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Law & Public Policy: Autonomy in Education Policy Analysis


People encounter education throughout their life, and policies regulating this system account for kindergarten studies, school, college, university, and graduate studies, and job training regulate the way this system functions, its standards, and the anticipated outcomes of the studies. Education policies are legislation that the government of a state creates to regulate the education system (Viennet and Pont 2). They set a foundation of the education system, including the options for funding and autonomous decision-making for the educational institutions. One example of these policies is education autonomy, which allows institutions to select their sources of funding, and curriculums and make independent decisions. In Vietnam, the Education Law allows schools to operate autonomously, however, this policy lacks details and specific procedures that would allow the schools to exercise their autonomy.

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The need for autonomy is dictated by Vietnam’s economic development and poor quality of education in public schools because the example of states that have policies supporting private education shows that this approach affects quality and student results. For Vietnamese schools, the issue of decentralizing the education system is pressing due to the need to allow schools to receive financing from non-state sources and improve the quality of education (Chi). The Vietnamese policymakers have made several steps towards transforming the system of education into an autonomous one, similar to the system that functions in the United States, including the draft of the new education policy for primary schools, which has not been implemented yet. This paper will examine the problem of education autonomy in Vietnam, and current education autonomy policies, and discuss why these policies have not been implemented.

Policy Background and Context

The Vietnamese schools’ education autonomy is the subject of this review because the state’s system requires readjustment to ensure a good quality of education for students. Viennet and Pont define education policy as a “purposeful and multidirectional change process aiming to put a specific policy into practice and which affects an education system on several levels” (1). Hence, a change in the education structure has to affect different levels of the system. As stated by Hung, the autonomy of schools is the ability of the education facilities to operate without an affiliation with the state’s government (19). Hence, this paper will focus on the policies that are barriers for Vietnamese schools in their attempt to operate independently from the state.

In Vietnam, the Education Law is the central policy governing the way the education system is structured and operated. This document is the primary legislation that outlines the basis of the state’s education and its goals and sets the educational institutions’ foundation. However, this law lacks policies that would allow the state’s schools to operate independently from the condition, which causes issues because although the law does not forbid independence, it does not cite the procedures needed to exercise this independence. A similar issue exists with Circular no. 41 for primary schools, which was an attempt to help schools operate autonomously. In comparison, in the United States, the Constitution does not cite education as the federal government’s responsibility, which means that parents and local governments are in charge of children’s education. In this research, the model adopted in the Vietnamese policies regarding education autonomy will be examined and comparisons to the autonomy of schools will be examined as an example.

The need to change this law is dictated by the society in Vietnam, which demands a high quality of education and in some states, it is achieved through government funding and regulation sphere some examples include the Nordic states. In Norway, society perceives education as a fundamental right of the citizens (Chi). This approach views all elements of social activity through the lens of the market economy, except for education.

Chi states that previously, the Vietnamese policymakers viewed education as a commodity and aimed to create a system where “everyone can learn.” This approach meant that the government-subsidized education institutions and affected the policies that the government implemented. Currently, Chi argues that the views on education in Vietnam have changed, and policymakers, as well as society, place more emphasis on private financing of education. In recent years, the Vietnamese government has implemented regulations that allow for more autonomy at several levels of the education system, as required by the definition of the education policy (“Improve the Quality of General Education”). Hence, the government recognizes the need to change the existing system and implement new policies.

One reason why the subsidized education approach did not work in Vietnam is the lack of funds needed to support the functioning of these institutions. Chi states that the government reverted to the “socialization of education” approach, which allows schools to be funded by sources other than the government. Hence, private funding, parents sponsoring schools, and foreign investments have become common in Vietnam. More recently, this has become a trend of “self-funding,” which is a system similar to that in the United States. However, Chi also warns that in the United States market system, some parents are burdened by the costs of their children’s education. Arguably, the Vietnamese education system cannot be sustained with government-only funding, which is why schools were allowed to accept financing from other sources. But the regulations and policies fall behind this trend.

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Autonomy in Education

From a legal perspective, the issue of education autonomy relates to the scope of freedom that education facilities have in terms of their management. Chi describes education autonomy as the decentralization of education institutions, which means that they gain a right to govern themselves independently from the central authority. In the case of Vietnam, independently from the Ministry of Education and Training. While being autonomous, education institutions can decide if they want to be affiliated with the government or not, where to seek funding, and how to structure the curriculum. The government, however, still plays a role in the autonomous system because it sets out the standards for the learning outcomes.

Key Facts

The education system in Vietnam is not the same as the one in the Western world, mainly because the state has been governed by Communist leaders. Vietnam is a booming economy, which had successfully developed since the 1980s when the state abandoned the Communism policy and reverted to a Capitalist approach (Trines). Hence, in the past, all public service domains were owned by the government, including education.

