Faculty evaluation in higher education: a theory-of-action case study in Vietnam

Dissertation, The University of Auckland (2022)
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The growth in neoliberal or market-driven higher education has challenged traditional approaches to evaluating faculty members. The involvement of multiple stakeholders (i.e., accreditation bodies, quality assurance officers, administrators, teaching faculty, and students) has led to different and sometimes conflicting needs in faculty evaluation. While extant literature generally suggests that faculty evaluation in contemporary higher education is strongly associated with accountability purposes, little is known about how key agents at the institutional level use evaluation for learning and improvement. Thus, this study attempts to identify the approaches to faculty evaluation that promote learning and improvement in higher education. This study is a qualitative case study of Vietnamese higher education student evaluation of teaching (SET) and voting evaluation practices. It adopts the problem-based methodology (Robinson, 1993; Robinson & Lai, 2006) to investigate the theories of action of some key stakeholders of these faculty evaluation practices in Vietnam. The theories of action comprise the stakeholders’ approaches to faculty evaluation, together with the constraints (that rule in or rule out specific approaches) and the consequences of the approaches. Participants included four quality assurance officers, 18 administrators, and 20 faculty members from seven public higher education institutions in Vietnam. The theories of action about faculty evaluation were constructed based on interviews and key evaluation documents. Overall, the participants took three main approaches to faculty evaluation: (i) complying with the expected evaluation procedures and roles, (ii) taking a harmony-oriented and unilateral approach to problem solving, and (iii) disengaging from evaluation for learning and improvement. The participants generally fulfilled the evaluation policy requirements, but their approaches had a limited impact on learning and improvement at the institutional level. The constraint analysis suggests that the participants’ approaches were not completely passive but were mainly oriented to managerial accountability demands (Røiseland et al., 2015). The participants’ collectivist Confucian harmony-oriented norms hindered their approaches to problem solving and using evaluation for learning and improvement. However, there were a few participants who acted on their own values rather than being confined by political and cultural constraints. In spite of its scarcity, these participants’ self-reliant approach suggests a potential influence of Buddhist principles of self-transformation, contextuality and reflexivity on improving practices (Chu & Vu, 2021; Thich Nhat Hanh, 1987). The study has two key implications. First, it suggests the improvement of faculty evaluation policymaking and implementation by revising several existing constraints and by adding some cultural and individual constraints to the current theories of action. The faculty evaluation problems could be solved by improving the quality of evaluation processes and data, reconceptualising SET and voting evaluation, and treating faculty members’ underperformance as a collective problem. Second, the study suggests a framework to predict the likely success of future intervention on faculty evaluation. For instance, faculty evaluation for learning and improvement will be more feasible if policymakers and implementers prioritise transformational purposes and make joint efforts to foster dialogues and collaboration among individuals and groups. My study also highlights the need to understand faculty evaluation, and possibly other higher education practices in Vietnam, in religious contexts and from individual participants’ spiritual values or philosophical backgrounds. The study implications are applicable to Vietnamese higher education and potentially to other educational settings with similar characteristics.

Author's Profile

Lan Nguyen
Drexel University


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