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.


Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Well-Educated, Your Wealthy…

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Excerpt from The New Colossus, a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, 1883

Courtesy of AlterNet
Courtesy of AlterNet

It’s rare that I write a post about a Facebook (FB) comment.  My FB page consists mostly of current events updates and commentary and the occasional photo.  I don’t tell my FB friends how I’m feeling, where I’m traveling to or what I had for dinner last night.  (The main reason I stay on FB is because of what I learn from some very smart and well-connected FB friends not because of fluff that’s neither here nor there.)

I recently posted a link to a March 2015 article entitled 9 basic concepts Americans fail to grasp with the subtitle A lack of worldliness is clouding our vision on everything from sex to economics, and the proof is in our policies.  I highlighted point #3.  (I would argue that this doesn’t apply only to “neocons” and the “Tea Party” but to the majority of US Americans.  If you doubt this assertion, I’m happy to provide ample evidence to back it up.)

3. American Exceptionalism Is Absolute Nonsense in 2015

No matter how severe the U.S.’ decline becomes, neocons and the Tea Party continue to espouse their belief in “American exceptionalism.” But in many respects, the U.S. of 2015 is far from exceptional. The U.S. is not exceptional when it comes to civil liberties (no country in the world incarcerates, per capita, more of its people than the U.S.) or healthcare (WHO ranks the U.S. #37 in terms of healthcare). Nor is the U.S. a leader in terms of life expectancy: according to the WHO, overall life expectancy in the U.S. in 2013 was 79 compared to 83 in Switzerland and Japan, 82 in Spain, France, Italy, Sweden and Canada and 81 in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Austria and Finland.

A Vietnamese FB friend responded thus:  I couldn’t agree more with the points the article makes. Those are the issues that some socially conscious Americans are aware of.  At the same time though, how the world sees the US matters. Uncle Sam remains the most desired population for migrants: 23% of the potential migrants would like to get their hands on those Green Cards, more than triple the percentage of the UK, the 2nd nation on the list.  (Said FB friend cited the two sources below.) If we think that desirability could be a proxy, those stats do make a case for some degree of exceptionalism.

150 Million Adults Worldwide Would Migrate to the U.S. (April 2012)

Nearly 700 Million Worldwide Desire to Migrate Permanently (PDF)
U.S. tops desired destination countries  (Data collected between 2007 and 2009)

I agree – how the world sees the US does matter.  That’s a mixed bag, to say the least.  For example, the international community views the US as the greatest threat to world peace – with Pakistan a distant 2nd.  US Americans might want to ask themselves why that is.  That’s the ugly of the good, the bad and the ugly.  But i digress – kind of.

Here’s my response which, as you can see, transcends the limits of a typical FB one-liner.

The fact that the US “remains the most desired population for migrants” is not the result of its “exceptionalism.”  There are many different reasons and circumstances.  I list seven (7) below.  There are realities other than the party line that the USA is the best thing since sliced bread.  My main point is that it’s not as cut-and-dried as your comment indicates.

1)  Misperception Trumps Reality.  You know, the idea that the streets are paved with gold, there’s a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, it’s the land of endless opportunity and all that jazz, i.e., cultural mythology that many US Americans buy into, a mountain of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.  (As Friedrich Nietzsche once observed, Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.)  Don’t underestimate the power and influence of the US MSM (mainstream media), Hollywood and, to a much lesser extent (much to their dismay), the ongoing charm offensive of the US embassies and consulates around the world, including in Vietnam.

2)  International Students Who Emigrate.  As you know from personal experience and in general, lots of international students make the fateful decision to work for the long term, become permanent residents, and maybe even citizens.  They find a great job, are working in fields in which there are not many, if any, opportunities in their home countries, fall in love, etc.  Frankly speaking, the US desperately needs a certain percentage of you to remain because of the graying of the population, labor shortages in certain fields, a lack of native-born US Americans studying key subjects, etc.

The USG will eventually be forced to reform its immigration policy to recognize this reality, not likely in the current (nationalistic, hoorah!) climate. I predict that someday, in the not too distant future, international students will no longer have to do that little dance about “plans to return to your home country” during the visa interview because it will be a moot point.

3)  The New American Slavery: Invited to the US, Foreign Workers Find a Nightmare  Every year, more than 100,000 foreigners go to the US to do menial work under the auspices of the H-2 visa program.  No streets paved with gold for many of these tired and poor people, just day after agonizing and gut-wrenching day of exploitation and abuse.

4)  The House Slave Syndrome.  “Over and over again, the U.S. has instigated mayhem or carnage overseas, generating thousands if not millions of refugees, many of whom longing to escape, paradoxically, it seems, to the source of their suffering. You beat and humiliate me, so can I move in?” In many cases, ironically, immigrants are flocking to the US to escape dire circumstances in their home countries created by, guess who, the USG and its military.

