On July 31st and August 1st, US Consul General, Rena Bitter, hosted a conference on Vietnamese higher education. The star-studded list of guests included Dr. Ngo Bao Chau, the first Vietnamese to receive the prestigious Fields Medal, known as the Nobel Prize of Mathematics, Dr. Nguyen Quan, Minister of Science and Technology, and Professor Bui Van Ga, Vice Minister, Ministry of Education and Training. About 150 people attended the conference. You can find the agenda here, along with a number of presentations in the form of PDF downloads.
My two cents:
- Soft Power: Given the fact that education looms large in the US government’s exercise of soft power in Vietnam and other countries, I view these events primarily as political exercises, something to write about and showcase in a press release, media report, and post-conference diplomatic cable. They are part of an ongoing charm offensive that began in earnest during “Education Ambassador” Michael Michalak’s tenure.
- Impact: I wonder about the impact of these types of events, short- or long-term. Aside from the fleeting PR value, you can’t claim that they’re networking opportunities on this scale – in contrast to the annual education conferences of AMB Michalak.
- Authority: A couple of sources told me that while the academic presenters who hold positions overseas may be experts in their fields, they wonder A) how up-to-date all of these experts are vis-à-vis Vietnamese higher education; and B) why they think that what works in another country will work in Vietnam.
- More Inclusive? I know this is asking a lot of what is essentially a very conservative entity with its own narrow agenda but… why not expand the circle and include other voices? This is about dialogue, after all.