Doctor of Philosophy
In 2012, the Vietnamese government enacted the Higher Education Law to give public universities institutional autonomy. Since the passage of the law, the term institutional autonomy has become contested; different interpretations have arisen among different actors concerned with implementing the policy. In a qualitative case study, I explore the meaning of autonomy in the context of Vietnamese higher education where the legacy of centralized governance is strong. To understand what autonomy means in this context, I use thematic analysis and interpretive policy analysis and draw on state steering theory (Wright, 2019b) as a theoretical framework through which to gain insight on tensions between autonomy and control. Data sources include government policy documents, semi-structured interviews with seventeen senior leaders from one Vietnamese public university, and internal university policy documents. I argue that autonomy in Vietnamese higher education involves steering at a distance whereby the legacy of Vietnam’s centralized governance system adds more control over the university. The autonomy policy has given the Vietnamese public university a higher level of status with more power to make decisions but has not made it independent of the state. The enactment of autonomy policy in Vietnam highlights tensions between the top-down authoritarian way in which the law and policy are enacted through the state’s centralized governance model and how the policy enters into institutions and becomes meaningful to actors. The present study addresses gaps in the literature on university governance and education policy and offers unique insights into the complexities of autonomy in Vietnam. I recommend that all actors involved in the autonomy policy take into consideration the different meanings of autonomy to better understand and to be more responsive to how the policy is actually taken up in the institutions.
Summary for Lay Audience
In 2012, the Vietnamese government enacted the Higher Education Law to officially mark the granting of autonomy to public universities. After the passage of the law, the key term institutional autonomy became controversial—because the ministries continued to apply control measures to public universities. In this qualitative case study, I explore the meaning of autonomy in the context of Vietnam’s higher education system where the legacy of centralized governance is strong. I draw on state steering theory (Wright, 2019b) as a theoretical framework to gain insights on tensions between autonomy and control. I use thematic analysis and interpretive policy analysis to analyze data which include semi-structured interviews with seventeen leaders at one Vietnamese public university, policy documents released by the government, and documents internal to the university. I suggest that the new meaning of autonomy as steering at a distance emerges in Vietnamese higher education, but the legacy of a centralized governance system adds more control over the university. The institutional autonomy policy gives a public university a higher level of status than other universities in Vietnam, with more power to make decisions, but does not give it independence from the state. The present study addresses a gap in the literature by offering insights into the complexities of autonomy in the context of centralized governance in Vietnam. I recommend that both policymakers and university actors take into consideration the different meanings of autonomy when the policy is enacted to better understand and to be more responsive to how the policy is working in the institutions.
Le, Anh Thi Hoai, "Steering at a Distance: A Qualitative Case Study of Institutional Autonomy at a Vietnamese Public University" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8419.
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