Vingroup is a $13.87 billion Vietnamese conglomerate whose businesses cover some of the most important aspects of human existence, including healthcare (Vinmec International Hospital), housing (Vinhomes houses, condos, and serviced apartments), education (Vinschool, VinUniversity), food (VinMart convenience stores, supermarkets), animal feed (related to food), pharmaceuticals and health food/supplements, recreation (Vinpearl, Vinpearl Land), shopping (Vincom Retail) and, most recently, transportation (VinFast).
In other words, Vingroup has a lot of bases covered in a country whose economy is on fire with a rapidly growing middle class. Some joke that the only item missing in this nearly cradle-to-grave approach to doing business and meeting the needs of Vietnamese consumers is a chain of funeral homes.
A 1 May 2018 article that appeared in the Nikkei Asian Review entitled Vietnam’s Vingroup drives industrialization with diversification provides an excellent overview of this strategy.
While some, including Vietnamese and expats, have complained about the quality of some of its businesses, including the design of its homes, for example, or the emphasis on profit maximization at the cost of green space and aesthetics in its housing and shopping complexes, the fact remains that Vingroup as a whole is extraordinarily successful and that most Vietnamese heart Vingroup. (Its stock value, which increased 83% last year, is one indication of just much investors like Vingroup. It is because of that torrid growth that Mr. Vượng, its chairman, is now worth twice as much as Donald Trump.)
VinUniversity, in partnership with Cornell University, an Ivy League school ranked 14th among national universities, is the latest addition to the Vingroup empire. Follow this link to read a 3 April 2018 PIE News article by Matthew Camara for which I was interviewed. (Vingroup is also working with the University of Pennsylvania, another Ivy League institution.)
Here is an unabridged version of his questions and my answers.
1. What was your general reaction to the news that Cornell will be working with VinGroup to build a new university in Hanoi?
I was not surprised in the least. This has been in the works ever since Vingroup hired a consultant a couple of years ago to explore the possibility of cooperating with a top 50 US college or university.
2. What is Vingroup trying to accomplish here? What does Cornell get from this (beyond the financial relationship)? How does this initiative fit with Vingroup’s other education projects?
I believe that Mr. Phạm Nhật Vượng, the chairman of Vingroup, is trying to create a world-class university and he happens to have the means with which to make that happen. I don’t think it’s about making more money. My guess is it’s more about legacy, including making a significant and lasting contribution to Vietnamese society. And, yes, a fringe benefit is that it will further strengthen Vingroup’s position as one of Viet Nam premier corporations and provide yet another highly visible means of branding Vingroup not only in Viet Nam but internationally.
What does Cornell get? In addition to the obvious financial benefit, the VinUniversity project will enable selected Cornell faculty and staff to gain valuable experience in Viet Nam in an exciting period of unprecedented growth and development. Finally, this partnership, ideally culminating in the establishment of an international standard university, will be yet another feather in Cornell’s global service cap.
How does this initiative fit with Vingroup’s other education projects? It dovetails very nicely with the nationwide network of current and future Vinschools whose high school graduates may wish to attend an in country institution of higher education such as VinUniversity.
3. How might the new “VinUniversity” impact the domestic education market and the study abroad market? Are parents looking for options to keep their kids closer to home?
If it materializes as planned, it will give Vietnamese students yet another opportunity to pursue higher education at home at modest cost, in addition to other students from the region. From the perspective of Vietnamese parents, this will have the win-win benefit of saving money (for those for whom that is important) and keeping their children closer to home during their still formative undergraduate years.
4. Having worked with many Vietnamese students and parents, what do you think their reaction will be to VinUniversity? Is the idea of going to a school named after a conglomerate going to be a turn off for them? What sort of nuances or details will VinGroup need to work out to appeal to parents/students?
Again, assuming the university is able to deliver what it promises, I think that most Vietnamese parents and students will welcome VinUniversity. The entity behind it is one of the most well-known corporations in Viet Nam, including in the education sphere, e.g., Vinschool. The partnership with Cornell University, an Ivy League institution that ranks 14th among national US universities, according to the latest US News & World Report ranking, is unique, and will certainly make VinUniversity even more attractive.
5. RMIT has been in Vietnam for 17+ years, Fulbright University plans to open soon, the Vietnamese-German University is here now, Broward College operates a partnership program. How many international (or, in this case, semi-international) universities can Vietnam sustain? Is the market set to become congested now that RMIT’s non-compete agreement has expired?
As the ability to afford international standard higher education continues to grow and with large numbers of Vietnamese students studying overseas, about 150,000 in the top five host countries alone, I think that it will be a while before supply meets demand.
6. An education industry source of mine told me that study abroad will remain a must-have for wealthy families until an accessible, regional option becomes available (i.e., not NUS because it’s too selective) that families perceive as having the same quality as an overseas school. He speculated that Fulbright University might be able to do that. Do you agree with his premise and, if you do, could VinUniversity fill that niche?
I agree and believe that VinUniversity could very well fill that niche, perhaps even better and faster than Fulbright University Vietnam, especially in view of the partnership with Cornell and the amount of money Vingroup is willing to invest in the short-term. From what I’ve seen, Vingroup is fully prepared to put its money where its vision is.