Vietnam urged to prioritize STEM education for better human resource training in order to achieve higher quality outcomes.

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    Nov 6, 2023

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Experts say Vietnam needs an investment strategy and policies to support universities in educating high-quality STEM professionals.


STEM is widely recognized as a field with tremendous potential. Nevertheless, in Vietnam, the percentage of university students pursuing STEM-related disciplines remains comparatively low when compared to other countries in the region and Europe, specifically in fields like Science and Mathematics.

According to recent data from the Ministry of Education and Training, the proportion of university students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in Vietnam stands at approximately 55 students per ten thousand individuals. Over the past few years, the percentage of university students pursuing STEM fields has fluctuated between 27% and 30%, constituting a significant portion of the overall student population in the country.

In the year 2021, the rate stood at around 28.7%, which was comparatively lower than several other countries in both the region and across Europe. For instance, Singapore had a rate of 46%, Malaysia was at 50%, South Korea at 35%, Finland at 36%, and Germany at 39%.

Specifically, the proportion of university students enrolled in Natural Sciences and Mathematics amounted to around 1.5%. This figure was only one-third of Finland's, one-fourth of South Korea's, and one-fifth of Singapore's and Germany's.

Additionally, the postgraduate STEM education in Vietnam is relatively limited in comparison to more advanced nations, making up only a minute fraction of the overall educational landscape covering all disciplines.

According to the ministry's 2021 statistics, the proportion of postgraduate students in STEM fields was alarmingly low at 2.2 per ten thousand individuals. This figure represents only about one-seventh of the rates observed in South Korea and Israel, less than one-tenth of Singapore's numbers, a mere one-fifteenth of the European Union average, and an astonishing one-twentieth compared to Germany and Finland.

In 2021, the proportion of postgraduate education within STEM fields accounted for a mere 3.6%, falling below the average of 5.6% across all fields. Interestingly, several countries showcased a significantly higher emphasis on postgraduate education in STEM. South Korea recorded a remarkable figure of 9.4%, followed by Israel at 16.3%, Finland at an impressive 27.8%, Germany at a noteworthy 34.4%, and the European Union leading the pack with 33.7%.

According to Dr. Trinh Quang Khai, an expert from the University of Transportation, there has been no significant increase in the State's investment in science and technology over the past few years. The percentage of investment has remained stagnant at around 3.7%. In contrast, neighboring countries in the region have experienced a higher range of investment rates, varying from 5% to 10%.

The lack of adequate incentives from the State's policies in the realm of science and technology has hindered the growth of this sector within universities. To effectively tackle this problem, it became imperative to mobilize resources and foster collaboration in establishing a vibrant science and technology market. This step would provide a platform and motivation for Vietnamese scientists to thrive and contribute to the field's development.

In order to align STEM field training in Vietnam with the nation's development needs and the global integration trend, numerous universities are dedicatedly seeking ways to enhance the quality of their programs and entice students.

The HCM City National University's University of Science and Technology has recently revamped its training programs to adhere to international STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) standards. As part of this restructuring, the university has extended the duration of practical work, internships, and business-focused experiences, emphasizing a hands-on approach in its curriculum. Moreover, the institution has also augmented its offerings by introducing additional programs that are exclusively conducted in English. These changes aim to provide students with more practical exposure and enhance their employability upon graduation.

Furthermore, the university has also taken measures to enhance its academic environment by inviting foreign professors to deliver lectures on campus. This initiative facilitates faculty and student exchanges, promoting a diverse and inclusive learning atmosphere. Additionally, these professors adhere strictly to international training standards, ensuring that students receive top-quality education. Moreover, the university actively participates in global rankings, further emphasizing its commitment to excellence on an international scale.

The university currently offers 22 English-taught programmes, eight high-quality engineering programmes based on the Vietnam-France framework, and two training programmes focused on Japan. As of August this year, all these programmes have successfully met international standards after evaluation.

Dr. Nguyen Dac Trung, an esteemed faculty member at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology, has revealed that the university has taken significant strides towards meeting the demand for exceptional human resources by introducing the pioneering Elite Technology Programme (ELITECH). This visionary initiative aims to cultivate highly skilled professionals who will play pivotal roles as researchers, technical developers, engineers, experts, and managers in various core engineering and technology domains. Graduates emerging from these specialized programmes are poised to make groundbreaking contributions in their respective fields.

The university has successfully introduced a range of ELITECH training programmes by 2023. These include 19 English-taught programmes, two programmes adhering to France's high-quality engineer standards, seven international cooperative programmes with universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and Japan, and four talent-oriented training programmes. With an annual participation of 2,200 students, representing 30% of the total enrolment each year, the university has made significant strides in offering diverse educational opportunities.

According to Dr. Khai from the University of Transportation, the country's socioeconomic development can be greatly enhanced by prioritizing the training of top-notch human resources. However, several technical universities and crucial sectors vital for the nation's progress, including construction, transportation, electrical, and mechanical engineering, have encountered difficulties in attracting students.

In addition, the lecturer's income is directly linked to the number of students enrolled, which often encourages them to admit a greater quantity of students, even if they do not meet the necessary requirements for their chosen majors. Consequently, this practice ultimately leads to a shortage of graduates who possess the required quality and skills, he further emphasized.

According to Khai, the significant decline in student enrollment across various fields such as Mathematics and Statistics, Computer Science and Information Technology, Engineering, Manufacturing and Processing, Architecture and Construction, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Veterinary Medicine highlights the necessity for State intervention. This is crucial because higher education institutions have been left to navigate the challenges posed by market forces on their own.

In order to establish a solid basis for socioeconomic progress in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, it is imperative to prioritize the development of high-caliber human resources through comprehensive governmental policies and effective solutions.

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