How many recent immigrants fall into this category?  Let’s use Vietnam as an example.  If the US had not sabotaged the Geneva Accords of 1954 and thrown its financial and military weight behind that artificial entity known as the Republic of Vietnam, its one-time client state, there would have been a national election in 1956 that President HCM would have won, thus unifying the country.  That means probably no 2nd Indochina War/American War in Vietnam, 3.8 million would not have been murdered, and there probably wouldn’t be over 1.5 million overseas Vietnamese in the US today.

5)  Simple Logic.  Conditions in the US are much better than in many countries so it’s not surprising that people would want to go there in search of a better life. It is a large and, in selected areas, a diverse country.  You don’t even have to learn English if you belong to an ethnic group with a large community there.  (Think Quận Cam, or Orange County, if you’re a Vietnamese-American or VA wannabe.)   I know one fairly recent immigrant from Vietnam whose father was a low-ranking soldier in the ARVN and a farmer by trade who applied to the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) in its waning days.  (The ODP began in 1980 and ended in 1997.  During that time, 623,509 Vietnamese were resettled abroad, of whom more than 450,000 went to the US.)  The main reason?  So that his children could get a better education, which they have.  Future plans?  This young man is returning to live in Vietnam and his parents are planning to retire to their hometown.  Good deal all around, I’d say.

photodune-3821722-female-soldier-saluting-flag-m (dhs)6)  Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI).  Only a government bureaucrat could come up with this name.  Here’s the description on the Study in the States (Homeland Security) website:  The United States military is a vital part of our nation’s security. International students interested in serving in the military may be eligible for a program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). This program allows certain non-citizens who are legally present in the United States and hold critical skills to join the U.S. military. People with critical skills, including physicians, nurses, and experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds, are in great demand.

Think of it as roll of the dice and/or a deal with the devil.  If you agree to enlist, you can become a permanent resident (they’ll even help you!) and, eventually, a citizen.  Then you can enjoy all of the attendant benefits of living in the US, if you survive the latest war du jour that you’ve been sent to fight in and return to the US unscathed, physically and psychologically.  My sources tell me that the US military is now casting a wider net, i.e., not limited to those who “hold critical skills,” because it needs more recruits, more warm bodies, more cannon fodder, so to speak.  (That’s what happens when you have 1,000 bases around the world and are spending $700 billion a year on your military.  Got to feed the ravenous beast!)

7)  Give Me Your Wealthy.  You can essentially buy a green card through the EB-5 program and become an immigrant investor.  Cost:  $1 million or $500,000, depending upon location and circumstances.  (Assuming the project is successful, this money is returned to the investor with a very low interest rate.)  This is popular among some foreigners of means who are looking to hedge their bets because of instability, potential instability or perceptions of instability at home.  So, yes, green cards are for sale, if you have the requisite cash.

There’s more to be said but this is, after all, only a blog post not a feature article.  (What did I overlook?  Point #8, anyone?)  Your thoughts?


P.S.:  Thanks to my FB friend for raising this issue.

A graphic illustration of the practical effects and outcomes of nationalism, of which exceptionalism is but one component.
A graphic illustration of the practical effects & outcomes of nationalism, of which exceptionalism is part and parcel.

Top Emerging Markets for International Student Recruitment

Below are some excerpts from this World Education Services (WES) follow-up study to a 2012 research report that identifies key emerging markets for international student recruitment through 2018 and seeks to inform higher education institutions’ strategic planning by giving them a deeper understanding of future international student recruitment markets.

This report addresses two main questions:

  1. Beyond the traditional markets (China, India, and South Korea), what are likely to be the top four emerging markets for recruiting international students in the next three years, and what exactly makes these promising recruitment markets?
  2. What are the most effective strategies and practices for recruiting international students from these emerging markets?


In order of importance, survey respondents to the WES survey identified Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Nigeria as the top four emerging markets to watch over the next three years. In the past five years, these countries have shown substantial increases in the number of students studying in the U.S., alongside stable economic growth.

As identified in WES’ previous Emerging Markets report, Vietnam is and remains an important recruitment market, with outbound mobility growing significantly over the past 13 years. In 2013/14, there were 16,579 Vietnamese students studying in the U.S., making Vietnam the eighth-ranked nation among all sending countries. With steady growth in both the number of students arriving from Vietnam and also in the size of the country’s economy, Vietnam looks set to continue as a strong growth market. Vietnam’s economic growth will also enable parents from its growing middle class to send their children to study in the U.S. at a younger age. An increasing pool of Vietnamese secondary-school graduates in the U.S. also represents an emerging and significant recruitment channel for HEIs.


