Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day from Viet Nam!

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Beyond Viet Nam:  A Time to Break Silence, a speech Dr. King gave at the Riverside Church in New York City on 4 April 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated is always worth a read and a listen on this or any other day:  text and audio.  His friendship with Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Zen master, global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist who is now back at his “root temple,” Từ Hiếu Temple near Huế in central Viet Nam, is one of the reasons he gave that seminal speech.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

“Now What?” TedX Hanoi May Provide a Few Answers

now what.jpg

Here’s some information about the latest TedX Hanoi event on 19 January 2019 that will attempt to provide some answers to this very timely question.  

The signs of Vietnam’s amazing progress are all around us. Increased growth from Vietnamese companies, and increased investment from international firms, lead to better jobs and rising incomes. With a new high-rise on seemingly every corner, more and more families can afford high-quality housing, and cars to keep their loved ones safe. Increasing numbers of students are studying overseas, while private schools and local universities are rapidly innovating to keep up with this demand. Rising incomes and improved education have unleashed a burst of creative energy, evidenced in the cool  cafés, quirky restaurants, and innovative start-ups that populate Hanoi.

At the same time, these developments are uneven. The benefits of better housing, private vehicles, and private education are not shared by everyone. Air pollution has steadily worsened, and Hanoi now regularly ranks among the most polluted cities in the world. The lust for growth threatens traditions. A city once defined by its ancient temples, Old Quarter, and 1,000 years of history, now looks in many areas like any other modern Asian metropolis.

As more and more people attain the quality of life that Vietnam has been striving for, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves: Now what? How has Vietnam made this amazing progress? What direction do we need to focus on for the future? And how do we get there?

I’m happy to see this kind of discussion and debate taking place though I do think they could have had more key fields represented among their chosen speakers.  Here is the official answer to this obvious question, “How do you select the speakers for TEDxHanoi?”

The answer is not a simple one. As curators,  we read everything we can find that has to do with new ideas worth sharing, and we hear recommendations from our community. There are so many great choices, women and men with ideas worth spreading and stories worth sharing

Check out the list of speakers here.

Another question is one of follow-up and finding a way to track the short- and long-term results of this conference.  Talk is cheap.  as the saying goes, but it is an important first step.  

A word about access in a country with a nominal 2018 per capita income $2,603 ($7,882, PPP).  Either the ticket cost should be much lower or the sponsor (cash) subsidy much higher. 

As of 15 January, 92.42% of the tickets had been sold.  The early bird rate was 880,000 VND ($38) and the regular ticket cost 1,080,000 VND ($46.56).  That is not a lot of money for people of means but it is for most Vietnamese, including students.  

Here’s the budget breakdown.

  • 100 guest tickets, presumably gratis.
  • 101 early bird * 880,000 = 88,880,000 VND
  • 262 standard = 1,080,000 = 282,960,000 VND

371,840,000 VND/23,193.80 VND = $16,031.87  

16K is pocket change for the event sponsor, a company with a market capitalization of $14.03 billion, as of 16 January 2019.  Speaking of which, a smart PR move by Vingroup via Vinschool The Harmony to host this high profile event.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

EducationUSA Closed for Business

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From the website of US Mission-Viet Nam:

Lapse in U.S. Government Appropriations

The Federal Government of the United States of America is currently in a Lapse of Appropriations period.

Scheduled passport and visas services, and emergency services for U.S. citizens, will continue at the U.S. Embassy Hanoi and our Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City during the lapse in appropriations as the situation permits.

The American Centers and EducationUSA advising offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City will be closed to the public during the lapse in appropriations. All schedule programs are also postponed until further notice.

We will not update this account until full operations resume, with the exception of urgent safety and security information.

EducationUSA is unable to work with international students who have an interest in study in the USA because DJT wants his border wall.  The irony is so thick you can cut it with a knife. 

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Cheating in the Education Industry: Let Me Count the Ways!

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Here’s another one to add to my long and ever-growing list.  It’s a variation on the theme of the classic dog and pony show that so many education fairs are these days.  

As a fair organizer, do you want to guarantee a certain number of students at your events?  Don’t go the route of ethical marketing and promotion with the goal of organic and quality attendance.  That’s unpredictable and for losers.  You don’t want to be sweating bullets moments before the event doors open.  If you want a sure thing, there are several tried-and-true ways of doing it, several of which I’ve written about in previous posts and articles.  To recap, here they are:  

  1.  Bus them in, regardless of their qualifications, interests, goals, and their parents’ ability to pay.  Warm bodies make for good photo-ops and impress some of the (more inexperienced) representatives.  I recently heard from a colleague who attended one such fair.  He said there were a lot of 8th graders wearing the same school uniform.  Bingo!  
  2. Hire a service that employs faux students and pay a certain amount of money to guarantee a certain number of attendees.  (There’s something for everyone in Viet Nam’s relatively new free market economy.)  Marketing dollars well spent!  
  3. Pay students who “bring a friend” essentially a finder’s fee, thereby doubling or tripling the fun.  Great ROI!  

