Interesting Facts About the Vietnam Education Foundation

veflogoThis 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?

5 thoughts on “Interesting Facts About the Vietnam Education Foundation

  1. VEF doesn’t try to hide the information about the source of funding. Its fellows know about this fact. It is not necessary to mention clearly on website if nobody asks. (It might be mentioned though)
    However, it is still a program under the US government. And it is still the US money, regardless of if Vietnam or any other country gave it to the US in the first place. I see no difference between this source of money with another source of money, let say Vietnam pays the US to buy a Boeing.

  2. Like I’ve said before, it’s a sin of omission and disingenuous, at best. The only reference to the source of funding on the VEF is an article I wrote in 2005 that the founding executive director happened to like. In a sense, it’s “laundered money,” meaning it’s a scholarship program administered by the US govt but funded by the VN govt. I’ve spoken w/ quite a few VEF fellows and know people who have done the same and very few are aware of funding source. Sorry but your Boeing analogy doesn’t make sense. VN Airlines transfers funds directly to Boeing for passenger jets. There is nothing secret about this transaction, nothing to hide. 🙂

    Do you agree with the deal that was imposed upon the VN govt in April 1997 that later (and happily) resulted in a scholarship-for-debt program?

    Homework assignment: Google these search terms and see what you find: VEF scholarship for debt.


    • Maybe you could Google more carefully, nothing is secret here . Search for this “Financially, VEF has operated within budget. VEF receives $5 million annually from the Vietnam Debt Repayment Fund, to which the Vietnamese government repays the pre-1975 debts owed to the United States by South Vietnam.” in the pdf please. You can easily find this information mentioned a number of years before this document.
      There are more than 500 VEF fellows, Vietnamese, US scholars benefited from VEF. I am not sure when you say a “very few” aware of this among “quite a few” is a good statistics.
      Not to mention they don’t hide anything, the comparison with Boeing makes sense since the payment for the debt is what coming first. In the other words, the US government asked for the payment without any thinking of using that money back for Vietnam at that point. Also, the Vietnamese government doesn’t transfer money directly to VEF, but the US government.

      • I never claimed it was a state secret only that it’s not something that is widely publicized. (Please try to prove me wrong on that count.) It doesn’t appear on the VEF website or in any US statements about the VEF. (Who reads PDF reports?) How many articles about the
        origins of the VEF can you find on the Internet? Check and let me

        Yes, I’m aware that the funds are transferred annually to the USG. $5
        million to VEF ($4 mill for fellowships & $1 mill for admin). The balance goes to Ag, USAID, etc.

        Question: Do you think it’s acceptable that the government of the
        Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which dates to 1976, is essentially
        forced to pay off debts incurred by its former enemy and one-time US
        client state, the Republic of Vietnam (former South Vietnam)? (Keep
        in mind that Vietnam would have been unified in 1956 under the
        leadership of President HCM, had the US not sabotaged the Geneva
        Accords of 1954.)

        The deal struck in 1997 was power politics, plain and simple. Why not ask the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to repay all of the other loans that the US made to the RVN? For that matter, why not ask them to kindly pay the cost – in 2015 dollars – of all of the weapons that the RVN used against the people of Vietnam, which resulted in the deaths of 3.8 million Vietnamese? It’s beyond perverse.

        What is your relationship to the VEF, if I may ask?


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