Note:  The US is once again the world’s leading host of Vietnamese students with nearly 26,000, as of February 2015, mostly at the postsecondary level.  Australia is second with 17,993 Vietnamese students at all levels.  Vietnam ranks 7th among all sending countries using the same type of data from SEVIS (DHS), having surpassed Taiwan and is about to overtake Japan.


The Wall Times 65: Commemorate That

Vietnam veteran ponders the sordid result of youthful patriotic fervor at The Wall in Washington, D.C.
Vietnam veteran ponders the sordid result of youthful patriotic fervor at The Wall in Washington, D.C.

As official United States forges ahead with its controversial 13-year Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, which, incredibly, extends from May 28, 2012 to November 11, 2025, and the world celebrates the 40th anniversary of the end of the American War in Vietnam this month, here’s a simple exercise that will help you comprehend the horrific magnitude of the loss of human and, more specifically, Vietnamese life during that war.

The next time you’re standing at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. thinking about the 58,000+ Americans who died in what was essentially a war of national liberation, perhaps including friends or family members, reach out, touch the black granite, close your eyes and multiply The Wall by 65.

Let that sink in for a moment:




Let’s call it the Vietnamese Monument, the Ultimate Wall, inscribed with the names of 3.8 million mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers, nearly 9 percent of the population at the time, including 2 million civilians, who were murdered by the U.S. military, its client state and various allies, e.g. Australia and South Korea.

Follow this link to read the rest of this essay on The Huffington Post.


The 7th “Engaging with Vietnam – An Interdisciplinary Dialogue” Conference

 in combination with The First Vietnam-US Higher Education Forum

engaging with vn

I am pleased to share this announcement from the organizers of The 7th “Engaging with Vietnam – An Interdisciplinary Dialogue” Conference in combination with The First Vietnam-US Higher Education Forum. This two-day event will attract Vietnam scholars and other experts from Vietnam and all over the world.  For the first time, there is a one-day pre-conference forum devoted to Vietnam-US higher education and I’m honored to be one of the speakers.

July 7-8, 2015

33A Pham Ngu Lao, Hanoi, Vietnam

Organization partners:

University of Hawaii at Manoa – USA

Hanoi University of Business and Technology- Vietnam

Portland State University – USA

In addition to the partners listed above, the forum and conference will be co-hosted by Monash University, the East-West Center, Thai Nguyen University, the University of Oregon and the US Mission Vietnam.
Sponsors include the Australian Embassy-Vietnam, the Australian Consulate-General in Honolulu, Vietnam Airlines and CJ Travel.

This year the 7th Engaging with Vietnam Conference will join the U.S. Mission and Vietnam partners in commemorating the past, present and future of relations between the two countries. The conference will dedicate day one day to the 1st Vietnam-US Higher Education Forum, which hopefully will be annual from now on. You are invited to this exciting two-day event this July in Hanoi!

Day 1: The 1st Vietnam-US Higher Education Forum

Theme: The Internationalization of Higher Education: Policies and Practices

Organizing Committee: Phan Le Ha (University of Hawaii at Manoa), Dang Van Huan (Portland State University), and Nguyen Ngoc Hung (Hanoi University of Business and Technology)

Presentations on Day 1 are solicited by invitation only. Attendance is open to all via registration on the website.

Day 2: The 7th Engaging with Vietnam Conference

Theme:  Knowledge Journeys and Journeying Knowledge

The Engaging with Vietnam conference series has been, since the time of its inception, interested in the production of knowledge about Vietnam. This interest stems from the realization that the knowledge that people produce about Vietnam depends on many factors, such as where people are located and what they know. Put simply, people inside of Vietnam and people outside of Vietnam approach the study of Vietnam with different ideas, and come to different conclusions. This dichotomy is then complicated by the fact that people inside of Vietnam journey to places outside of the country to study, and people from outside of Vietnam journey to Vietnam to study and conduct research.  These physical journeys lead to intellectual journeys that change people’s ideas, something that we can call “knowledge journeys.”

At the same time, academic theories from around the globe (China, France, Russia, North America, etc.) have journeyed all over the world in recent decades as well and have changed the way people think too. We can call these mobile theories “journeying knowledge.”

The Seventh Engaging With Vietnam – An Interdisciplinary Dialogue Conference seeks to examine both of these phenomena – knowledge journeys and journeying knowledge – in an effort to understand how they influence the way that people produce knowledge about Vietnam.

With this in mind, we would like to invite you to participate in the Seventh Engaging with Vietnam Conference. Please refer to the website for more details.

