Books left behind in race to be modern

May 11, 2001

Earlier this year, Vietnam unveiled its first learning resource centre, at the University of Danang. The only thing missing was books.

Such contradictions are not uncommon in Vietnam. The clamour to modernise has resulted in a $1.8 million (£1.3 million) six-storey library fitted with rows of empty shelves. The communist government does not have the funds to stock the library, and it is seeking help from abroad.

Danang is the third largest university in Vietnam with 30,000 students. For the time being, they sit at new Dell computers copying chunks from obsolete Soviet-era textbooks.

Vietnam prides itself on the fact that a high proportion of its population go on to higher education. But university officials admit that without access to modern teaching materials, higher education will be unable to produce the skilled workers needed to transform the country.

A recent donation of several hundred books to the learning resource centre by the British Council is a start. But staff fear it could be years before the library, which was built with $1.4 million from the US charity East Meets West, plus $400,000 from the Vietnamese government, is fully stocked with modern texts.

The emphasis now is to establish electronic links with university libraries. Ha Le Hung, acting director of the centre, said: "We have very little budget to buy books. The students often use books and journals brought back by their teachers on travels to the ex-Soviet bloc.

"To raise the quality of higher education, we want to develop links with universities and major libraries all over the world. One of the ways we can do this is to establish electronic links so students can access modern texts online."

To date, Mr Hung has established links with an Australian and an American university but he is keen to strike up links with institutions in the United Kingdom.

"We are in desperate need of English texts to supplement courses taught in engineering, business, education and technology. It might take us years to fill the shelves, but electronic links mean students can download and print off sections of texts stored in a database on the other side of the world," he said.

Despite resource shortages, the centre is proving popular with students. Dang Ngoc Anh Tuan, a 22-year-old engineering student, said: "Before the library opened I could not afford internet access. Now I can access information that I need to compile my thesis."

Phan Thi Ngoc Hoa, a 22-year-old business administration student, said:

"It's nice to think that future students here will enjoy the same resources as those enjoyed by students in England."

Details: hlhung@yahoo.com </a>

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