Vietnam-Fulbright University (of Vietnam)?

Here’s an update on the Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV), which is being built on the solid and well-respected foundation of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP),  a partnership established in 1994 – the year the decades long economic embargo was lifted and a year before the normalization of diplomatic relations – by the Harvard Kennedy School and the HCMC University of Economics.  The Vietnamese government recently granted an operating license to the Trust for University Innovation in Vietnam (TUIV), the non-profit organization that is the catalyst for this ambitious project.

fetp logoAccording to a press release on the FETP website, FUV will be built on a 15 hectare (37 acre) plot of land in the Saigon High-Tech Park near HCMC.  Incorporated as a not-for-profit, foreign-invested university, FUV will offer research and education in public policy and management, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), medicine, social sciences, humanities, and interdisciplinary sciences.

The plans are to begin construction next year with investment capital of $70 million, including $5.3 million in the initial phase, $20 million in the second phase (2017-2020) and $44.7 million in the third phase (2020-2030).

Where’s the money coming from?  Since it’s a US university, it must be the US government or another US source, right?  Here’s the “money paragraph”, pun intended, in a 10 July 2015 article entitled US-backed university in Vietnam cements diplomatic ties:

TUIV has set targets to enrol 2,000 students and raise US$100 million in the university’s first five years. About half of the US$40 million pledged to date comes from the Vietnam Education Foundation, or VEF, Act of 2000, through which the Vietnamese government has been repaying debts to the United States incurred during the war years.

unwilling to give or spend; ungenerous.
“his employer is stingy and idle”
synonyms:    mean, miserly, niggardly, close-fisted, parsimonious, penny-pinching, cheeseparing, Scroogelike

Let me get this straight.  The FUV, which “is to be designed around key principles of US non-profit higher education, including self-governance and academic freedom,” is classified as a US university but 50% of the initial installment of $40 million is from the VEF balance, meaning it’s (indirectly) from the Vietnamese government.  It sounds like a joint project to me.  Why not call it the Vietnam-Fulbright University?  Senator J.W. would no doubt look down from heaven with a smile on his face.  If you leave out “Vietnam” and the FUV is receiving “about” $20 million in Vietnamese government funding, nearly 30% of the total cost, he’ll be rolling over in his grave.

MQ-9-ReaperViewed from another perspective – in the spirit of turning swords into plowshares – the TUIV could fund the entire university, including all three phases, with the cost of just over five (5) MQ-9 Reaper drones.  Let that sink in for a moment.  (Each drone costs $13.77 million, not including the cost of ground stations and other associated equipment.  An added benefit of diverting funds from a drone budget to a new university is that fewer innocents are likely to die.)  Since this not very likely, let’s just call it the Vietnam-Fulbright University in honor of Sen. J. William Fulbright, passionate opponent of the American War in Vietnam, vocal critic of US foreign policy and author of the classic, The Arrogance of Power.  He would be pleased.  Plus, what a great way to cap off the 20th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries.


Coming Full Circle: A Conscientious Objector Returns to Vietnam

Doug Hostetter
Doug Hostetter

Below are some excerpts from an article by Doug Hostetter, who is director of the Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Office in New York City.   He was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war, who did his alternative service working for Mennonite Central Committee in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969.  Doug was a member of the National Student Association delegation to Saigon and Hanoi that negotiated the People’s Peace Treaty in 1970 and served as executive secretary of  FOR (Fellowship of Reconciliation)-USA from 1987–1973, and international/interfaith secretary from 1993–2001. Doug has published widely on the issues of war, peace, and nonviolence.

The photos below are of Doug and the daughter of an artist friend of his, Le Dinh Sung, taken when she was about 11 and during his visit last year.  As he mentioned in the article, They (Phuong Long and her older brother) both remembered me well, as I had spent much time in their home with their father.

I mentioned Doug and his work in Vietnam in this 2/14 Huffington Post piece entitled Jumping on the Vietnam War Commemoration Bandwagon: The Vain Search for Honor.


 “The Path of Return Continues the Journey” (Quote by Thích Nhất Hạnh)

When I learned that Vietnam had invited a group of 15 U.S. antiwar activists to come to Hanoi in January 2013, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords that ended U.S. direct involvement in the Vietnam war, I realized that it was time for me to return to Vietnam.

Le Thi Phuong Long and Doug Hostetter - 1968 (Photos: Village photographer)
Le Thi Phuong Long and Doug Hostetter – 1968 (Photos: Village photographer)
Le Thi Phuong Long and Doug Hostetter - 2013 (Photos: Village photographer)
Le Thi Phuong Long and Doug Hostetter – 2013 (Photos: Village photographer)

I had first gone to Vietnam back in 1966, soon after graduating from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  I had received conscientious objector status from the military, and then volunteered to do my Alternative Service in Vietnam, at the height of the war, working for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Vietnam with Vietnam Christian Service (VNCS).  VNCS was a joint program in Vietnam of the Mennonite Central Committee, Church World Service, and Lutheran World Relief, but was directed by MCC.

As a Mennonite I understood that I had no enemies, but was called to use the “weapons” of love and truth in the struggle to build a just and peaceful world.  Our Mennonite vision of the world clashed sharply with that of our government.

My path of return to Vietnam was a continuation of my original journey to learn peacebuilding.  As I relished the renewal of relationships from nearly half a century ago, I began to comprehend that a critical element of peacebuilding is authentic friendship.  Peace is founded upon relationships that transcend the national, racial, ethnic, religious, and political boundaries that usually separate humanity.

Follow this link to read Doug’s article in its entirety.


Nonimmigrant B Visa Adjusted Refusal Rates: Vietnam’s Stock Is Rising

USA_Visa_-_ArgWhile B visas are not F1 (i.e., student) visas, a look at issuance statistics since 2006 reveals a positive trend for Vietnamese traveling to the U.S. on business or on holiday.  (B-1 visas are for tourism, pleasure or visiting, while B-2 visas are a combination of both purposes.)

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 20.3% of all B1/B2 visa applications in Vietnam were refused (PDF download), the lowest percentage ever.   This means that about 80% were approved, which is on par with the worldwide average for FY 2012 and places Vietnam in the same league as countries like Ireland (16.9%), Latvia (20.4%), Maldives (22.9%) and Singapore (25%).

This graph illustrates some ups and downs and then a steady decline in the refusal rate starting in 2010.

2006-2013 B Visa Refusal Rates for Vietnam
Source: U.S. State Department

In FY 2012 the worldwide issuance rate (PDF download) for student (F-1) visas was 74%.  Below are two graphs that show significant increases for both B and F1 visas from 2007-2012.

B Visa Issuances 2007-2012
Source: U.S. State Department

While this information is not released in Vietnam, my guess is that the student visa issuance rate, which has on the rise in recent years, is in the 60-65% range.  (Dear Reader – If you have an exact figure, please let me know and I’ll post it, with or without attribution.)  It could be considerably higher if students 1) were more familiar with the process and better prepared for the visa interview; 2) did not use the F-1 as an obvious means of emigration; and 3) did not engage in various types of visa fraud.

Another variable, given the latitude that consular officers have and the lack of accountability in the system, is that they sometimes make mistakes often based on false “intuition.”  (To err is human, right?)  This lack of accountability has also resulted in intentional mistakes, i.e., a number of cases of visa fraud worldwide, including a high-profile one in Vietnam involving Michael Sestak, the former Nonimmigrant Visa Section Chief at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.


Vietnam Ranks 9th in… Remittances

According to the World Bank (PDF), officially recorded remittances to developing countries were estimated at $401 billion in 2012, and remain a key resource flow far exceeding official development assistance as well as private debt and portfolio equity.  Growth in remittances to developing countries decelerated to 5.3 percent in 2012, but is expected to accelerate to 8.8 percent during 2013-15.  Vietnam ranks 9th in the world in remittances, which amounted to an increase of $1 billion over the previous year and an impressive 7.1% of GDP ($141 billion).

Top 10 recipients of migrant remittances in 2012
Source: World Bank

Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister, noted earlier this year that “The amount of remittances has accounted for 60-70 percent of foreign investment in Vietnam since 1991 and this is the real source of money contributing effectively to the national economic development, to the stabilization of the exchange rate and the increase of foreign exchange reserves.”  In addition to t he 4 million overseas Vietnamese in the U.S., Canada, Australia, France and other countries, there are also 400,000 Vietnamese workers in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Middle East, etc. One key difference is that 30% of the remittances were sold to banks in 2012 vs. 14% in 2011.  The reason is the policies that the Vietnam State Bank implemented to maintain a stable exchange rate, thereby closing the gap between commercial banks and the black market. Money-Transfer_globeSo who receives this money and what is it used for?  It goes disproportionately to well-off family members living in urban areas, particularly Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  Last year, about $4.1 billion, or 41%, went to HCMC.  Of that amount, 70% was used for production and business, 23% for real estate purchase and 6% for assisting relatives. Ironically, the $10 billion that was transferred to Vietnam last year is one of the silver linings in the waves of emigration that occurred during and after the American War. MAA

Third Time’s The Charm

Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre News.

This is the third in a trilogy of posts on Vietnam’s ranking in different categories, including adjusted refusal rates for B (tourist/business) visas, Vietnam-US immigration trends and patterns and, last but not least, overseas remittances.  Why overseas remittances?  Because they relate (directly) to emigration and (indirectly) to education. 

An Overview

According to an April 2012 World Bank update entitled Remittance flows in 2011 – an update (PDF download), officially recorded remittance flows to developing countries are estimated to have reached $372 billion in 2011, an increase of 12.1 percent over 2010.  They are expected to grow at 7-8% annually to reach $467 billion by 2014. 

 Emigration & Remittances

As with any country, emigration is a mixed bag in terms of gains and losses. On the plus side, overseas Vietnamese return to Vietnam as tourists (a total of 6 million international visitors in 2011) and businesspeople, and contribute in various ways, including through investment and remittances.

In 2011, remittances reached $9 billion, which surpassed the previous year’s record by $1 billion. (This is 2.4% of total remittance flows to developing countries.)  Vietnam ranks 9th among all developing countries and 2ndin Southeast Asia – after the Philippines. 

The volume of overseas remittances to Vietnam comprised just 4.2% of the total gross domestic product (GDP) in 1999, but reached 7.8% in 2002, 7.7% in 2010 and 7.5% in 2011.  (Remittances to Vietnam in 1991 were $135 million.)  Most of the money sent back to Vietnam is used for investment in real estate; the rest is for bank deposits and the purchase of durable goods.  Presumably, a large chunk is also invested in education.

Source: World Bank

More than 4 million Vietnamese people are now living in 103 countries around the world, 80% of them in developed countries such as the United States or in Europe, according to a recent International Organization for Migration (IOM) update.  More than 500,000 Vietnamese are currently working in more than 40 countries and territories in occupations ranging from low to highly skilled, with more than 80,000 Vietnamese leaving each year to work abroad, according to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA).