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Vietnam's Vocational Education at Doorstep of Asean Economic Community 2015
16:55' 11/16/2015
(NIVT) Improvement of workforce quality in general and movement of highly qualified within ASEAN will benefit both countries – delegate migrant workers and receive migrant workers. ASEAN aims to harmonize skills/capabilities between countries as step toward mutual recognition of qualification and degree in order to develop skills, movement of laborers and students. This content has been repeatedly mentioned at regional meetings, conferences since 1990s.

1. The trend of labor integration
ASEAN countries have a total population of 630 million people and diverse in terms of population, economic scale and level of GDP per capita. ASEAN charter declares the objective of developing labor force through closer cooperation in education and long-term training, in science and technology, to increase the power of ASEAN citizens and promote ASEAN community; improve welfare and standard of living by facilitating equal access to the opportunities of human development; welfare and social equity…From 1990 to 2013, the number of laborers moving within ASEAN region have increased from 1.5 million to 6.5 million with emergence of Malaysia, Singapore and Thai as major migration destination. Migrant laborers are mostly low or average-skilled. Main drivers for migration flow are economic and demographic differences between member countries. Some countries that experience growth of young population face pressure of job creation from labor market which could possibly entail migration into foreign countries of young men and women. On the other hand, recipient countries have demand for laborers due to aging population which causes labor shortage. Currently, ASEAN economic community’s policies of migration management is confined within high skill jobs.
Mutual Recognition Arrangements – MRAs are major instrument for movement of labor within ASEAN economic community. These agreements will help laborers gain relevant skills and experiences to be recognized and gain access to employment opportunities overseas. To date, there have been agreements in 8 fields: engineering service (12/2005); nursing service (12/2006); architectural service, surveying service (11/2007); medical practice, dental practice and accounting practice (02/2009); tourism practice (11/2012). However, the number of employment opportunities in these 8 fields only account for a tiny portion (1%) of total job opportunities in labor market provided by AEC thus it only has short-term effect. Movement of low skilled and average skilled laborers is likely to continue and even increase.
In order support mutual recognition ASEAN has built ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework – AQRF to enable comparison of skilled labor across ASEAN member states and provide common standard for national qualification framework. AQRF was ratified by Economic ministers in 8/2014, followed by approval of Education ministers in 9/2014. Approval of AQRF by Labor ministers of ASEAN member states was also completed in 5/2015. The foundation for AQRF comes from ASEAN charter signed by 10 ASEAN leaders on 20/11/2007 in which the desires of consolidating into a single entity – solidifying ASEAN community were clearly expressed. Also in 2007, ASEAN master plan was also signed. It calls for areas of cooperation including recognition of professional qualifications (ASEAN 2007). One important component of the master plan is creating free movement of qualified labor through “harmonization and standardization” (ASEAN 2007:18), especially in preparation for AEC 2015.
It can be said that ASEAN is a notable region in developing the model of National Qualification Framework between countries. Some countries have established comprehensive national qualification framework, while some countries only have framework by categories (high school, vocational, university education), other countries have yet to build or implement national qualification framework. In this context, AQRF aims to integrate national qualification frameworks with different stages of development, it is a combination of initial proposals to already built frameworks that are functionally similar to national qualification framework.
2. Qualification and qualification framework
2.1 Qualification
According to Vietnam Encyclopedia, qualification is the volume, level and quality of knowledge system, skill, attitude, emotion and corresponding assessment in personality structure. Professional qualification is defined by level of workers, staff, officials and education levels: intermediate, college, university, doctor of philosophy, doctor of science. General education includes: kindergarten, elementary school, secondary school. Corresponding to level of qualification is different type of schools and level of educations. Human education qualification is formed from high school, professional qualification, from life, interacting experiences, primarily through teaching, education and “perception-social reality” activities of that person.
However, how to create make degree and qualification become one and reliable enough to prove degree ownership is equivalent to corresponding qualification?
In the world, up to date, definition of qualification have been quite commonly understood and according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). That is an “an official certificate issued by an official organization, to recognize that one’s graduation is in line with qualification standard specified for that education level, often in the form of primary certificate, intermediate certificate, college or university. Training and assessment of a level can be done through work experience and/or study program. A qualification demonstrates official recognition of value in labor market and for higher education level” (OECD, 2005).
Smallest part of qualification is unit. Unit can be considered a subject, module, course, seminar, capacity, division. This is a smallest part of a qualification or program and can be separately evaluated and recognized.
2.2. National qualification framework
National qualification framework originated from English-speaking countries since 1990 and later was introduced into other regions in the world. According to Tuck, qualification framework is described as an instrument for development, classification and recognition of skill, knowledge and capacity in accordance with continuously accepted level. This is a new way to structure qualification  and current qualification  is defined by learning outcomes. Countries that first established national qualification framework included Scotland, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. These frameworks are all based on concept of learning outcome as the basis for qualification. In some cases, concept of learning outcomes derives from capacity definition in vocational education sector (Tuck, 2007). In 2014, an estimate of 130 countries have built national qualification framework.
National qualification framework is an instrument for building and classifying qualifications in accordance with a set of standard or in accordance with standards dedicated to achieved education levels. This set of standard may be included in qualification description or can be delineated as a description of levels. Scope of the framework can cover all education achievements and forms of study can be limited to a certain number of areas of study, for example, primary education, education and training for adults or a specific vocational field.
2.3. ASEAN Qualification Reference Framework
ASEAN built Qualification Framework for purpose of comparison of qualification across countries in order to:
-    Support recognition of that qualification
-    Promote life education
-    Stimulate the development of national approaches to formalize learning outcomes outside the domain of formal education
-    Promote the movement of labour
-    Promote and stimulate the mobility of education and learners
-    Promote system of qualification with higher quality
-    AQRF will support and strengthen national qualification framework or national system of qualification of each country, at the same time provide a mechanism for comparison which is transparent and higher system of qualification. This can be achieved by:
-    The process of mutual learning between countries, such as design and operation of qualification system
-    Better understanding of national qualification system, for example, help the system become more understandable for other countries
-    Application of quality processes used in other countries
Reference framework will incorporate national qualification frameworks or ASEAN systems of qualification and become part of ASEAN mechanism for recognizing regional qualifications with regard to other regional systems of qualification. Description of AQRF includes two components: 1) Knowledge and skill; 2) Application and responsibility (Table 1)

