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.


Follow the Money: VEF Funding Revisited

vef newbanner

I had the privilege of being an invited speaker at yesterday’s First Vietnam-US Higher Education Forum in Hanoi.  During the morning plenary session, one speaker referred to the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) as a US government program.  I took the liberty of pointing out to the assembled throng that it is, in fact, a scholarship-for-debt program and that the funding comes from the Vietnamese government.  Give credit where credit’s due.  It’s only fair, right?  (Here’s a 2010 post entitled VEF: From Vietnam With Money about this issue.)

In April 1997, the US “persuaded” the Vietnamese government, using the time-honored carrot and stick approach, to repay  $146 million worth of agricultural and other loans, including principal and interest, incurred by its former enemy, the former Republic of Vietnam.  Three years later, the Vietnam Education Foundation Act of 2000 was introduced with the support of US senators who are veterans, including John Kerry, John McCain, Bob Kerrey, Chuck Hagel, Chuck Robb and Max Cleland.  This legislation resulted in the VEF.

vef logoWhen I asked how many colleagues were aware of this, only a few hands went up in an audience of 150 or so.  In other words, most people, Vietnamese and US Americans alike, think that the VEF is a US scholarship program.  Interestingly, a black/white PDF version of an article I wrote ten years ago about the VEF is still on its website.  (Follow this link to download the original color version.)

Stay tuned for a post about the connection between VEF funding and the new Fulbright University Vietnam. This will be a follow-up to a post from 26 May 2014 entitled Of Proposed Fulbright Cuts, Reaper Drones & the American Fulbright University in Vietnam.  The subtitle of this blog ain’t Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue for nothin’!


Interesting Facts About the Vietnam Education Foundation

veflogoThis is a recent search engine term that brought some unsuspecting netizen to my blog.  It reminded me of a recent conversation with a young Vietnamese who was a Fulbrighter a couple of years ago.  He insisted that Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) funding was from the U.S. government because that’s what a VEF official told him.  If you visit the VEF website, you won’t read anything that contradicts the party line.  This statement appears in the executive director’s welcome message:  The  Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) is an independent U.S. Federal Government  agency created by the U.S. Congress. VEF receives an annual budget of U.S. $5  million from the U.S. Congress until 2018.  Right?  Wrong.

Here’s one interesting fact for you:  VEF is a scholarship-for-debt program funded by a repayment of debts incurred by the former Republic of Vietnam (i.e., South Vietnam).  In other words, the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is repaying debts incurred by its former enemy.  Bizarre, right?  I would go so far as to characterize it as perverse.  That’s the world of power politics.  Pay off the debt incurred by your former enemy or else (i.e., you won’t get certain goodies such as a juicy bilateral trade agreement, for instance). Daddy got what Daddy wanted in this case.

There’s not much on the Internet that tells the truth about this program except a sentence here and there.  Exhibit A from a Wikipedia entry entitled United States assistance to Vietnam:    Additionally, the United States administers the Vietnam Education Foundation, which was established by Congress in 2000 to provide $5 million annually for scholarships and educational exchanges. Funds for the foundation are recycled from the Vietnamese government’s repayments of the wartime debts South Vietnam owed the United States.

Psst!  This U.S. scholarship program is actually a Vietnamese scholarship program with money “laundered” annually in the form of a wire transfer from Hanoi to Washington, D.C.  The approximate breakdown?

  • $5 million to VEF, including $4 million for fellowships and $1 million for admin
  • the balance of $3 million goes to the departments and agencies that loaned the money to government of South Vietnam in the late 1960s, including the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

So while it’s great that 50% of the debt repayment is funding fellowships for Vietnamese graduate students, thanks to a group of U.S. senators who happen to be veterans of the American War in Vietnam, it would be even better if the program were transparent and honest about the source of that funding.  Read the long version in this 2005 article I wrote about the origins of the VEF.  It’s one of the few articles about the VEF that calls a spade a spade.  And the truth will set you free!


P.S.:  I wonder how many VEF Fellows can “follow the money”?  Survey, anyone?

Du học không khó (Study Abroad is Not Difficult)

book launch image (28.12.13)

This is the matter-of-fact title of a new book written by Trần Ngọc Thịnh, who earned a Master’s degree in 2011 from the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri with the support of a Fulbright scholarship.

Du học không khó is a unique A-Z Vietnamese language resource that’s chock-full of valuable information, advice and tips to guide young people through the sometimes daunting process of preparing for an overseas study experience, including in the U.S.  Best of all, it was written by someone who speaks from first-hand experience, a young man who earned a Master’s degree in the U.S. and returned home to contribute to a dynamic and rapidly changing Vietnam.

The U.S. remains the preferred destination for young Vietnamese who want to study overseas, ranking 8th among all places of origin, according to the latest update.  The American higher education system is large and diverse, which means students have literally thousands of choices.  In addition to the many other resources available, both on- and offline, Du học không khó will help young people and their parents navigate this path, find the most suitable institutions for them and be in a better position to benefit more fully from the experience, academically, socially and culturally.

Recognizing the reality that most Vietnamese enlist the aid of an educational consultant, I made this point about identifying qualified and ethical companies:  The best ones have your best interests at heart in guiding you through the selection, admission, and pre-departure process.  They will look for a match between your qualifications, interests, goals, ability to pay, etc. and a short list of colleges and universities (i.e., not chasing after commissions).

Click on the photo to read a Vietnamese language article about the event.