#4 is a new one and a variation on #3.  Are you ready?  🙂  

Since most fairs have student volunteers to assist colleagues with translation and contact information collection, offer a cash reward for each additional young person, student or not, they bring to the event.  It beats the expensive cost of traditional and digital marketing.  Genius!  

Seriously, though, I’ve been around the professional block a few times and am still amazed at how many companies have jumped on this particular cheating bandwagon, including some that pay lip service to ethical business practices and have some kind of external stamp of approval, for what that’s worth.  (Not much, actually, but that’s another post or article.  Start with this one, if you’re interested.)  

One company, for example, offers 100,000 VND for four (4) students, which amounts to $4.30 or $1.08 per referral, rounded up.  Too cheap!  Give those poor volunteers a salary increase!  More money equals more warm bodies!  What’s not to like?!?  😉

Probably after checking out the competition, another one, wink, nod, decides to be more “generous” and pays 50,000 VND ($2.15) per student.  400 “students” will cost you a paltry $860.  Given the high cost of digital and many kinds of offline marketing these days in Viet Nam, that’s a bargain!  Since the name of the game is short-term profit, the more, the merrier (say it with me!), this will help you fatten the all-important bottom line!  

If you’re a money-minded student, which company do you want to “volunteer” for?  To paraphrase Karl Marx, you sell your labor to the highest bidder.  Forget about quality – it’s all about the numbers.  Inflate event attendance by essentially bribing students to attend.  Look, Ma, we had 400 people at our fair!, don’t mind the obvious and distressing fact that the majority were paid attendees aka essentially actors without an audition.  

Of Dogs & Fleas

Shame on people who have no qualms about cutting ethical corners.  These are the kind of people that – after meeting with them – you feel the immediate need to wash your hands, maybe even take a shower and, in extreme cases, to delouse.  Perhaps worst of all, they set a bad example for Viet Nam’s younger generation by reinforcing the notion that the means justify the ends.  Cheating is acceptable.  Go for it!  Look at us and, in some cases, US(A)!  

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Image courtesy of THE PINK ELEPHANT ROOM

This is yet another example of corruption in the education industry.    It reminds me of a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s AlmanackIf you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.   (Latin:  Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent.)

What a misuse of creativity.  It also reminds me a little of the idiom Necessity is the mother of invention, except you can substitute necessity with cheating.  As always, success – at all costs – in this case, as measured by the total number of participants, without integrity is failure.  

The Buddha’s Fifth Remembrance applies to all of us:  My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.  How solid is the moral and ethical ground upon which these scoundrels stand?  (The answer in your interior monologue likely conjures up images of sand, quicksand, or something equally unstable.)  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Postscript:  If you’re reading this and you work for a company that plays one or more of these games, then the shoe definitely fits.  Wear it but definitely not with pride! 

 

Top US 10 States & Leading Host Institutions by Location

open doors 2018689,063 international students in the US in 2017/18, or 63% of the total, studied in 10 states, according to Open Doors 2018 data.  You can see a list of 50 states and some US territories by following this link, or click on each state below to see its fact sheet (PDF download).  Each fact sheet lists the top 5 places of origin for international students by percentage and the top five host institutions in that state, in addition to the percentage change from the previous academic year and the estimated international student expenditure in that state.  

1) CA: 161,942
2) NY: 121,260
3) TX: 84,348
4) MA: 68,192
5) IL: 53,362
6) PA: 51,817
7) FL: 46,516
8) OH: 37,583
9) MI: 34,049
10) IN: 29,994

You’ll notice that most have large urban centers, which is where most US Americans lives.  Below is a composite image of the continental US at night in 2016.  (Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)  

us map at night 2018 nasa

Now here are the top 25 leading host institutions, which enrolled 251,972 international students last year, or 23% of the total, followed by a map of the US that indicates clusters of high international enrollment.

top 10 leading institutions

11-20 top

21-25

usa map enrollments

One conclusion to be drawn from the above is that if your institution is not located in one of the top 10 states, the challenge of recruiting international students, in addition to everything else that is currently on our collective plate, is more daunting.  You simply have to be more proactive and, to use an old tagline, try harder.  There are many individual success stories and concrete reasons for institutions’ success in international student recruitment.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fulbright University Vietnam & Moral Leadership?

