The establishment of postgraduate studies related to the Spanish language and cultures is of potential interest to Vietnamese students and society in their current circumstances.
Here I dig into the motivations for these studies in Vietnam, sketch the general process for establishing postgraduate studies, the main challenges, and introduce a solution for the training personnel question based on existing distance education.
I propose the establishment of a distance Spanish-language university examination center at Hanoi University as the first step to developing a proper postgraduate degree.
Spanish language and cultures are an asset for Vietnam, and the subsequent establishment of Hispanic postgraduate studies in the country is a potential advantage. Here I sketch the creation of these studies, their main concerns, and I focus on the personnel training challenge.
In the first section, “Motivation in Vietnam,” I discuss the reasons for establishing postgraduate studies in Vietnam, considering that pragmatic motivations related to tourism, international business, and relations with the Hispanic countries must prevail.
In the second section, “Requirements for a postgraduate degree,” I sketch the general basis for the establishment of these studies anywhere, which are the accreditation and support of the hosting University and other related authorities, the existence of academically trained personnel, the availability of facilities to develop researching and teaching activities, the creation and implementation of a curriculum, and the existence of a potential market. I mention similar initiatives in Asia that may serve as an example for Hanoi University and Vietnam.
In the third section, “A possible first step for academic training,” I explain the distance university system, its history, its aims, how it helps to solve economic and logistic difficulties associated with face-to-face training in foreign countries, and I also explain how Spanish options are already implemented in the whole world, including Vietnam.
In the fourth section, “The specific case of UNED,” I discuss the case of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, the leading online university in Spain and the Hispanic countries.
In the fifth section, “The proposal,” I argue that establishing an examination center of a Spanish-language distance university may offer an excellent advantage for advanced training and validation studies for Vietnamese students, helping to solve the training challenge.
In the sixth section, “The further step: the creation of a proper postgraduate degree,” I argue that the collaboration with a Spanish-language distance university may extend to other aspects once the proper postgraduate degree is established.
- Motivation in Vietnam
Spanish language in Vietnam constitutes a developing asset, especially in tourism, international business, and relations with Hispanic countries.
Tourism is a rising economic sector in Vietnam, and despite the Covid pandemic, figures are returning to 2019, when 80.000 Spanish citizens visited the country (Vietnam News Agency 2021). However, that is still a tiny number compared to the total of twenty million Spanish tourists visiting foreign countries, and these statistics do not account for other Spanish-speaking visitors: there is room for expansion. More in general, the Spanish-speaking world is constituted of twenty countries in which Spanish is the official language, mainly located in America but also in Europe and Africa. Some other territories like Puerto Rico also recognize Spanish as an official language, and even if figures vary according to different criteria and methodologies, it is usually assumed that the Spanish language presents more than five hundred million speakers. Political relations and business with these countries, territories, companies, and peoples are global economic advantages for any country. In this sense, Spanish speakers suppose 9% of the Global GPD, and countries where Spanish is the official language constitute 6.2% of the Global GPD (Fernández Vítores 2022).
The potential student of a postgraduate degree in Spanish or Hispanic Studies may be interested in the purely cultural and historical issues of the Hispanic world. However, to ensure the success of the proposed studies, the aforementioned economic and pragmatic reasons must be key elements when developing and implementing these studies.
Several Vietnamese universities offer postgraduate studies, mainly MA degrees, some of them Hanoi University, Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Hanoi University of Science and Technology, Vietnam National University, and Hanoi Foreign Trade University. However, as far as I know, no Vietnamese or Asian university offers a specific postgraduate degree in Spanish or Hispanic Studies. The lack of potential students’ market for such studies explains the absence, but economic and pragmatic reasons in the global world are potent motivations to think about their implementation. In this line, some Asian universities offer broad postgraduates in foreign languages or international relations in which the students can specialize in one or a few specific languages and geopolitical areas, among them Spanish or the Hispanic world. Some examples of these solutions are found in the National University of Singapore, Peking University, Fudan University in Shanghai, University of Tokyo, Seoul National University, National Taiwan University, and University of the Philippines (University of the Philippines 2023). To ensure the success of the proposed studies for Vietnam, these Asian options offer established reliable paths and models to follow.
On the other hand, nowadays the Spanish National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation has officially approved more than 500 MA and Ph. D. programs in Spanish universities that may potentially interest Vietnamese students (ANECA 2023).
- Requirements for a postgraduate degree
The requirements to create a postgraduate degree change among universities and countries, according to different legislation that usually varies over a few years. However, the essential criteria for the establishment of these studies are the accreditation and support of the hosting University and other related authorities, the existence of academically trained personnel, the availability of facilities to develop researching and teaching activities, the creation and implementation of a curriculum, and the existence of a potential market.
Here I will focus on personnel training and the possible collaboration with other institutions specialized in Hispanic Studies. Issues related to the university and institutional support are far from the scope of the present text, but I will add some points about researching and teaching activities, and the creation and implementation of a curriculum. First, it must be noted that postgraduate degrees require more facilities and resources than bachelor or similar degrees, as research activities constitute the kernel, and even when Information and Communication Technologies have eased access to materials during the last 20 years, the new necessary resources imply extra funding. Second, the creation and implementation of a curriculum must be in line with the curriculums established by other institutions all over the world, adding distinctive elements according to the Vietnamese case. In this sense, curriculums already developed by other Asian universities offering postgraduates related to Spanish and Hispanic Studies must be an inspiration.
