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Vietnam : Outrage at student height requirement

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Too short to study ? Students can revise hard for the top grades but there’s little they can do about meeting a minimum height requirement for this one university program.

The School of Management and Business (HSB) at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi believes the connection between height and success is so significant that people who are supposedly “too short” should no longer be allowed to study.  

The school announced that female students must be at least 1.58 meters tall and male students at least 1.65 meters to be considered for admission this year.

It added that exceptions could be allowed in some cases.

After the Vietnamese online newspaper Tuoi Tre first reported on this height criterion for admissions, it sparked heated debates on social media.

On June 6, the Ministry of Education directed the university to review these requirements, following which the HSB adjusted its admission criteria.

It removed the height requirement for three of the four undergraduate programs it offers — the rule now applies only to one course, Management and Security.

HSB did not respond to DW’s requests for comment.

Height and self-confidence

HSB justifies the selection criterion by saying that the school aims to train future leaders and excellent managers for both the public and private sectors.

It’s not just about technical suitability but also about physical suitability, the school said, adding that height is a decisive factor, especially when it comes to leadership and self-confidence. But is there really a link between height and self-confidence ?

Anecdotally, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was 1.66 meters tall, China’s former leader Deng Xiaoping measured 1.57 meters and Soviet Russia’s Vladimir Lenin was 1.60 meters tall.

Andrea Abele-Brehm, a social psychologist at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, told DW that “there is a connection” between height and self-confidence, but “it is relatively small and ambiguous.”

This has been proven by numerous studies from the US, Europe and East Asia, she said.

Extreme deviations from the average height, that is being extremely short or tall, can have an impact on self-confidence, according to the studies. But for people of average height, its effect is negligible, the expert said.

Average versus extreme

In Vietnam, the average height is 1.56 meters for women and 1.68 meters for men, according to data provided by Vietnam’s National Institute of Nutrition for the years 2019-20.

Any person who is a few centimeters above or below the average deviates within the standard and is “normal” in height, according to a statistical rule known as “standard deviation.”

In response to a request from DW, Vietnam’s National Statistics Office (GSO) said that the agency doesn’t systematically collect data on the distribution of height among the population.

DW then used data from East Asia to determine the standard deviation, which for women is 5.74 centimeters and for men is 6.73 centimeters.

This means that every woman who is 5.74 centimeters above or below the average and every man who is 6.73 centimeters above or below the average is considered to be of average height.

In Vietnam’s case, it would turn out that women who are between 1.5 and 1.65 meters, and men who are between 1.61 meters and 1.75 meters, are of “normal” height.

The HSB’s height requirement therefore discriminates against a significant portion of Vietnam’s average-height population.

“If such a restriction is implemented by HBS, it is of course discrimination and should therefore be rejected in my view,” said Abele-Brehm.

Height and wealth

One area where height has been shown to have an advantage is earning power. Many international studies have shown that tall people enjoy an economic advantage. This is due to a mistaken social perception that they are more competent or assertive despite no actual link between height and competence.

Abele-Brehm believes an educational institution’s responsibility is to combat stereotypes and contribute to societal progress. “You have to tackle such stereotypes, as otherwise the institution will only reinforce them,” she said.

The introduction of height as a criterion for admission at HBS runs counter to the university’s actual goal of educating students guided by science and reason.

By Rodion Ebbighausen – Deutsche Welle – July 2, 2024

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