Engaging with Vietnam Founder:  Phan Le Ha

Conference Chairs and Convenors:  Phan Le Ha & Liam Kelley (University of Hawaii at Manoa) & Nguyen Ngoc Hung & Pham Sy Tien (Hanoi University of Business and Technology)

Hanoi’s First-Ever US Embassy-Sponsored Higher Education Fair


Welcome to the newest kid on the US higher education fair block, which has expanded considerably in the past 10 years.  I’m pleased to see that the US Embassy has its very own higher education fair along the lines of the Institute of International Education-Vietnam fairs of yesteryear.  In a sense and in this particular area, strategic partners have become friendly competitors.

Below is a description of the first-ever EducationUSA higher education fair, which took place on 30 January in Hanoi.


Did you know that over 16,000 Vietnamese students are studying in the United States right now?

Do you want to join them?

If so, please come to Hanoi’s First-Ever US Embassy sponsored Education Fair

It’s FREE.

U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius will make opening remarks!  (In my opinion, Ted Osius, who arrived in late December, has the potential of becoming one of the better US ambassadors to Vietnam, perhaps in the same league as the ambassador he served during his first tour in Vietnam, Pete Peterson.
You can meet more than 40 representatives from U.S. universities and colleges!
You can learn about the application process!
You can find out more about educational exchange programs!
You can learn about visas and hear from students who have been to America!

Here’s a link to the fair agenda and the list of 44 participating colleges and universities.

educationusa_fair_jan2015This is yet another example of US Mission Vietnam offering a service that it used to outsource to IIE, a process that begin in earnest in the fall of 2009, when the US Embassy and Consulate General took over the EducationUSA advising centers in both cities.  This issue was discussed in a 10.1.10 diplomatic cable, entitled Education Reform In Vietnam: Everyone Being Left Behind, officially penned by then Ambassador Michael Michalak, the self-proclaimed Education Ambassador:

EdUSA Student Advising Centers, which have been operated by IIE under a grant from ECA to promote study in the U.S., will soon be housed within the Embassy’s and Consulate’s Public Affairs Sections (PAS), which will give the USG greater control over the Centers’ activities and ensure that they continue to provide objective and comprehensive advice to students interested in studying in the U.S. free of charge. The move from IIE to PAS will reduce annual operating expenses from $400,000 to $160,000.  (Note:  This process, the result of political and financial considerations, occurred in other countries, too.  The backstory to this official about-face warrants a post or article of its own, in the opinion of a former quasi-insider.)

The only surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner.  It was an opportunity waiting to be exploited, yet another way for the USG to exercise soft power in a vitally important area related to young people, education.  US Mission Vietnam can control the message and cover its costs at the same time.  That’s the best of both worlds from an official standpoint.


Taking Vietnam to the Next Level: The Role of Education


I recently had the opportunity to speak to members of UPCEA at its 100th annual conference and post-conference international briefing with a focus on Southeast Asia: Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam – Higher Education in Context.  The University Professional & Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) is the leading association for professional, continuing, and online education in the US.

Below a description of my international briefing presentation:

speaker2015 is a year of several noteworthy anniversaries in Vietnam of historical and personal significance.  40 years since the end of the war, 20 years since the normalization of relations between Vietnam and the US and 10 years since I moved to Hanoi.

This presentation will include information, insights and observations gleaned from nearly a decade of living and working in Vietnam as an educational entrepreneur, first for a US international education NGO whose slogan is Opening Minds to the World and, since 2009, for a Vietnamese educational consulting company whose slogan is Reaching New Heights.

The theme of the discussion is “taking Vietnam to the next level” – innovation over imitation, substance over image, veracity over veneer – and the contributions that education can make, including international educational exchange.  The latter includes student recruitment, student and faculty exchanges, study abroad programs, service learning and internships, education and training programs, including online, etc.

Vietnam is a country on the move.  Daunting obstacles overcome. Suffering redeemed. Phenomenal progress achieved. New summits yet to be conquered.  How can your institution benefit from incorporating Vietnam into its internationalization strategy?  What contributions can you make to help take Vietnam to the next level under the rubric of global service and in the spirit of doing well and doing good?

Jill Biden, one of my fellow speakers and wife of US Vice President Joe Biden.
Dr. Jill Biden, one of my fellow speakers and wife of US Vice President Joe Biden. Dr. Biden was the conference keynote speaker.

I also spoke at an innovation roundtable named after my blog (with an extra dose of “intrigue”!) and at a meeting of the UPCEA International Network about student recruitment in Vietnam.  Thank you, UPCEA, for the opportunity to speak to your members about two of my favorite topics, international education and Vietnam!