Introduction: teaching and learning reforms in higher education and the importance of students’ learning experience

Higher education (HE) plays a vital role in human capacity building, national development, and global modernization within the age of the knowledge economy. The landscape of higher education in the 21st century is rapidly changing under political, socio-economic, and cultural forces. HE systems are closely influenced by globalization forces, local demands, the knowledge economy, the shifting labor markets, and political situations. HE institutions (HEI) are increasingly expected to engage with the wider society in addressing national and international core concerns and providing knowledge and skills essential to the development of the public good for the society. HE institutions are thus shaped by the demands of the society and are, at the same time, a powerful force that contributes to transforming the society.

Since the last quarter of the 20th century, HE institutions around the world have responded to an array of factors. It is observed that there has been a shift in the way the curriculum is structured and delivered, the way teaching and learning are approached, the ways the learning environment is built, and the roles teachers and students play. Such shifts occur with disparity across HE systems. They often start in developed coimtries and are modified for adoption in developing countries. Indeed, internationalization in higher education and the commercialization of knowledge, instilled by globalization, has been a pervasive phenomenon and has, in some cases, imposed educational practices from developed to developing countries. Tírese forces lead to many changes in the curriculum, teaching, and learning. However, it does not mean that the adoption of new practices in HE in developing countries occurs naturally without any obstacles or resistance. All changes in HE practices require a great deal of investment, effort, time, and collaboration among stakeholders.

This book is a collection of empirical studies, setting out to address the teaching and learning reforms in Vietnamese HE in response to socio-economic, cultural, and political forces from the unique angle of students’ perspectives and experiences. Students are key actors in higher education and are often placed at the heart of education reforms. Ironically, their experiences and perspectives are captured much less often in discussions of the impacts and effectiveness of education reforms than those of other stakeholders such as teachers, leaders, and managers. Based on findings from empirical research presented in this book, we argue that students’ experiences with higher education reforms are of great importance in understanding and assessing the effectiveness of teaching and learning reforms in higher education, thereby deserving more attention in discussions and debates about HE reforms. Students’ voices and experiences have the potential to inform new directions in or modifications to teaching and learning reforms set out by policy makers, university leaders, and academics. Their voices are crucial to determining to what extent teaching and learning reforms in HE have benefited students rather than solely meeting management and accountability purposes.

The changing landscape of higher education and the quest for teaching-learning reforms

HE is conventionally established to carried out teaching and research missions, with a third goal added recently: community engagement. The teaching mission is perhaps the oldest one that a HE institution had, dating back to medieval times (Scott, 2006). Throughout its development, several socio-economic, cultural and political forces have shaped the way the teaching mission is achieved, especially over the last 30 years.

Massification of HE

More than ever, HE systems across the globe have experienced an increase in the number of student enrolments. This was facilitated by national policies in HE expansion, following human capital theory, which generally proposes that the more educated a person is, the more private return he/she can get, and thus the collective private return can make a nation wealthier (see the review in Yang, 2018). In China, for example, following the Action Plan of Education Promotion for the 21st century in 1998, the HE system experienced rocketing growth in the enrolment of four-year undergraduates, from 936,690 in 1999 to 3,261,081 in 2009; the enrolment of post-graduate students also increased from 92,225 to 510,953 during the same time period (Yang, 2018). Likewise, after the Education Reform Act 1988, the HE sector in the UK witnessed a substantial expansion in student participation of approximately 17% in 1988— 1989 to 34% in 1997-1998. In addition. HE, which used to be a public good, has become more commercialized, especially for what is often referred to as international education. There were 0.8 million international students in 1975, 4.1 million in 2010, and this number is projected to reach 8 million by 2025 (Tran, 2019). In Australia, international education has become a billion-dollar business. As of December 2019, out of approximately 956,773 international students, more than 442,000 enroled in higher education courses alone, contributing more than AUD 40 billion to the economy (Australian Government, 2019). Such an increase in both domestic and international student numbers requires a reform in the delivery of the curriculum to ensure its effectiveness and efficiency.

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