If I Were US Ambassador to Vietnam…

if i were us amb to vn

Here is my latest piece for CounterPunch.  Think of it as a Viet Nam-related sociopolitical fantasy.  A guy can dream, can’t he? 




US-Based Unaccredited Institutions of Higher Education in Viet Nam: A Look Back at the End of An Era

Here’s an excerpt from a 2016 book entitled Transnational Education Crossing “Asia” and “the West”:  Adjusted Desire by Le-Ha Phan, which mentions the work I’ve done to combat, counteract, and raise awareness about the activities of US-based rogue providers in Viet Nam and in general. 

Out of the many reported examples of problems and corrupt unethical activities in this sector, the media has circulated the work of Mark Ashwill, former director of IIE Vietnam (Institute of International Education) and currently working in Vietnam, who has identified the degree mills and no-name entities from America operating in Vietnam and as such alerted the stakeholders of the transnational sector to the consequences involved (Ashwill, 2010, 2012, Thanhniennews, 2012; Tuoitrenews, 2010).

Basic_sheep_75This is an issue I have been writing and speaking about since my IIE-Viet Nam days (2005-09).  In fact, it was one of my “signature issues” and one that I have continued to focus on from time to time.  (Check out my blog for more information and this article entitled Caveat Emptor! US Rogue Providers Discover Vietnam, which I wrote for the February 2011 issue of wRAP Up, A Newsletter for the Recruitment, Admission, and Preparation Knowledge Community.) 

If you read on, you’ll see that there’s much work to do these days because of positive steps taken by the Vietnamese government.

The US exports some of the world’s best and worst higher education.  -MAA

This is a relevant quote I’ve used on occasion, referring not only to diploma mills but also to institutions that offer substandard education and training, and are basically money-making machines, regardless of status, i.e., for- or non-proft.  This includes nationally accredited (NA) institutions, many of which are in accreditation “no man’s land,” since the derecognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) last year.

To learn more about the context, check out this May 2016 BuzzFeed investigative report, which blew the lid off of this issue and led to the US Department of Education “derecognizing” ACICS, forcing all of its accredited schools to obtain new institutional accreditation by June 2018.  That decision remains unchanged to date, i.e,. in the new administration.  (Capstone, the company I work for, works exclusively with regionally accredited institutions in the US, the gold standard of institutional accreditation.  To my knowledge, it is the only company in Viet Nam and, possibly, the world with this policy.)

The Summer of Accreditation Discontent:  Seven (7) Years & Counting

While the issue of unaccredited schools still rears its ugly head from time to time, especially when it’s discovered that an embattled Vietnamese political or business leader has a degree (or two) from one of them, which spices up the scandal du jour, their heyday actually ended in August 2010 at the end of what I like to call the summer of accreditation discontent with extensive media coverage of this issue, including a widely publicized interview with me. 

That was when Dr. Nguyễn Xuân Vang, director of the International Education Development Department of the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) stated in an interview that unauthorized joint training programs are illegal and that the Ministry will not recognize the diplomas of programs offered in cooperation with unaccredited foreign partners.

(I’m) Not For Sale!

“Colleagues” from these edu-companies, you know, the kind of people that make you want to delouse after a short meeting, used a carrot and stick approach with me back in the day.  One example of the former was offering to fly me to Malaysia, business class, presumably, to “talk”, while the latter refers to the threaten of legal action.  (As others have found out over the years, I’m not for sale and I don’t cave to threats.) 
I like to think that I’ve cost these sleazebags millions of dollars in lost revenue in Viet Nam because of all of the media coverage of this issue and greater public awareness. 

There are more dragons and sacred cows waiting to be slain.  And that is why one of the words in the subtitle of this blog is Intrigue.


Top 10 Host States for International & Vietnamese Students

top 10 intl students

Rajika Bhandari, head of research, policy and practice at IIE, says there are a variety of reasons certain parts of the country generally appeal more to international students, such as population diversity and proximity to industry.

The latter partly explains the appeal of Texas, she says, which is the No. 3 most popular state for international students and a hub for engineering and technology. Opportunities for internships and jobs are a big factor for international students when deciding where to study, says Bhandari.

US News & World Report recently published an article about the 10 states that attract international states, based on the latest Open Doors 2017 report.  If you look at where most Vietnamese are studying, as of May 2017, there is an overlap of seven (7) states, including CA, NY, TX, MA, IL, PA, and FL.

Some of the reasons for this overlap are similar to what appears in the above quote, i.e., population diversity, proximity to industry, engineering and technology hubs, and opportunities for internships.  Others are also related to family ties, the result of the American War in Viet Nam and various waves of pre- and post-war emigration. 

The reason WA ranks 3rd is because of the popularity of its community colleges, many of which offer degree and high school completion programs, and their work recruiting in Viet Nam long before the market heated up.  (It ranks 11th among all international students, using Open Doors data.) 

Vietnamese students ranked 2nd (8.2% or 2,280), after their Chinese peers, in the number of international students in WA last year.  This means that just over 10% of all Vietnamese students in the US in 2016/17 were in WA.  That figure drops to 8.2%, as of May 2017, if you use SEVIS data, which include all levels and types of education, but primarily higher education.