I finish this section by emphasizing that to ensure the proposal’s success, a potential broad market must be guaranteed, and I establish two recommendations. First, the postgraduate program cannot focus on cultural, literary, or historical aspects but preferably on pragmatic elements. Second, the postgraduate program should be a broad foreign language or international relations program with different branches, including the Spanish option.
- A possible first step for academic training
Most of the academic personnel in a postgraduate program must hold a Ph. D. degree, usually lasting between 4 and 7 years. In the absence of opportunities to obtain a Ph. D. in Spanish-related issues in the country, Vietnamese citizens need to go to an international research center, which is economically and vitally very demanding.
The solution here detailed is distance education in the Spanish language. It allows BA Spanish graduates to continue their studies coursing master and doctoral degrees without the necessity of going to another country –more in general, admitted people can also take BA studies. In the Spanish case, these degrees are wholly recognized by the public system and broadly admitted in the private sector when offered by public universities and some specific private universities. Furthermore, titles given by public distance Spanish universities are acknowledged by the rest of the universities in the country –also by most of the European universities– which supposes an automatic validation of studies the student has been taking, so that a person can take an online MA and then continue her Ph. D. studies in the traditional face-to-face manner in any Spanish university.
Nowadays, and thanks to the collaboration of the Spanish Embassy in Vietnam, it is already possible to study in Spanish distance universities or traditional face-to-face universities offering distance programs, taking the subsequent exams three times a year in the facilities of the institution mentioned above. During the last two years, one student at Universidad de Alcalá and one at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, both living in Hanoi, have benefited from this collaboration, and it is open to any student at the Spanish public universities.
However, distance education also presents cons. First, not all students can adapt to this modality, especially when focusing on language and communication. Second, in our case, not experiencing local Hispanic cultures, and research methodologies and facilities at local institutions handicap the overall training. To counterbalance these issues, educational institutions are prepared for short research and training stays, which helps to solve these lacks without implying the money and vital consumption of a whole face-to-face postgraduate degree.
In the next section, I detail the case of Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (from now on, UNED). However, it must be noted that it is not the only open Spanish university and that traditional face-to-face universities are also establishing an increasing number of online degrees. Furthermore, other countries in Latin America like Mexico and Argentina have also settled many open universities during the last twenty years. I exemplify the proposal with UNED because it is the oldest open university in the Hispanic world and has developed most collaboration protocols with Spanish institutions, among them Spanish Embassies worldwide.
- The specific case of UNED
The Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) was established in 1972 to provide tertiary education for areas and people who had access difficulties, at that time mainly people living in rural areas or specific groups, like prisoners. Rural exodus and communications improvement eased rural people studying at universities in the province capitals, but at the same time, some other people found UNED helpful to obtain a second bachelor, a master, or a postgraduate degree (UNED 2023a).
UNED presents 74 associated centers, 61 in Spain, 13 out of Spain, and 117 examination centers, 108 in Spain and 9 abroad. Since 1981, UNED has opened international associated centers in Buenos Aires, Caracas, Lima, México, Sao Paulo, Berlin, Berna, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Paris, Bata, Malabo, and international examination centers in Bogota, New York, Quito, Santiago de Chile, Seattle, Frankfurt, Munich, Oporto, and Rome. Furthermore, UNED has established collaboration agreements with the Spanish Department of Foreign Affairs and the Spanish Department of Defense so that any student can require for examination at Spanish Embassies or military facilities in exceptional situations (UNED 2023b). In 2022, UNED had 160.307 students, 6.932 students out of Spain, 143 in Asia, and 1 in Vietnam. These figures are increasing in Latin America (UNED 2023c).
Among the Spanish distance education options, UNED is the most institutionalized one, which eases collaboration with other Spanish institutions, like the net of Spanish Embassies or the AECID in Equatorial Guinea. On the other hand, UNED started its operations with a classical mail work philosophy, and with the irruption of the Internet during the 90s and its development until the present, the university platforms are sometimes obsolete or overlap. Old-fashioned and multiple interfaces, tools, and protocols make it difficult to study at UNED, and the university offers the students an introduction course. Online universities established afterward (e.g., UDIMA in 2006, UOC in 1995) usually have more intuitive platforms.
A MA at UNED costs about 2.000€, a BA costs about 4.000€-5.000€ in total –1.000€ every year, four years–, and a Ph. D. costs about 3.000€ in total –600€ every year, four years. These prices are indicative but include total costs –the tuition fee, the initial inscription fee, and the title, record, and English translation expenditure fees. They may vary slightly depending on the degree, and they are similar in the rest of Spanish public universities. However, Spanish private universities tend to be much more expensive.
