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[HANOI] A science and technology university under construction in Vietnam will promote a new model of higher education in the country, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The 5,000-student University of Science and Technology of Hanoi — to be completed within five or six years at a cost of US$213 million — will encourage stronger links between teaching and research, and promote collaborations with the private sector, said Norman LaRocque, senior education specialist at the ADB, which has lent US$190 million for construction.

France has donated about US$140 million to the university for development and operating costs over the next ten years.

Although smaller than other public universities in Asia, the university represents "a new model in the sense of having a much more autonomous and rigorous governance structure than virtually all of the other universities in Vietnam," LaRocque told SciDev.Net. The curricula of Vietnamese universities are heavily influenced by central government planning, he said.

The university, which opened at a temporary location last October and is enrolling students, is part of a "bottom-up process of reform", said LaRocque, adding that Vietnam's higher education system is "overly centralised and highly politicised".

Vietnamese universities typically cannot produce useful or timely research for industry, he said, and Vietnamese professors lag behind their counterparts from more developed South-East Asian countries in terms of academic productivity. In 2005, Vietnamese researchers produced about 2.5 peer-reviewed science and engineering articles per million people — roughly half that produced by researchers in Thailand, for example.

Phan Hong Son, executive director of Vietnam's National Foundation for Science and Technology Development, acknowledged shortcomings in Vietnam's university system but said the country is "pushing very hard" to improve educational standards.

The new university will "enhance the quality of higher education in Vietnam", Son said, adding that it will help to ease mounting enrolment pressures associated with Vietnam's largely young population.

A new generation of Vietnamese students is earning PhDs abroad and will eventually return to teach at the university, he said, but in the meantime, French professors will provide teaching and training.

Son welcomed the French involvement but said the new university may have trouble recruiting enough Vietnamese students who can follow technical lectures in English and French.

Son and LaRocque agreed that the university's biggest challenge will be maintaining long-term support from the Vietnamese authorities.

"Ribbon cutting is really sexy, but it's not so sexy to make sure you have enough money to keep the lights on, fix equipment and pay staff," said LaRocque.