Table 1: Description of level of ASEAN Qualification Reference Framework

3. Some problems for Vietnam
3.1. Problem 1 – Training and development of labor force
According to World Bank, Vietnam is facing new challenges. Capital investment, not productivity increase, has become driver for economic growth. This is not a sustainable model for maintaining high economic growth. Despite the growth of labor force, Vietnam’s young population is experiencing a decline. It means that, Vietnam could no longer rely upon the scale of labor force to achieve successes as in the past, instead should rather focus on increasing labor productivity. Despite impressive reading, writing and calculation ability of Vietnamese labor, many companies still complaint about their struggle in finding and recruiting laborers that meet job requirements. Majority of employers think that recruitment of labor is difficult process because majority of candidates do not have appropriate skill (“shortage of skill”), or due to shortage of labor in several sectors (“shortage of qualified labor” in specific areas). Employers in Vietnam are always in search of laborers but unable to find laborers with appropriate qualification.
In term of education – training and development of workforce, 2014 White Book published by European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam on the issues on commerce/investment and recommendation (EUROCHAM, 2013) states: ‘Education style is embedded in the culture which creates a repeated cycle in which this generation teaches successive generation using the same method without any evolvement. Impact of this education style is that all students have the similar behavior and impact as demonstrated in working place, that often result in a lack of initiatives and creativity’. The report also shows that, within ASEAN, Vietnam is placed at bottom half in labor development ranking. Therefore, developing and improving the skill of labor force is one of crucial missions for Vietnam in order better meet fast-changing labor market.
3.2. Problem 2 – Vietnam’s system of qualification
Vietnam is one of few countries lagging behind in ASEAN region in building national qualification framework even though national skill standard has been in place since 2008 and has gained experiences in recognizing skill and qualification in sub-Mekong region
To date, Vietnam has no clear definition of national qualifications framework. This is a structure of education system in which qualification levels are defined in an unclear and nontransparent manner. Even though names by education level are existent but the depth, the width and the sophistication of knowledge, skill and qualification are unable to be measured, additionally there is no classification system of qualification. Each qualification is not based upon a standard of outcomes clearly defined for different levels. Reality has shown that, our country’s system of education and training lacks consistency, quality of labor force training has not been able to meet requirement from employers. Education is not coherently linked with labor market, learners’ capabilities are not on bar with degrees, certificates issued. This situation of education and training system comes from many reasons, in which slow process of building and issuing national qualification framework is one of underlying causes.
Vocational education formally has two branches vocational training and vocational school. In which, vocational training is composed of three levels of formal education which are vocational college, vocational secondary school, vocational primary school. College level belongs to university education.
Vocational education law 2014 sets out three levels of formal education including college, secondary, primary. There is no college in university level but there remains college level in vocational education. Primary level, according to previous Vocational training law as well as current Vocational education law has duration of study from 3 to 12 months. Such a long duration could lead to different education levels but can only be called by a single name primary. Apart from that, several levels that can be accomplished with training courses under 3 months need to have learning outcomes clearly defined. Up to date, Vietnam’s system of qualification can be said to have following shortcomings:
- Structure of each level is determined by objectives, program content and duration of study without coherent linkage with the demand and technological change in labor market. Schools implement training programs, if learners meet the requirement as demonstrated in the test, assessment then they will be awarded with certificate.
- Learning the past and experiences (outside formal education) of laborers during work have not been assessed, recognized and awarded with corresponding degree, certificate, that has an effect on lifetime study opportunity and career development opportunity
- Transition from vocational skill standard to vocational education program has not been fundamentally addressed and relationship between vocational education qualification and national vocational skill framework has not been established though both of them describe learning outcomes, skills and attitudes necessary for laborers working in labor market.