- The proposal
Any person anywhere in the world, preferably Spanish speakers, can apply for studies at open Spanish universities. However, local titles are not immediately accepted, and academic commissions at the receiving universities must evaluate every particular case, which delays procedures. These admission procedures have three possible outcomes: total acceptance, refusal, or acceptance under certain conditions, typically requiring taking extra subjects to be accepted in the program and the studies. In addition, international validation by the Spanish Department of Foreign Affairs and the Spanish Department of Education may be required for students applying to BA studies.
Furthermore, Spanish Embassies can manage exceptional cases, as they are doing nowadays. However, they might not have the material and personal means to manage examinations for a growing number of students.
To solve both issues, I propose to establish collaboration between an open university and Hanoi University (from now on, HANU) to develop an examination center of an online university at HANU facilities and to create a protocol of studies validation that can benefit Vietnamese BA graduates in Spanish language who want to continue their training in Vietnam.
Focusing on the existing cases, UNED has often established its international centers thanks to agreements with other Spanish institutions –e.g. Spanish School Miguel de Cervantes at São Paulo, AECID at Equatorial Guinea centers– or renamed international universities or private companies –e.g. Microsoft in Seattle. For an Asian case, Universidad a Distancia de Madrid (from now on, UDIMA) has established an international center in Hong Kong, under an agreement with Rosaryhill Secondary School, where any student can take the MA in Spanish Teaching, the MA in Bilingual Teaching, and the Ph. D. in Education (UDIMA 2023).
My proposal establishes the creation of an examination center in HANU, but not an associated center. While I consider the former a feasible option, the latter implies more personal recruitment and larger material means –tutors and tutorships, classrooms, library, administrative staff– which are not affordable according to the possibilities of the current Vietnamese market of Spanish and Hispanism potential scholars.
Finally, such a center of an open university in HANU would serve not only HANU students and instructors but the whole of North Vietnam, and probably the whole country as well as surrounding countries like Cambodia and Laos. Spanish-related students in this area would have this examination center as a reference.
- The further step: the creation of a proper postgraduate degree
The aim of this communication is not the promotion of Spanish language distance universities in Vietnam or just the formation of students and teachers to help them to obtain MA or Ph. D. degrees in Hispanic Studies, but to sketch the general ideas and challenges to settle postgraduate studies related to Spanish language and Hispanic Cultures in Vietnam, and more specifically in Hanoi University.
In the previous sections, I have discussed how distance universities are feasible solutions to face the economic and logistic challenges taking postgraduate studies in any Hispanic country may suppose for Vietnamese citizens. Therefore, these institutions may favor Vietnamese teachers’ and student’ training.
Based on the proposed collaboration, the open Spanish university and HANU can establish further collaboration on research projects, exchange programs, materials, and mutual degree recognition once the postgraduate degree is founded in HANU. In other words, the distance university is not only a tool for Vietnamese teachers’ and students’ training, but it also may offer further support and mutual collaboration that benefit both parties, being the initial examination center the cornerstone of the whole partnership. Furthermore, between personnel training and the establishment of proper postgraduate studies, co-advisory of Ph. D. and MA theses by both a Hispanic professor and a Vietnamese professor is a compelling instrument to enhance the collaboration environment.
Finally, we should not forget that no degree establishment is possible without institutional support and a potential market of interested people.
The general factors for the establishment of a postgraduate degree anywhere are the accreditation and support of the hosting University and other related authorities, the existence of academically trained personnel, the availability of facilities to develop researching and teaching activities, the creation and implementation of a curriculum, and the existence of a potential market.
Accreditation and support of the hosting University and other related authorities are far from the scope of this communication, as well as the arrangement of facilities. About the existence of a potential market, I defend a pragmatic approach focused on economic activities for the interest of Vietnamese society. In this sense, postgraduate studies must pay special attention to tourism, business, and international relations. On the other hand, and following similar Asian experiences, I argue that generic postgraduate studies on foreign languages, business, and relations, with specificities and branches in Spanish, are a much more reliable and feasible option to ensure the success of these programs. Their curricula must be established according to these principles, again paying attention to what other Asian universities have developed during the last decades.
However, the hotspot of the present communication is personnel training. To establish a postgraduate program, professors must have deep conditioning, most of them holding doctorate degrees. Nevertheless, spending years in another institution to achieve this goal is very demanding economically and vitally. The proposed solution involves promoting distance education, with the possibility of mixing distance and face-to-face pieces of training. It must be noted that distance education is totally recognized in Spain and Europe, and it is already possible in Vietnam thanks to the collaboration of the Spanish Embassy –two cases in the last three years. In this sense, a partnership with a Hispanic distance university to establish an examination center would benefit current instructors and students who want to continue their training. In addition, it would ease examination procedures and validations. For example, UNED has a long international trajectory, Spanish institutional support, and competitive fees, while UDIMA has already founded an associated center in Hong Kong.
The alleged partnership would also suppose a starting point for further association on research projects, exchange programs, materials, and joint degree recognition once the proper postgraduate studies are created. Finally, the cooperation project, and more specifically, the foundation of an examination center of a Hispanic distance university, supposes a benefit for both Hanoi University and the Hispanic institution, and such mutual convenience, if honest, would assure the success of the collaboration.
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