In 2020, there were 26,820 schools in Vietnam, such as all primary, secondary, and high school institutions (“Number of Schools in Vietnam From 2014 to 2020”). The formal education here lasts for twelve years, and after these studies, adolescents can choose to attend college. The education system in Vietnam is governed by the state, and it includes both public and private institutions, but policies such as Circular no. 41 are the first steps towards providing autonomy to the education facilities.

Analytical Framework

ROCCIPI problem-solving model is applied to analyze the education autonomy policy in Vietnam. ROCCIPI involves the analysis of the following factors: rules, opportunity, capacity, communication, interest, process, and ideology. Each is reviewed objectively and subjectively, where objective factors are quantifiable. From the perspective of rules, Vietnam has a disconnect between the state’s Communist past and the current demands of the industrial and capitalist economy. The societal norms that existed in the past, which required the state to govern all aspects of public life, are no longer viable. Chi states that the education system is undergoing a change, where schools accept funding from non-governmental sources. Trines says that “Vietnam needs to upskill its labor force,” requiring the education system to respond rapidly and effectively. These requirements reflect the subjective element of the “rules” factor—the social norm and trends.

Objectively, the government expresses the rules for the education system in the legal documents. In Vietnam, the Education Law is the primary document that governs the system issued in 2005 (“Vietnam: Education law, Issued in 2005”). Articles 14 and 58 outline the ability of high schools to have autonomy. However, the subdocuments on this matter are inconsistent with the Education Law (Lam). Mainly, these regulations fail to address the exercising of schools’ autonomy, creating a dilemma because technically, the schools are allowed to work autonomously, but practically, they have no capacity to be independent. Next, Decree 43 2006 to Decree 16 2015 of the Vietnamese laws regulate the operations of public non-business units, but the awareness of these acts is low (Lam). Hence, the legal inconsistencies and lack of communication create an issue for the schools in Vietnam.

In 2010 the policymakers introduced Circular no. 41 which regulates the operations of primary schools. However, Hung argues that this document no longer corresponds to the trends and requirements of the system (19). The Primary School Charter that the Ministry developed in 2020 should replace the outdated law but has not been implemented yet (Hung 19). The basis of this charter is school is the renovation of primary schools and granting more autonomy to them.

Based on this, one can assume that the concept of autonomy should be implemented for all institutions of education and affect the education system at all levels. Lam argues that, first and foremost, schools should be granted autonomy in two domains-finance and organization. Next, the Board of Education should be responsible for developing regulations on spending, financial management, and organizational matters. A “people’s inspector” will be responsible for reviewing the financial plans and auditing the schools’ spending every three years (Lam). With this approach, the schools will be independent of the state while still having to comply with the necessary standards and manage their financials for the benefit of their students.

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In the United States, for example, school autonomy is legalized under the Tenth Amendment, which allows the local governments to develop their own regulations for schools. The involvement of the Federal Government in the law of the schools is limited (“Laws & Guidance”). Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is one document that regulated this system that promotes quality of education. Other Acts that regulate the education system in the United States include the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and No Child Left Behind (“Laws & Guidance”). These regulations set standards for the school system. For example, ESSA requires schools to use evidence-based practices and innovations in their work. Under ESAA, disadvantaged districts are offered government grants, which ensures that the communities where people with low-income residents are able to access quality education.

As for private and non-government-funded education in the United States, there is a large number of non-state-owned facilities. According to the statistics, there are 34,576 private K-12 schools in the United States (“Private Schools”). These schools are 25% of the entire school facilities in the state. Apart from private, the US has public and home schools, and the former receives funding from the local and federal governments. Private schools are free to determine their curriculum and are subject to voluntary accreditation (“Private Schools”). However, the federal government sets standards for graduation and standardized tests.

Opportunity for the Vietnamese education system is the way the schools in the state exercise their autonomy, either legally or by disobeying the laws. As Chi notes, the school system in Vietnam already uses non-state funding, for example, by accepting fees from parents or allowing international schools to operate. Hence, these schools already exercise their autonomy. Since there are discrepancies in the laws noted by Lam, where according to the Education Law, there is no opportunity for independence, while other legal acts allow for it. These issues within the legislation mean that schools that follow the Decrees that will allow them to be privately funded are breaking the Education Law. Here, there is an opportunity to align the Vietnamese legal system and create a cohesive guideline that would allow schools to choose to fund based on their preferences.

Capacity refers to the ability of Vietnamese schools to exercise their autonomy and potential barriers. The Vietnamese government has proclaimed its support for the independence of some types of education institutions. Lam cites the government’s statement: “Universities have the autonomy for planning for development, educational and training activities, scientific and technological activities, finance, foreign relationship, organization and personnel” (1). However, this statement lacks legal support because, from the perspective of regulation, these institutions are still required to regulate their work as required by the Ministry of Education and Training. Law on Higher Education 2012 is one effort to revert this regime and create a more autonomous environment in the state. Pham and Goyette note that a significant barrier for Vietnamese higher education institutions is “The problem of how HE is governed at both the system and institutional levels can be defined by the fact that both state controls and market forces have decisive roles in the governance process” (50). Hence, a significant problem for the Vietnamese education system is the inconsistency between the proclamation of education autonomy and the legal acts that restrict it.

