Riding a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is the ultimate in freedom and independence.   As you negotiate the narrow streets and alleys of the districts, you become immersed in, and a part of, the buzz of this vibrant city from dawn to dusk.  Hear the melodic cries of a street seller, “Bánh Bao Đây”!, the children yelling quick goodbyes to parents at school entrances, the dogs barking, and the little iconic blue tiny chairs with family and friends eating phở, bún chả, bánh cuốn, gỏi cuốn.

Never has the aphorism, “necessity is the mother of invention” appeared more apt.  Boxes, parcels, fridges, ladders, construction equipment, people (I’ve often seen five riders on the one motorbike), anything, all tied on to a bike in a way that reminds me of the stories of ingenuity and “can-do” spirit of the Australian bush entrepreneur.

There’s an unspoken teamwork on the roads of Ho Chi Minh City.  For those of us who stop at the lights, as the green signal gets closer, engines are all slighted revved in unison and anticipation.  Slow drivers drive more on the right, being mindful to leave enough room for the motorcyclists choosing to drive down the wrong side of the road. If a car or bike pushes into the wrong lane, immediately the offended parties collectively beep their horns and this chorus of gentle protest is a never-ending reminder that this jungle has laws, like any other. One hand on the accelerator; the other on the horn, as we move towards our destination.

Education is one of the main vehicles by which Vietnam can grow its economy    according to a recent report from the World BankEducate to Grow (August 2022). This includes opening the doors to foreign investment in education through higher education reform and reducing the gap between the supply and demand sides in education.

There is a way to go.  Educate to Grow states that 1.7 per cent of Vietnam’s almost 100-million strong population were enrolled in universities as of 2019, compared for example to 4 per cent in Malaysia and 3.8 per cent in South Korea. The World Bank report observes: “in the long run, to meet upper-middle income enrolment levels, Vietnam would have to facilitate the enrolment of an estimated 3.8 million students, almost double the numbers in 2019.” The same report indicates that only 10.2 per cent of the population in 2019 aged 25 or older had completed a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.

There is recognition at the highest level that Vietnam, in its own interests, must create an environment in which Australian and other foreign providers of higher education can help to shift these figures.  In legislation, regulation, and policy, the obstacles to operating in Vietnam need to be removed and with the active co-operation of the Vietnamese government, business and other key stakeholders, the pace of change is accelerating.  Likewise, it is our responsibility as Australian universities operating in Vietnam to collaborate and partner with the communities we serve and to work constructively together to bring about these beneficial outcomes.

We must play a part in contributing to creating the future generation of Vietnam’s leaders, in developing the future workforce, and in supporting industry innovation. It is vital that we partner with government and industries to address shared challenges and embrace opportunities as part of the strong relationship between Vietnam and Australia .

As we rev the accelerator of educational initiatives and negotiate our way through the potholes of the road ahead, Australian higher education needs to operate with independence.  It must operate, however, within the context of an understanding of the role that education plays in Vietnam, and in the spirit of entrepreneurship and collaboration that is such a marked and wonderful characteristic of the Vietnamese people.

This article was originally published on the Campus Morning Mail and has been republished with full permission from the author. To view the original article please click here.

Publication Date
Monday 14th November, 2022