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MaRIHE Master thesis reader e-book 2015

Cooperation with industry at a Vietnamese teaching university

Nguyen Thanh Tung


Vietnamese higher education is of low quality and irrelevance to the need of the industry and society. The key to solve this predicament is the close cooperation between universities and industry. However, since the system is comprised of mostly teaching institutions with low research capacity, promoting university-industry cooperation at those institutions should be the priority. To do so, understanding how cooperation with the industry works at teaching HEIs is necessary, which is also the investigation focus of this study. The study uses the qualitative approach, specifically a case study with primary data collected through semi-structured interviews with various actors at a private teaching university and the ICT industry in Hanoi. Secondary data were gathered through a wide range of documents to provide context as well additional evidence. The data analysis was performed concurrently with the collection phase. The analytic strategy used in this study is mainly relying on existing theories and analytical framework, supplemented by themes emerging in coding process.
The key findings are: The case university (ICTU), a teaching one and a result of UIC itself, does not produce new knowledge, thus it focuses on responding the need of human resources of the industry as a base of cooperation with cooperative education and placement of students/ graduates being the two most important and substantial forms of cooperation. Nonetheless, by having a will and exploiting the existing knowledge, it started to have entrepreneurship activities. Less prestigious than research ones, in order to be appealing to students and the industry, the university has had to be more active, aggressive and innovative in setting up and developing cooperation with the industry. Also, it has been involving academics and students in the cooperation, who have their own motivations/ benefits and difficulties, which are not always compatible with those of its own and the industry while Government and Intermediaries play an insignificant role. Nonetheless, cooperation with the industry at ICTU has been considered successful and could be a best-practice to other universities in Vietnam thanks to strong motivations from both sides, ICTU’s advantages as well as benefits perceived by all actors/ stakeholders. That being said, the barriers such as lack of resources, decreasing quality of teaching and learning, communication, and costs/risks of UIC, need to be addressed to enhance the cooperation. Finally, the findings showed that UIC has a recursive nature and is a process of continuous adaptation as the outcomes of previous cooperation will affect back on subsequent actions of cooperation, and that universities themselves can be an open innovation entities as a way of enhancing UIC.


Problem Statement

In Vietnam, though the importance of university-industry cooperation (UIC) is widely acknowledged it still remains weak. In terms of teaching, Vietnamese universities rarely look for what is happening and changing in the industry to design their curricula; in fact, the curricula used by Vietnamese HEIs are mostly outdated (K. Harman & Bich, 2010). In terms of research, according to a survey by World Economic Forum in 2011-2012, Vietnam just scored 37.3 out of 100 on university/industry research collaboration (Dutta & Lanvin, 2013). This insufficient (or lack of) cooperation with industry leads to the irrelevance of Vietnamese academia to the economy and society, their own crisis and the slow innovation of Vietnam.
It has been argued that the main reason is the remnant of Soviet influence, that Vietnam academic systems is categorized into two groups, based on the division of functions: HEIs for teaching and training, research institutions for research (Ca & Hung, 2011). As a consequence, universities in Vietnam are mostly teaching universities, with weak ability and capacities for research (G. Harman & Ngoc, 2010; Hayden & Thiep, 2010). However, not being a research university cannot impede a HEI to have strong cooperation with the industry since there are myriad aspects of cooperation beside research or research-related activities (Davey, Baaken, Galan Muros, & Meerman, 2011; Ranga et al., 2013). Moreover, although there have been many efforts to promote research at Vietnamese HEIs, not all can and should turn into research universities, especially in the foreseeable future. Thus, it is necessary to understand how the cooperation with the industry is conducted at Vietnamese teaching universities, to identify the barriers and provide recommendations to promote UIC. However, there is a research gap on the UIC in developing countries and at non-research HEIs. This research will focus much more narrowly on the UIC at a teaching HEI in Vietnam.

Research Questions

Hence, the main research question of this study is: how does the cooperation with the industry work at a Vietnamese teaching university?

To answer the above question, it is necessary to broke it down into the two sub-questions:

  • What are the state, elements and processes of cooperation?
  • What are the factors influencing the cooperation?