The numbers for Vietnamese students are as follows.  About 72% are in 10 out of 50 states, which means that the bar is set higher for institutions in the other 40 states, 


VN student population by state
The darker the blue, the more Vietnamese students there are in those states.  Source:  SEVIS (DHS)


  1. CA: 6171
  2. TX: 5221
  3. WA: 2485
  4. MA: 1686
  5. NY: 1328
  6. FL: 1193
  7. PA: 1187
  8. IL: 915
  9. VA: 886
  10. GA: 677

TOTAL: 71.7% rounded up (21722/30,279)



Saigon woman ISSUED visa to visit dying father in US

The title of this post is the positive version of the title of a heartbreaking article I read on US Thanksgiving Day.  I can’t say it’s a happy ending because a daughter’s father is going to die very soon but it is good news for both father and daughter.  Here’s the sad story in a nutshell:

Nguyen Thi My Linh, a 31-year-old woman from Saigon, has applied for a U.S. visa four times to fulfill her dying father’s last wish to see her. Linh’s father, My Nguyen, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June and his doctors in California said he’s no longer well enough to travel to Vietnam.

(Here is the original Vietnamese article, which appeared the day before: Cô gái Sài Gòn 4 lần bị Mỹ từ chối cấp visa để gặp bố ung thư lần cuố)

As the article points out, this is not the first time the US Mission (Embassy or Consulate) in Viet Nam has said “no” to a visa application in very compelling cases this year alone.  When it involves a parent who has weeks, if not days, left to live, however, it becomes a human rights issue rather than one of just common decency and fairness.

A letter from U.S. doctors to the US Consulate regarding the condition of Linh’s father. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi My Linh (Source:  VNExpress International)

The good news is that Ms. Linh received a visa this week and will finally have the opportunity to visit with her father in California before he passes.  The fifth time was the charm.  Thanks to those who quietly yet persistently advocated on Linh’s behalf and thanks to the US Consulate for doing the right thing.  I sincerely hope this will serve as a precedent for future cases of this nature.



Fulbright University Vietnam & Free Speech: “Do As We Say, Not As We Do”

noun: hypocrisy; plural noun: hypocrisies

the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.


free speech notThis is a concept to which US Americans, including and perhaps especially those who represent the US government and affiliated institutions, pay lip service.  Presumably, this also includes a new US-style university in Viet Nam,  a private initiative, led by private citizens from Vietnam and the US.

Imagine my surprise when I posted an innocuous comment on the Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) Facebook page stating something along the lines that “It’s full steam ahead for FUV now that Bob Kerrey is no longer chairman of its board of trustees” and included a link to my 26 May 2017 article The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position   When I tried to post a link to a Vietnamese translation my original comment had disappeared and I was already blocked from the FUV Facebook page.  Compare and contrast the screenshots below.

fuv fb page comment deleted
The original post has already been deleted, which is why there is “no permission” to add a comment.
blocked FB account
This is what a blocked account looks like.  There is no opportunity to comment or reply nor is there a way to message the host.  You can look but not touch, i.e., interact.
one account ok
One can comment and/or reply to a comment using this account.

fuv logo

The original article had nearly 1,000 Facebook shares, before the site migrated to a new server.  It was quickly translated into Vietnamese and widely discussed on Vietnamese language blogs and Facebook pages.  Maybe the latter was the icing on the censorship cake? 

My comment reflected something I wrote in that article about having no need to play the quiet game because I’m not a diplomat.  (Bob Kerrey was appointed with much fanfare and some fanfare should accompany his surrender.)  Its prompt deletion also confirmed something else that I wrote, namely, that the silent treatment was an attempt to Clean up the mess and move on, as if nothing happened.  If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  If an online comment is deleted, was there ever an original comment?

The irony of a university that claims to be inspired by the American tradition of liberal arts education  (think critical thinking and other skills and knowledge) yet wastes no time in digitally erasing views with which it disagrees was not lost on me.  It’s yet another example of do as we say, not as we do. We (US) claim to believe in freedom of speech and are constantly lecturing other countries, including Viet Nam, about their transgressions but we (US) practice it selectively.  Shameless and shameful. 

This arrogance reminds of something Ron Suskind wrote about a 2004 interview with a George W. Bush aide who was later revealed to be Karl Rove: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” In other words, the US government can do and say whatever the hell it wants because, well, the US is an empire. 

Speaking of arrogance, J. William Fulbright wrote about this mindset in a classic book entitled The Arrogance of Power written during the American War in Viet Nam.  Yes, that Fulbright after whom FUV is named.  Irony piled upon irony.  Shameless and shameful ad nauseam.


P.S.:  Bob Kerrey is still a member of the FUV board of trustees, according to the FUV website, a textbook definition of a flawed compromise.

“To many Vietnamese, US still a top overseas study destination in spite of Donald Trump”

vn students article

Check out the facts and figures on why so many students are heading state-side.

This is my latest English language article, written at the request of VNExpress International. I think it provides a pretty comprehensive update about the current situation for those with a personal and/or professional interest in the status of US-bound Vietnamese students.  (It’s an edited and expanded version of an article I wrote last July for University World News.)

Note the caveat in my concluding paragraph.  Why?  Because only God is perfect.  🙂

While the wave of interest in study in the U.S. will eventually break because of demographic and development-related factors, such as an aging population and an improvement in the quality of the domestic higher education system, demand is likely to continue to gain momentum, barring unforeseen political and economic circumstances. Since no one has a crystal ball, however, medium-term outcomes are anyone’s guess.




Charlottesville & EducationUSA

Defined as:

a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

That and surreal are the words that best describe a situation I encountered while reading an online US newspaper article about the white supremacist “rally” in Charlottesville, VA.  (This was before the violence, including deaths and injuries, that occurred the following day.)

Scrolling down, I suddenly noticed a two-minute EducationUSA video with a link to learn more.  Below are two screenshots. 


The irony became much thicker after Donald Trump failed to condemn the actions of the white supremacists in this Tweet:

trump and charlottesville