finances. That means they can run the university as a business with the students as
customers. They charge high fees, to some outrageous extent, but also offer high quality classes
lectured by prominent professors, a privileged studying environment and guarantee that the
students will walk out of the gates ready for their future careers.

Not every well-funded college is a great one, but there is no great college without the green back.

Viet Nam is unlikely to follow the high-tax policy like Germany or Finland but it has started to
push for the latter option. The Government last year granted full financial autonomy for 14 top
universities and colleges, one of which is the NEU.

I have reason to believe that the tuition increase in those educational institutions will be quick
and sharp in a few years, as government funding is completely withdrawn. They have to consider
tuition as their main source of income, before other funding resources, from the business sector
for example, start to flow in.

Students of course have their own reasons to protest the increased tuition. Many of them come
from farming families in rural areas, and struggle all year around just to stay fed. The low tuitions
used to open doors for them to access a university degree and offer a life-changing chance for
them and their families.

Yet I wonder, what is the point of spending four years on a degree if you remain unemployed
because the quality of your education is too poor for a proper job that brings home the bacon?
Task 1 – Find the words in bold. Match them with the correct explanations.

1. financial tie A. this word is used to describe something that is below


average or below what is expected.
2. (to be) more than meets the eye B. a person or thing showing that something is going to
happen soon, esp. something bad.

3. (to be) sub-par C. to take decisive action with no certainty of the


outcome.
4. Achille’s heel D. a sum of money granted by the state or a public body
to help an industry or business keep the price of a
commodity or service low
5. (to be) in tandem (with) E. freedom from external control or influence;
independence in terms of finance.
6. (to) pull the trigger F. policies to restrict one organization’s freedom in terms
of finance
7. harbinger G. to earn a living.
8. subsidy H. a small problem or weakness in a person or system
that can result in failure.
9. financial autonomy I. a phrase referring to something more difficult to
understand or involves more things than you thought
at the beginning
10. (to) bring home the bacon J. at the same time

Task 2 -