In addition is the question: what can be done from the university’s side to enhance cooperation with the industry.

Theoretical Background

UIC as a part of third mission, regional development & innovation system

Schoen et al. (2007) define third mission as 'university’s relationship with the non-academic outside world: industry, public authorities and society'. Among those non-academic actors, the industry is the most important. The reason is that most of third mission activities are towards or collaborated with the industry and even many other activities towards other actors are also channeled through the industry. Besides, contrast to the view that third mission ‘developed from research activities' (Laredo, 2007), it can develop from non-research activities (Marhl & Pausits, 2011; Molas-Gallart et al., 2002; Montesinos et al., 2008).

More studies have found the positive influence of HEIs on the region and even HEIs as the driving force of the regional development (Goddard et al.,2010; Göransson & Brundenius, 2011; Lester & Sotarauta, 2000; Rutten & Boekema, 2009). Among the interactions between universities and the region, the interaction with industry/ business is the most mentioned and considered the most important part as it creates more jobs, boosts economy, improves absorptive capacity of local actors, revives the industry and particularly ignites or enhances the regional innovation (Gunasekara, 2006; Hatakenaka, 2004; Chatterton & Goddard, 2000).

In innovation systems, universities are often seen as a knowledge producer and provider as well as a hub of knowledge exchange and linkages, hence they are highly able to promote innovation (Lester & Sotarauta, 2000; Nilsson, 2006). As innovation refers to the application of knowledge, the main actor here is the industry/business. Therefore, the relationship between the knowledge provider (universities) and user (industry) is central. The UIC is more pronounced under open innovation paradigm (Chesbrough, 2003; Perkmann & Walsh, 2007) which enables knowledge to freely flow into industry where it can be applied.

In sum, scholars agree that UIC is important and central in renovating the university, creating innovation, contributing to economic and social development of region and society. However, the focus is on the knowledge creation and transfer from the university to the industry and other actors of the society, which is not a strong suit of teaching universities.

Types, elements and factors of UIC

So far no literature that focuses on categorizing the non-research-related cooperation can be found but types of UIC at teaching HEIs can be collected from various sources. They are: movement of students/ graduates to the industry (Cohen, Nelson, & Walsh, 2002; Schartinger, Rammer, Fischer, & Fröhlich, 2002); lifelong learning (Davey et al., 2011; Brimble & Doner, 2007); cooperative education (D’Este & Patel, 2007; Brimble & Doner, 2007); entrepreneurship education (Ranga et al., 2013); academic mobility/ staff exchange (Davey et al., 2011); consultancy (Perkmann et al., 2013); entrepreneurship (Davey et al., 2011); informal interactions (Cohen et al., 2002); facility sharing (Schartinger et al., 2002), and governance (Ranga et al., 2013).

As in the case of classification, most of the studies focus on the motivations/ benefits for cooperation in research or technology transfer. From literature, for the industry, motivations and benefits are: to improve the business (Davey et al., 2011); to seek solutions/ consultancy (Mora Valentín, 2000); to develop/ upgrade human capital (Benneworth, 2001); to seek business opportunities or access a pool of innovative ideas from young students (Ranga et al., 2013); to enhance reputation Mora Valentín (2000); to Access to university facilities (Ranga et al., 2013); and to response to government policy or actions (Mora Valentín, 2000). For HEIs, they are to generate third stream funding, to enhance research and teaching, to achieve third mission, to bolster reputation, to benefit stakeholders, to improve governance; and to respond government/ politics (Benneworth, 2001; Davey et al., 2011; Mora Valentín, 2000; Ranga et al., 2013). For academics, D’Este & Perkmann (2010) identify four sets of motivations: commercialization, learning, access to in-kind resources, and access funding. Siegel et al. (2003) and Mora Valentín (2000) add reputation as a factor that drives academics to engage with the industry. Recently, benefits for students has been paid more attention to with two studies on UIC in Europe and in the U.S. listing learning, skills improvement and employability as main benefits for students (Davey et al., 2011; Ranga et al., 2013). Benefits for society have been much mentioned in literature on third mission and entrepreneurial university (Bramwell & Wolfe, 2008; Chatterton & Goddard, 2000; Clark, 1998).

