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Vietnam offers free tuition to persuade students to study Marxism

Students approach the Hanoi University of Pharmacy campus on Aug. 15, 2013. Vietnam is offering free tuition for students who pursue degrees in Marx, Lenin and Ho Chi Minh studies.
Students approach the Hanoi University of Pharmacy campus on Aug. 15, 2013. Vietnam is offering free tuition for students who pursue degrees in Marx, Lenin and Ho Chi Minh studies.
(Chris Brummitt / Associated Press)

HANOI, Vietnam — Market forces are working against college degrees in Marx, Lenin and Ho Chi Minh studies in Vietnam, where the Communist government has resorted to offering free tuition to attract students.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed a decree last month giving free tuition to students agreeing to take four-year courses on Marxism-Leninism and the thoughts of Ho Chi Minh, the country’s revolutionary hero, at state-run universities.

Students have been shunning such degrees because employers are not interested in them, said Pham Tan Ha, head of admissions and training at Ho Chi Minh City Social and Human Sciences University. Degrees in subjects such as communications, tourism, international relations and English are more popular because students believe “they will have better chances of employment and better pay when they graduate,” he said.

Students who study certain medical specialties, such as tuberculosis and leprosy, also will get a free ride under the decree. Ordinarily they would have to pay the equivalent of about $200 a year for tuition.

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All Vietnamese students must take at least three classes in Marxist-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh studies, but few go beyond the minimum requirement.

Vietnam has a Communist goverment but it embraced free-market reforms in the 1980s. These days, the nation’s past is mostly apparent in its large and inefficient state-owned sector, a repressive state apparatus, the occasional Soviet-era statue or building and lingering alliances with other leftist countries.

Getting a good job — rather than the nuances of a discredited political and economic ideology — is the primary concern of most young Vietnamese and their families.

More than 60% of the country’s 90 million people are younger than 30, a demographic sweet spot that can lead to fast economic growth in developing countries. Competition for well-paying jobs is intense among the 500,000 graduates who enter the job market each year.

Many employers, among them multinationals looking to staff factories or service industries, complain about the quality of graduates that Vietnamese universities are producing. There are many private universities alongside the state-run system, but for those with money, studying overseas is considered the best option.

Duong Van Quang, a second-year student at the Hanoi University of Pharmacy, said students wanting to join the government bureaucracy, especially in rural areas, were the most likely to take a degree in Marxist-Leninist philosophy. He felt it unfair that they should get a free education.

Others met during the lunch hour in Hanoi, the capital, weren’t enthusiastic about the subjects either.

“Studying Marxism and Leninism is rather dry, and many students don’t like it,” said 23-year-old Tran The Anh, a fifth-year student. “The number of students studying these courses is very modest because many of them believe that it is difficult to find a job after graduation.”

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Phan Thi Trang, another pharmaceutical student, conceded that the subjects might be interesting if she studied them further. But she’d had enough of them for now.

“They are just not applicable to my daily life,” she said.

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