A recent review of higher education in developing countries concluded that while money and talent are important, what matters most in determining whether universities succeed or fail is how they are organised and managed.
In this interview, Thomas Vallely — director of the Vietnam programme at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government — agrees. He says the Vietnamese education ministry's power over university curricula and staffing is fundamentally incompatible with academic excellence.
Research and science education are weak in Vietnamese universities, says Vallely. In contrast, he says examples from Chinese universities showi how greater autonomy can yield scientific success stories.
Creating a top-class university can invigorate a developing country's entire higher education system, says Vallely, pointing to the way elite universities in Bangkok, Thailand supply the country's regional universities with a new generation of faculty members.
Noting that a developing country such as Vietnam could build a top-class university for a little over the cost of a single Boeing 777 aeroplane, Vallely says the millions of dollars needed should not be viewed as a waste of precious resources but as a sound investment.