There is no research on the disadvantages (costs/risks) of UIC in teaching and learning. However Slaughter & Leslie (1997) and (Bowles & Gintis (1975) argue that close liaisons with business and industry could turn academia into human capital factories rather than places that truly educate and transform individuals. Related to the concept of costs and risks is barriers. The perceived costs/risks of each actor are in fact a type of barriers (López-Martínez, Medellín, Scanlon, & Solleiro, 1994). Other types of barriers includes differences between universities and industry; lack of resources; communication; faulty of governance and management; limited absorption capacity of the industry and the region (Davey et al., 2011; Geisler & Rubenstein, 1989; Mora Valentín, 2000; Ranga et al., 2013).

Davey et al. (2011) argue that overcoming barriers is not sufficient to realize UIC unless there are high drivers and facilitating mechanisms that motivate actors to do so. There are three main groups of those driving factors: relationship drivers including mutual trust, commitment, integration, compatibility, satisfaction and experience (Bruneel, D’este, & Salter, 2010; Davey et al., 2011; Tyler et al., 2007); the presence of effective legal frameworks and policies, and the presence of intermediary entities (Mora Valentín, 2000).

Although intermediary entities and other actors/stakeholders can play important roles, most of literature identifies the industry and the university as two main actors/ stakeholders in the cooperation. Interestingly, studies often portray students as a passive stakeholders and describe what impacts UIC has on them rather than what students can do and what impacts they have on UIC. When government comes to the scene, the Triple-Helix model is useful to explain the relationship between these three major actors (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 1997). However, it faces some limitations when applied to teaching universities in developing countries as pointed out by (Cai, 2014; Rodrigues & Melo, 2013).

UIC in developing countries

Although limited, most of available literature has consensus on the separation between academia and industry as well as the difficulties and obstacles that developing countries are facing in promoting UIC (Brimble & Doner, 2007; Innovation Policy Platform, 2014; Nezu, 2007; Reddy, 2011; Tran, 2006; Widiawan, 2008). These difficulties are even more severe than in developed countries due to some limitations of universities and industry in developing countries (Innovation Policy Platform, 2014).

The industry in developing countries, for the most part, does not have absorptive capacity and demand or interest for research and new technology (Innovation Policy Platform, 2014; Reddy, 2011; Widiawan, 2008; Wunsch-Vincent, 2012). On the university side, most authors state that the lack of research/ technological/ innovation capacities is one of the most severe problems (Innovation Policy Platform, 2014; Reddy, 2011; Widiawan, 2008). However, World Bank (2010, p165) states that innovation can and should be fostered through education and training because it ‘built a population receptive to innovation, able to tap into and absorb the sources of global knowledge, and creative in terms of technology and entrepreneurship’.


Research design

The research uses the qualitative approach, specifically a single case study. A private teaching university (see Box 1) is selected to conduct the research due to its unique position regarding UIC. The industry cluster in focus is ICT in Hanoi, Vietnam. The rationale for this design is the research question how a contemporary phenomenon, UIC at a teaching university, works, which is explorative and descriptive and can be well answered by case study method and this complex phenomenon related to various actor cannot be manipulated or controlled during the study, which meet the criteria for case study stated by Yin (2008).
The chosen case is a unique case which has quite an extensive cooperation with the industry while UIC at Vietnamese universities generally is extremely little or inactive. It was also established recently so it is revelatory case with events/ links being easily traced back.

Box 1. The chosen case: ICT University

General profile

  • A private university, established in the second half of 2000s, based in Hanoi (the main campus is located in a Technology Park)
  • Specializing in Information and Communication Technology
  • Co-founded and invested by a corporation, VSI Corp., to address the issues of human resource deficit in the ICT field (VSI also established an applied research institute which is co-managed by ICTU)
  • Developing fast with more than 6 000 active bachelor degree students at the moment, most of them studying fields related to ICT
  • Going for massification rather than being elite, research-intensive institution.
  • Having extensive cooperation with the industry compared to other HEIs in Vietnam.