48425414_726336877749126_906051796659601408_nGiven events of the past few years, these are two phrases that mix like oil and water.  Think textbook cognitive dissonance.  Or a feeble attempt at rehabilitation in the eyes of the public, an audacious means of gaining the moral high ground from the morass of historical tone and gross insensitivity.  

My first reaction upon reading about this 10 January 2019 lecture and, more importantly, the series of which it is a part, was “that’s rich coming from an institution that engineered not one but two consecutive PR disasters related to the US War in Viet Nam.”  

The first involved Bob Kerrey, who was offered and accepted the position of chairman of the board of trustees.  That misguided appointment was the source of considerable controversy and ultimately became a thorn in the side of a budding bilateral relationship – at the highest levels.  

The second involved another war veteran and “one of the most influential figures in the US-Viet Nam relationship you’ve never heard of,” Thomas Vallely.  He made a series of cruel and insensitive statements about civilian deaths during the war in an interview that was published in early 2018 in Politico

In case you’re just tuning in, dear reader, or are not entirely up-to-date, have a look at the articles and posts below.  

Bob Kerrey

Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University – What were they thinking? by Mark Ashwill (MAA)  (8.7.16)

47 Signatories Urge Bob Kerrey to Resign from Fulbright University Viet Nam Position by MAA (8.9.16)

The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position by MAA (26.5.17)

Thomas Vallely

How a U.S.-Backed University in Vietnam Unleashed Old Demons by Isabelle Taft (4.2.18)

More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells by MAA (17.8.18)

The Importance of Speaking Up About “Things That Matter by MAA (26.12.18)

Make amends and come clean, FUV; then you’re entitled to launch a Moral Leadership Speaker Series in good conscience.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA, The Unquiet US American

About Viet Nam’s “gifting culture”

Giving gifts to people in authority has become normal, but we have to be aware it institutionalizes an ‘underworld.’

Also known as an “envelope culture” (văn hóa phòng bì) because envelopes are used for more than sending letters, so passé in the digital age, and giving “lucky money” (lì xì) at Lunar New Year.  A recent essay explains how small-scale corruption works and is recommended reading for those interested in learning about some of what goes on behind the curtain.  

Here are some of the money paragraphs, no pun intended:

The situation has been left for so long that it has become normal. And when this happens, people’s trust in the system is undermined, even as they go with it.

We have the option of eliminating this system entirely by refining our legal and administrative procedures to make them more transparent, more accessible to the public. In the long run, we would also need to learn how to spend the national budget more efficiently and more effectively. That way, not only can we reduce financial burden on our businesses, people can also see that their tax money is put to good use.

On a side note: did you know that as many as 90,000 businesses in Vietnam went bankrupt last year, a 50 percent increase compared to 2017? That happens despite how the country’s GDP grew by over 7 percent last year, the highest in a decade.

While that might signal a competitive economy where only the cream of the crop survives, I sometimes wonder how many of these businesses went bankrupt not because of their poor performance, but because of something else? You should also be asking that question, and so do policymakers.

While I agree with the thrust of the author’s essay, it’s a bit of a stretch to blame petty corruption for corporate bankruptcies.  There are many other factors, including lack of experience and knowledge on the part of the businesspeople whose companies go belly up.  The failure of most new companies is not something that is unique to Viet Nam.  

At any rate, how to solve this systemic problem and ensure that the new normal becomes a thing of the past?  

  1.  Raise the salaries of civil servants and take away the rationale (excuse) for the envelope culture;
  2.  Make it illegal for them to accept “donations”;  
  3.  Create a hotline for citizens to call to report bureaucrats who request “donations”, assuming the business owner, for example, has evidence that supports this accusation, e.g., audio or video recording; and, last but not least, 
  4. Reward conscientious citizens for reporting verified cases of petty corruption.  

The above measures could be the beginning of the end of institutionalized petty corruption.  Now Viet Nam just needs to come to terms with massive corruption, an area in which it has been making some inroads in recent years, thanks to the efforts of Nguyễn Phú Trọng, General Secretary of the Communist Party and President of Viet Nam.  

25thlogo_3Since Viet Nam is so adept at learning from the experiences of other countries, why not study the case of Sweden, once mired in corruption and now a squeaky clean country, comparatively speaking?  In the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index Sweden ranks 6th among 180 countries with a score of 84/100.  (Viet Nam ranks 107 with a score of 35/100.)  Now that’s an achievement worth recognizing, celebrating, and learning from!  

Postscript:  Here’s a bit of good news from Viet Nam.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA