Prof Dr Mai Trong Nhuan participated in the higher education accreditation training held by the British Council in the United Kingdom just after the July 7, 2005 London bombing. It made for a high-impact trip that left its mark, especially for the access it provided to new thinking that resulted in pioneering educational accreditation efforts in Vietnam.
Accreditation is a common higher education quality control tool in many countries, including Vietnam. It helps universities improve their quality over time, retain learners, maintain autonomy and responsibility to society, while meeting the needs for human resources, science and technology for ongoing international integration.
In this context, Vietnam National University, Hanoi (VNU) has launched itself as a trailblazing educational institution in this field of activities for a decade, through its partnership with the British Council and accrediting agencies in other countries.
Prof Mai Trong Nhuan, former VNU Hanoi Director, recalled his ground-breaking trip to this accreditation training course: “Being in London at that time was disruptive after the bombing, but the course went smoothly and was inspiring. The course only lasted 10 days, but it was of great benefit to me. VNU Hanoi had in mind for some time that autonomy in education must rely on accreditation, but it lacked a toolkit with specific quality testing benchmarks. Thanks to this course, I learned about the higher education accreditation set of criteria used in the UK, and more importantly, how it worked.”
After the course, Prof Nhuan provided insight and participated in the development of accreditation guidelines for VNU Hanoi, which came out in 2006. He tapped into what he learned from the trip and referenced to other countries with the unique nature of tertiary education in Vietnam and VNU Hanoi in mind. The professor said this was the first accreditation toolkit HNU introduced in Vietnam, used by the Ministry of Education and Training as a reference source for the release of “Guidelines on the procedures and cycles for educational accreditation in universities, colleges and technical schools” in 2007.
In addition to helping to put in place a foundational and pioneering set of criteria, Prof Nhuan also explored the modern approach to educational accreditation. He realised that while Vietnam often took a procedural approach to accreditation, meaning that it focused more on compliance (whereas regulations may be obsolete and out of touch with reality), the approach to accreditation in the UK and elsewhere around the world was a result-based one (whether something is good or not), and accurate and independent scientific principles.
The course also opened up the opportunity for a close partnership between the professor and British Council, through various activities financed and delivered by the latter, including numerous forums, workshops and training courses on advanced higher education governance. Through the partnership with the British Council, he was also proactive in taking educational quality control and accreditation at the national university closer to international best practices to help develop a research-oriented, multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary, highly autonomous and responsible approach to university training development, launching the university as a trusted and leading name in Vietnam.
The course was invaluable for the professor’s work as leader of VNU Hanoi until 2012 and later as a senior officer, Chairman of the National University Accreditation Board, vice chair of the Policy Advisory Board, Vietnam Panel of Climate Change.
When it comes to educational accreditation, the professor headed the external evaluation teams of many other universities in Vietnam and worked as a facilitator in accreditor courses. In 2016, he was invited by the British Council to attend an accreditor training course. From the experiences gained from the UK and around the world, he shared new thinking with students from various colleges in Vietnam on educational accreditation, accentuating truthfulness, integrity, intelligence, experience and cognisance for accreditors.
He also valued and gave high credit to the way British Council experts worked. He recalled that meetings often took place with high intensity, through unique, straightforward, scientific, professional and aggressive methods, but in harmony, mutual respect and listening when it came to negotiations.
Prof Nhuan wished the British Council would continue to be a good and inspiring example in terms of quality and innovation, and to provide more partnership opportunities among training and research institutions of the two countries.
“The British Council is an organisation that symbolises connecting, sharing, partnership building, opportunities and creating trust.”