This organizational chart has been simplified to emphasize the UIC. Details of units and their relationships are provided in section 4.2 and 6.4.

Data collection

Both primary and secondary data were collected, among which the former is considered the most essential for this study. In total, there were 22 semi-structure interviews conducted with various subjects. Since the study is to explore UIC mostly from the university’s perspective a majority of subjects are actors inside university including leaders/managers, academics and students. Additionally, some industry partners were selected to provide a more comprehensive view in this regard and to better construct validity as this is a necessary source of evidence. Secondary data were collected through a wide range of documents in multiple forms (ICTU’s strategies, policies, web, social media, and curriculum; government’s policies and laws; and mass media) to provide context as well additional evidence.

Data analysis

The data analysis was performed concurrently with the collection phase. The analytic strategy used in this study is mainly relying on existing theories as described in Yin (2008, p129-130), i.e. the analytical framework, supplemented by themes emerging in coding process.. The analytical framework (seen Figure 1) is drawn on literature review and adapted from the University- Business Cooperation Model devised by (Davey et al., 2011) during the project of studying on the cooperation between HEIs and public and private organizations in Europe.
The model comprises several elements, which fall on 3 levels. At the top is the result level. It is the cooperation realized after actors/stakeholders have acted through '4 pillars', at action level, in order to make university and industry cooperate with each other. These actions or attempts are influenced, amplified, facilitated, filtered or impeded by various factors such as motivations, drivers or barriers at factor level.

Figure 1: UIC Model adapted from Davey et al. (2011)

The process of data analysis of the study followed the step suggested by Creswell (2013). First, all the interviews were transcribed. Second, the raw data in form of transcripts were read carefully by the researcher in order get a general idea/ meaning and if necessary, follow-up interviews/conversations with participants would be conducted to get more information. Third, data were coded, using predetermined codes generated from the literature and the analytical framework. Nonetheless, during the coding process, some emerging codes were identified and rendered the coding process restarted. At the same time, secondary data was coded by content. The results of both types of data coding were the descriptions of the setting and context of the case and the themes. Consequently, these results were selected, synthesized and organized to construct a cohesive narrative of the case.

Key Findings

What are the state, elements and processes of cooperation with the industry at the case university?

Despite a teaching university, ICTU still implements significant cooperation with the industry in a variety of forms. In terms of active cooperation, the two most important types of cooperation, understandably, are related to the teaching/ training mission: cooperative education (embodied by the on-job-training semester, and industry-based & oriented curriculum) and placement of students/graduates. Other important types are governance, staff exchange and informal interactions. Surprisingly, ICTU showed that teaching it can have entrepreneurship activities (consultancy services or incubation of start-ups) although they are still in their inceptions at ICTU. On the other hand, students and academics independently participate in the industry, which is considered as passive cooperation from the university’s position. Although, to a limited extent, ICTU capitalizes on this type of cooperation to enhance teaching and learning as well as to boost UIC, it still does not have a systematic and strategic approach to promote and utilize passive cooperation effectively.

The findings showed that both academics and students are very important actors and stakeholders in UIC with great impact and stakes. However, only the former were perceived as the ones contributing to active UIC. Even students themselves considered them as passive. Nonetheless, there have been examples for which, students were active in bridging the university and the industry. Government and Intermediaries play a minor role, or even no role in this case and is assumed to be so in other cases in Vietnam.

Consequently, as a very strong and rapidly developing industry in Vietnam, the ICT industry took the lead by creating its own university (ICTU), which afterwards has taken over the leading role to generate and boost UIC. Despite the fact that it is a part of the industry, at its core, ICTU is a university and has been reaching back to the industry to make its teaching and learning more relevant to the industry. It was found that ICTU assertively initiated UIC, using multiple methods including paying for some relationships or using sales/ marketing and PR tactics. The cooperation is initiated from both personal relations and formal procedures, among which, the former is considered more effective and significant than the latter.

ICTU has made several strategic instruments to support UIC. The relevance to the industry is clearly stated in its mission and vision statements as one of its core value. Furthermore, close cooperation with VSI is the form of vertical integration strategy of two organizations. Additionally, there are some new strategic policies in teaching and learning to promote UIC at ICTU. However, ICTU has no policy to encourage individuals to participate/ commit in UIC, which to some extent makes existing strategies, regulations and policies less effective. Another problem is the structural approach of ICTU is not cohesive and does not support strategy. ICTU has been creating decentralized units to address each aspect of UIC but it lacks effective coordination between units. On the industry side, most of the firms do not have strategic and structural instruments to support UIC. The most popular unit dealing with relations to academia is the HR office. On the government side, it recognizes the importance of UIC in laws, agenda or in mass media but no framework conditions/ policies to regulate or promote UIC. In the short term, ICTU can manage without the government support to promote UIC and it has less competition in this regard. In the long term, no support from government would result in insufficient and weak human capital for the industry, which in turn would result in a weaker industry. Eventually, it would affect negatively ICTU.

What are the factors influencing UIC ? 

The first set of factors is motivations of and benefits for actors/ stakeholders, which influence positively the cooperation. The industry participates in cooperation with ICTU mostly because of the need for greater and better human capital (sometimes with lower cost). Other motivations and benefits such as profit, solutions/ consultancy seeking, reputation or students’ ideas are present but not significant in the case of cooperating with a teaching university. The university consists diverse actors and stakeholders, thus its motivations and benefits normally are manifested in those of students and academics and in learning & teaching improvement. However, in the case of ICTU, one of its main motivations is to enhance their reputation, in order to recruit more students as it is a private university and implementing the massification strategy. Motivations and benefits of academics are highly diverse: diversification of activities either because of intrinsic motivation (passion, hobby) or to seek additional income or more opportunities; self-improvement and performance improvement by immersing into another environment; reputation enhancement; and response to the university’s policies. Students at ICTU mostly are considered passive actors in UIC, thus the main reason they participate in UIC is that it is compulsory in the program. Some students are more active by engaging more than they are required, or helping connect ICTU and firms because they are aware of the vast benefits including better employability and future opportunities, improvement of knowledge and skills, better orientation of future career, positive change of mentality and attitude, and financial support. For society, the cooperation solves the dilemma in human resource existing in Vietnam: unemployment of and the shortage of skilled workforce in the industry, which leads to benefits such as: optimization of the social resources/ cost in training workforce and improvement of productivity of the industry and region.

The second set of factors is barriers to the cooperation. Lack of resources from both sides (partly due to another barrier, lack of engagement from industry as they do not allocate sufficiently resources due to lack of awareness of the importance of UIC.); decreasing quality of teaching and learning, and communication within and outside ICTU are the highest barriers. Unlike research universities, differences between ICTU and the industry are not much pronounced. Nonetheless the disparity between theory-oriented and practice-oriented mindsets still impedes the UIC. In addition, the difference in remuneration schemes makes the personnel exchange more difficult. Furthermore, in the case of ICT field, there is a vast difference in the attitude and capacity to change between the industry and the university. Some other issues also need to be addressed such as limited absorption capacity of the industry, and the faulty of governance and management of ICTU. In addition, there are some minor or potential ones as they were assessed by ICTU itself not severe at the moment, including internationalization/ academic colonialism, lack of research capacity, heavy dependence on a single firm, corruption and bureaucracy at state-owned enterprises. Moreover there are situational barriers for academics such as: gender, age, prior experience/ or lack thereof in the industry, field of study, position/ work tasks, and attitude. Finally, costs/risks are in fact a type of barrier to UIC, which have been often neglected in literature. For ICTU, cooperation with the industry incurs considerable costs for ICTU including transaction costs and personnel costs. UIC also might entail the risk of ICTU becoming a human capital factory, which favors short-sighted education. For the industry, costs and risks of UIC is still little compared to benefits. However, similar to ICTU, firms have to pay transaction/ personnel cost for UIC activities. Additionally, there are some minor risks such as risk of no return on investment, confidentiality breach, clash of corporate culture, distractions from the main activities, and projects delayed due to incompetent students. For students, the most serious risks are forming a short-sighted vision about future career and what to learn and losing interest in the field. To a lesser extent, some students face the risk of losing time/ opportunities to learn or to pursue other interest and the risk of being abused by the industry.

