Clear, stable roadmap for university admission in Vietnam still unavailable

Facing many serious incidents in university entrance examination and high school graduation one lately, the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) decided to submit to the Government one possible exam plan, used as a tool to recognize high school graduation and screen candidates for university admission from 2020. Sadly, this plan seems like a patchwork for each year rather than a stable master plan for expert comments.

Candidates finish the Foreign Language test at the test site of Minh Duc Junior High in District 1 of HCMC for the high school graduation exam on July 8, 2021. (Photo: SGGP)

At the end of 2019, MoET sent to the Government a plan for 2021-2025, with the corresponding detailed roadmap, to innovate exam method, content, organization, and marking, hoping to reach fairness, honesty, and proper assessment of students’ competence.

MoET affirmed that the exam method is basically the same as the high school graduation exam used in 2019, with some adjustments like an option for computer-based tests. Candidates can now sit the exam for many times at different locations of independent exam organizers meeting MoET’s criteria. The highest score will be used for high school graduation recognition and university admission.

There are still three compulsory subjects in this exam, namely Math, Literature, and Foreign Language. However, questions in the combined elective tests (natural science and social science) will be knowledge-and-skill-assessing oriented. The number of questions for each sub-test reduces, and the content is gradually adjusted to suit the newly applied curriculum. There will be one result for each combined test, not four from four sub-tests.

The twelfth grade students when meeting all MoET’s criteria will receive a certificate from their principals saying that they have finished the high school curriculum. A high school graduation diploma can only be issued to those taking part in the high school graduation exam.

After referring prestigious independent international examination organizations like ETS, ACT, MoET proposed that from 2022, the high school graduation exam will basically be the same as that in 2020. The computer-based version will be launched gradually for any localities meeting the exam criteria. Competent localities are assigned to develop a question bank suitable for their own.

2023 will be the year to implement the question bank for the newly applied curriculum, and 2025 is the time for the localities to fully organize computer-based version of the high school graduation exam. The result will be used to recognize high school graduation.

University admission will be gradually innovated to ensure candidate rights and fairness, avoid unnecessary disturbances, and exercise the autonomy right in enrollment of universities. This procedure will be monitored by the community and step by step approach the admission trend of nations famous for their education system.

Higher education institutes are encouraged to cooperate with one another in holding entrance exams or competence assessment tests. This, in turn, boost the establishment of affiliated or independent examination organizations, in hope of minimizing the times candidates sit exams and reducing pressure or waste of time and money.

The bad news is an official plan for university admission from MoET is still nowhere to be seen. Experts in the field or the public cannot voice their recommendations without such a plan, and this shows MoET’s traditional way of adjusting the plan from year to year.

The Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents and Children of the National Assembly in 2018 asked for one formal university admission plan to be published, and for evaluations of strengths and weaknesses in each time MoET holds the high school graduation exam. It is also requested to consider forming independent professional exam organizers.

Dr. Hoang Ngoc Vinh from the Advisory Group of the National Education Innovation Committee for the period of 2016-2021 stated that MoET’s proposed plan still needs much study to be more stably implemented for a long term.

For instance, it is still unclear of the legal value of a certificate to recognize a student has finished learning high school curriculum without sitting a graduation exam (according to the new Education Law, effective as of July 2020). Is it possible for this student to continue studying in a vocational school or enter the domestic and foreign labor market?

Former Head of the Information and Communication Office in University of Science (Vietnam National University – HCMC) Phung Quan commented that a computer-based version of an exam requires synchronous and stable IT infrastructure as well as a rich question bank.

Former Deputy Director of VNU-HCMC Nguyen Duc Nghia shared that MoET’s proposed solutions for innovations in high school graduation exam or recognition and university admission are not truly feasible and suitable for the innovative curricula implemented lately in Vietnam. It is not a long time until 2025, so the plan to create a rich question bank and strong IT infrastructure for this exam seems like a mission impossible. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, there is not yet any independent examination organization at the national level.

That being said, there are still positive feedbacks from the community on the changes in university admission methods lately. Nguyen Thi Bao Linh, a geography teacher, commented that before the changes, it took much time and money to prepare for a university entrance exam. Candidates had to travel to major cities where test sites were located to learn in cram classes of each university they wished to register. Now that there is only one exam for all, it saves much effort and releases people from unnecessary pressure.

Senior student of Nguyen Tat Thanh University Ngo Xuan Hieu also agreed that the changes have save money for candidates. However, the serious cheating incident of educational officials during the high school graduation exam happening in 2018 left the public in wonder whether people who put in considerable effort for the exam could be paid off or not, and whether money had such a powerful voice. There must be a solution to restore trust among the public.