- Mechanism of certificate management in linkage with quality of education and training has demonstrated a lack of consistency of standards, recognition procedures and awarding of degree at national level. In the context of international integration, recognition of degrees, certificates between different countries calls for qualification reference framework (learning outcome standard for each level), duration of study or volume of study (number of credits, or credit score, number of study hours in classroom, in practice…) and conditions to ensure quality standard. Due to the complication of our country’s system of degrees, certificates, the integration process of education and labor with other countries faces difficulty, sometime putting learners and laborers at disadvantage.
Recent Vocational education law sets out new system of qualification including three levels of formal education, college, secondary and primary. A systematic design of secondary and primary level based upon two previous types of qualifications as well as other levels outside formal education has presented Vietnam with pending problem which needs to be imperatively addressed by Vietnam’s national qualification framework.
3.3. Problem 3 – Vocational education system is not consistent with outcome standard
The notion of outcome standard appears to be relatively simple, but people coming from different environments look at outcome standard differently (program objective, professional qualification, assessment objective). For instance, in the context of education, outcomes standard is described in programs, module, course description, educational objective, evaluation instruments, national qualification levels; professionally, outcomes standard is indicated through professional standard, resume, recruitment, measurement system of qualification; in vocational orientation school outcomes standard could be understood as course’s characteristics, profession information, job announcement; in personal context learning outcomes are reflected in resume, work experiences – CV).
According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, outcome standard is entire information, knowledge, understanding, value, skill, qualification or behavior attained by a person through completion of education program (UNESCO, 2011). Another definition of outcome standard commonly used in the globe: A clear interpretation of what learners expect to know, understand, and/or as a result of learning process (ASEAN, 2015). Main purposes for the use of outcome standard include:
- Create a better linkage between education-training and the market of labor and employment (profession standard, profession resume)
- Generate more opportunities for recognition of study achievements beyond formal education (through the use of CV, description of qualification, program, degree, assessment criteria);
- Provide more flexibility and responsibility to education and training system (program flexibility, use of quality-assurance criteria, application standard).
In Vietnam, currently only university-level institutions built and declared outcome standard as a school’s commitment to knowledge, skill, attitude, behavior that students are expected to attain and the positions which students can assume after graduation in a field of study or a training program. However, the mode of building outcome standard for fields of study and conditions to ensure implementation have not been determined. Inherently, outcome standards are indeed “expectation” rather than “commitment” as declared by schools. On the other hand, no training in a field of study can be provided given that each school has distinctive outcome standard. The question is: what is the basis for building outcome standard? Is the description of outcome detailed or general? National outcome standard or training institution’s outcome standard? Should informal education or non-formal education’s learning achievement be formalized? Forthcoming, vocational education needs to establish process and methodology detailing building of outcome standard that is consistent with National qualification framework and AQRF, along with that is a quality assurance system from national level to training program’s level.
1.ADB & ILO (2014), ASEAN Community 2015: Managing integration for better jobs and shared prosperity.
2.Mike Coles and Andrea Bateman (2015), Extended learning outcomes paper, ASEAN Task Force Meeting document.
3.Nguyễn Quang Việt (2014), Tiếp cận chuẩn đầu ra trong đào tạo nghề, Bài giảng Bồi dưỡng cán bộ quản lý cơ sở dạy nghề, Tổng cục Dạy nghề.
4.Nguyễn Quang Việt (2014), Kỹ năng và năng lực hành nghề - Vấn đề và quan niệm, Tạp chí Khoa học Dạy nghề số 4+5/2014.
5.Ron Tuck (2007), An Introductory Guide to National Qualifications Frameworks: Conceptual and Practical  Issues for Policy Makers, Skills and Employability Department, International  Labour Office (ILO).
 6.UNESCO (2011), International Standard Classification of Education ISCED 2011.

(PhD. Nguyễn Quang Việt – The Research Institute of Vocational Training Science (The paper on scientific conference "Improving training capacity of engineering teachers at schools, engineering pedagogical faculties to meet demand for complete and comprehensive innovation of Vietnam’s education and training" 06/11/2015.))

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