Drivers/facilitating mechanisms are also supposed to influence positively UIC. ICTU’s successful relationships with some firms, especially with VSI Corporation, are partly because of mutual trust, commitment, integration, compatibility, satisfaction and experience. Effective legal frameworks and policies from the government should be a driver for UIC. However, as aforementioned, such frameworks and policies do not exist yet in Vietnam. Regarding intermediaries, at the moment ICTU and its partners use no third parties to come together and make cooperation. Interestingly, located in a Hi-Tech park should have been an advantage for ICTU but it turned out the park’s location has made the cooperation more difficult.

How does cooperation with the industry work at the case university ?

In summary, for the most part, the industry expects two things from academia: source of human capital and new knowledge. As a teaching university, ICTU does not have a competitive edge in research and not produce new knowledge, thus technology transfer or research collaboration is not existent or not strong at ICTU. Instead, ICTU focuses on responding the need of human resources of the industry as a base of cooperation. Consequently, cooperative education and placement of students/ graduates into the industry are the two most important and substantial forms of UIC. Other forms such as governance, staff exchange or informal interactions are means to reach that end. Nonetheless, ICTU case proves that there are possibilities for teaching HEIs to have entrepreneurship by having a will and exploiting intelligently/ innovatively the existing knowledge. As a teaching university, less prestigious than research ones, in order to be appealing to students and the industry, ICTU has had to be more active, aggressive and innovative in setting up and developing cooperation with the industry; and to be an open innovation entity. Also, it have been involving academics and students in the cooperation, who have their own motivations/ benefits and difficulties, which are not always compatible with ICTU’s and the industry’s. Nonetheless, cooperation with the industry at ICTU has been considered successful and could be a best-practice to other universities in Vietnam thanks to strong motivations from both sides, ICTU’s advantages as well as benefits perceived by all actors/ stakeholders. That being said, the barriers need to be addressed to enhance the cooperation.

Recommendations for future research

Revisiting the analytical framework

There is a limitation of the analytical framework: it cannot accommodate the recursive process nature of UIC. The findings indicated that UIC does not end at the result level. Instead, the outcomes or results of the previous cooperation will be a reflection and reference for subsequent UIC, which influences the expected benefits and barriers, which in turn might encourage or discourage actors to take/ modify actions. Their actions to some extent could change the dynamics between them. The framework also does not show the dynamics between three main actors, which is easy to visually be incorporated. Considering these limitations, it is suggested to improve the model as it can be seen in Figure 2.

Areas for future studies

Most of studies do not describe and explain how and why a cooperation between university and industry is initiated or comes into existence. In a narrative fashion, the results of this study showed that there are multiple routes through which UIC is initiated. However, it requires further studies at larger scale to produce more generalizable results and conclusions at conceptual level (theories). This is of importance to understand better the process of UIC so that it can suggest how to initiate UIC where UIC is little or non-existent.
Another interesting finding from the result proved that the case university is an open innovation entity, which is employing several open innovation models to improve its curricula and programs. This might not be new since the open innovation paradigms do not exclude any organization or entity but firms are the most popular subjects for scholars studying open innovation. It is suggested for future research to shift the focus on to other types of organizations especially on HEIs to gain insights on how HEIs can employ this paradigm, which models they can implement, and which implications it can carry for HEIs.
In addition, since this is a case study on the overall aspects of UIC the investigation is of more breadth then depth. Therefore, future studies could elaborate on a single aspect, which is not addressed enough here or in other studies. Furthermore, this study inclines to the university’s aggregated perspectives, thus perspectives of the industry and individual actors (students or academics) could be areas for later investigations. For example, a study could concentrate on the risks/costs of UIC for academics perceived by themselves.
Finally, this study could be a pilot study for a large-scale study with diverse universities and industries, which could help the government in policy making for better UIC in Vietnam.

Figure 2: Revised UIC Model, adapted from (Davey et al., 2011), using the ICTU case to illustrate the dynamics of the three main actors.


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