Communication, defined as the effectiveness of the policy introduction in Vietnam, is limited. Mainly, this is because the Education Charter for Primary Schools, which should grant full autonomy to the schools, has been developed but not implemented as a law (Pham and Goyette 50). Moreover, policymakers should raise public awareness about the benefits of school autonomy. For example, OECD notes that in states where schools operate autonomously, the quality of education and student results are better when compared to the state-governed schools (“School Autonomy and Accountability: Are they Related to Student Performance?”). However, accountability plays a vital role in ensuring the better performance of these schools.

Interest, as a subjective matter, will be reviewed from the perspective of the need for private education. Lam states that the rapid development of the Vietnamese economy relies on a qualified workforce. The agricultural sector will need 1 million qualified individuals in the following years. The quality of the state-run education system impairs economic development, and this system cannot be transformed rapidly. Further development of the economy will place more burden on the education system, requiring it to produce high-quality training for the students, which, as noted by OECD, is achieved better by independent schools.

Chi acknowledges that a change toward an autonomous system may be burdensome for some families because they may be unable to pay for the studies of their children. According to Hung, “Vietnamese education has gradually shifted from focusing primarily on the development of public schools in the past to focusing more on developing the quality of private schools” (20). Therefore, the quality of education has become the priority for the Vietnamese government and the citizens, and as shown by the example of the United States, one way to achieve quality is by allowing autonomy for the schools.

Current Legal Status: Legal Documents

The Ministry of Education and Training is the governmental body responsible for education system management in Vietnam. Currently, education in Vietnam is regulated by the Education Law and Circa no. 41 act (Lam). The Education Law is a public document that outlines the objectives and the processes of the education institutions in Vietnam. This is a public document that outlines the goals and standards of education in the state. It has “nine chapters with 115 articles” under which education is an open and permeable system. Under this law, the schools and education facilities in Vietnam can be sponsored by investors (“The Education Law”). Article 54 outlines explicitly the people and organizations that can invest in education, for example, the citizens, organizations operating under the Vietnamese law, or international investors (“The Education Law”). However, the schools do not widely apply this policy at this moment, which requires the government to implement policies that would stimulate schools to operate autonomously.

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The Decrees allow the non-business public units to be autonomous, but it usually is not applied to schools (Lam). These Decrees under the Education Law are among the fundamental problems that create confusion. Hence, the government either needs to clearly state their position on the application of the Decrees to the education system or change these policies to include the schools.


From a personal viewpoint, this policy issue is among the most pressing problems for the Vietnamese government at this time. The autonomy of schools provides many benefits, including enhanced education quality. The Vietnamese government recognizes this benefit, as well. However, the current lack of laws that would allow for actual school autonomy harms the system. Despite having Circular no. 41 legislation prepared for implementation, which would enable Vietnamese schools to be governed privately, the legislation is yet to be implemented.

Works Cited

Chi, Diep. “Autonomy in Education in Vietnam.” Giaoduc, Web.

“The Education Law.” Vietnam Law, Web.

Hung, Nguyen Tan. “From The Story Of ‘ University Autonomy” Policy In Taiwan: A Look At Current Higher Education Reform In Vietnam.” Ho Chi Minh City University of Education Journal of Science, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 19-29.

“Improve the Quality of General Education.” Dai Bieu Nhan Dan, Web.

Lam, Nguyễn Tùng. “Tự chủ trong trường phổ thông Hoàn thiện pháp lý, trao quyền triệt để.” Daibieunhandan, Web.

“Laws & Guidance.” US Department of Education, Web.

“Number of Schools in Vietnam From 2014 to 2020.” Statista, 2020, Web.

Pham Thanh and Kimberly Goyette. “Higher Education Governance in Vietnam: Statism Versus Institutional Autonomy.” Transformations in Higher Education Governance in Asia. Higher Education in Asia: Quality, Excellence and Governance, edited by Jarvis Darryl and Ka Ho Mock, Springer, 2019, pp. 50-89.

“Private Schools.” Council for American Private Education, Web.

“School Autonomy and Accountability: Are They Related to Student Performance?” OCED, Web.

Trines, Stefan. “Education In Vietnam – Current Trends And Qualifications”. World Education News+Reports, Web.

Viennet, Romane, and Beatriz Pont. “Education Policy Implementation.” Organisation For Economic Co-Operation And Development (OECD), Web.

“Vietnam: Education Law, Issued in 2005.” UNESCO, Web.

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