This is a recent search engine term that brought some unsuspecting netizen to my blog. It reminded me of a recent conversation with a young Vietnamese who was a Fulbrighter a couple of years ago. He insisted that Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) funding was from the U.S. government because that’s what a VEF official told him. If you visit the VEF website, you won’t read anything that contradicts the party line. This statement appears in the executive director’s welcome message: The Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) is an independent U.S. Federal Government agency created by the U.S. Congress. VEF receives an annual budget of U.S. $5 million from the U.S. Congress until 2018. Right? Wrong.
Here’s one interesting fact for you: VEF is a scholarship-for-debt program funded by a repayment of debts incurred by the former Republic of Vietnam (i.e., South Vietnam). In other words, the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is repaying debts incurred by its former enemy. Bizarre, right? I would go so far as to characterize it as perverse. That’s the world of power politics. Pay off the debt incurred by your former enemy or else (i.e., you won’t get certain goodies such as a juicy bilateral trade agreement, for instance). Daddy got what Daddy wanted in this case.
There’s not much on the Internet that tells the truth about this program except a sentence here and there. Exhibit A from a Wikipedia entry entitled United States assistance to Vietnam: Additionally, the United States administers the Vietnam Education Foundation, which was established by Congress in 2000 to provide $5 million annually for scholarships and educational exchanges. Funds for the foundation are recycled from the Vietnamese government’s repayments of the wartime debts South Vietnam owed the United States.
Psst! This U.S. scholarship program is actually a Vietnamese scholarship program with money “laundered” annually in the form of a wire transfer from Hanoi to Washington, D.C. The approximate breakdown?
- $5 million to VEF, including $4 million for fellowships and $1 million for admin
- the balance of $3 million goes to the departments and agencies that loaned the money to government of South Vietnam in the late 1960s, including the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
So while it’s great that 50% of the debt repayment is funding fellowships for Vietnamese graduate students, thanks to a group of U.S. senators who happen to be veterans of the American War in Vietnam, it would be even better if the program were transparent and honest about the source of that funding. Read the long version in this 2005 article I wrote about the origins of the VEF. It’s one of the few articles about the VEF that calls a spade a spade. And the truth will set you free!
P.S.: I wonder how many VEF Fellows can “follow the money”? Survey, anyone?