Capstone Vietnam, of which I’m managing director, and our International Academic Center (IAC) members, Kansas State University and Lane Community College (Eugene, OR), are proud to be sponsors of the book launch, the first event of which took place last Saturday afternoon in Hanoi.  I participated in a panel discussion with the author and a representative from the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF).  As I mentioned in my concluding remarks, Du học không khó is a labor of love that Thịnh wrote as a means of giving back and, to borrow a slogan from VietAbroader, a way to “pass the torch” to younger people, some of whom will follow in his footsteps.


US University Opts for Precision Matchmaking

The sad reality in the field of international educational exchange is that most attempts at developing mutually beneficial academic partnerships wither on the vine once the MOU is signed, the last toast made and the visitors head home.  When looking at a list of international partnerships, the question is always which ones are active and fruitful and which exist only on paper.  

San Diego State University (SDSU), a nationally-ranked US institution that is very serious about Vietnam, recently sent a high-level delegation to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) seeking partners who share their interests.  Delegation members included: 

  • Dr. Alan Sweedler, Assistant Vice President for International Programs
  • Dr. Paul Wong, Dean, College of Arts and Letters
  • Dr. Stanley Maloy, Dean, College of Sciences
  • Dr. Joe Shapiro, Dean, College of Extended Studies
  • Dr. Allen Wittenborn, Academic Director, Study Abroad Vietnam

In addition to the general idea of student exchange programs, English language programs, and recruiting opportunities, SDSU is interested in the development of one or more of the following specific programs:   

1.    A primarily online undergraduate degree in International Business (IB) that could begin with some kind of English for Academic Purposes training. The program would likely include a primarily online portion, plus one year of intensive study at SDSU. In association with this program, SDSU would very much like to consider options for its IB students in San Diego to come to Vietnam to study for a semester. 

2.    A two-year master’s degree program for both practitioners and researchers in the general area of infectious diseases including such potential concepts such personalized medicine, genomes, etc. Students would study one-year online and then would come to SDSU for a second year of intensive study. 

3.   An advanced certificate and two-year professional master’s degree program on environmental sustainability. Students would take coursework online, including both relevant courses in science, policy, and business skills, then would complete a directed internship focused on practical issues impacting sustainability. 

4.    Professional certificate programs for government, business, education, etc. 

5.    6-week intensive summer study in Vietnam for SDSU students. 

The delegation was also open to other ideas and suggestions.     

The visit was designed around a pre-screening process and the exchange of information before the group arrived in Vietnam as the means to facilitate substantive discussions during the visit and to serve as a foundation upon which to build a healthy and productive long-term relationship.  From 1-4 April, the SDSU delegation met with the following public and private institutions, and individuals: 

Friday, April 1 (Hanoi)

  • Vietnam National University (VNU)-Hanoi Meeting and Signing Ceremony
  • Hanoi University
  • Meeting with National Economics University (NEU) Colleagues/ Distance Education Center

Saturday, April 2 (Hanoi)

  • Lunch Meeting with Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) Country Director and Staff
  • Meeting at FPT Corporation
  • FPT University Campus Tour and Meeting with Staff

Sunday, April 3 (HCMC)

Working Dinner with Tan Tao University (TTU) Representative

Monday, April 4 (HCMC)


US flag flown in honor of the SDSU delegation's visit to VNU-HCMC.

In addition to the activities noted above, there were city tours in Hanoi and HCMC.  I also provided a detailed country briefing and accompanied the group to meetings.  

Disclosure:  My company, Capstone Vietnam, helped SDSU pre-screen potential partners, offered advice and recommendations, and was responsible for trip logistics.  (This is one of our institutional services.)


4th Annual Education Conference: Cementing Cooperation & Overcoming Obstacles to U.S.-Vietnam Education Partnerships

The US Embassy in Vietnam and the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) have officially announced the Fourth Annual Education Conference to be held April 9, 2011 in Hanoi.  The purpose of this conference is to bring together American and Vietnamese universities, colleges, companies and NGOs active in higher education in Vietnam to discuss how to increase U.S. educational opportunities in Vietnam; how to encourage external partnerships for universities; and how to promote U.S. style higher education in Vietnam. 

 This is the latest in a series of annual education conferences started in 2008 by former Ambassador Michael Michalak.  It will be the first one presided over by his successor, Ambassador David Shear.   Unlike the previous two conferences, it doesn’t look as if the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) will play a formal role as a conference co-organizer.   USAID, which has become increasing active in the education sector in recent years, is a sponsor. 

 Conference Topics

Increasing U.S. Educational Opportunities in Vietnam

  • Establishing a Welcoming Environment for U.S. Students
  • Attracting more U.S. Scholars to Vietnam: Why aren’t they coming?
  • Faculty Development: Creating a Framework for Success

External Partnerships: Universities as Partners and Producers

  • Linking Education to Research and Entrepreneurship
  • From Classroom to Boardroom: Developing Employable Graduates for the Private Sector
  • Creating the Conditions to Succeed: a Transparent and Consistent Environment for Partnerships

U.S. Style Higher Education: What is it? How do we create it in Vietnam?

  • American–style University Governance
  • Teaching and Curriculum
  • Accreditation: Standards and Quality Assurance

You can log into the conference website with your own email and password to have future access to your personal data.  In addition to registering for the conference, there are opportunities to present a paper as part of a panel discussion.  In order to be considered as a panel participant, prepare an abstract of your proposed paper and submit via the conference website.  The deadline for submitting an abstract of your proposed paper is February 28.  If you are interested in attending the conference but do not want to present a paper, the registration deadline is March 11, 2011

As Elisabet Garriga, Conference Coordinator, mentioned in her e-mail to prospective participants, space is limited for this conference:  “As our conference will be a platform for policy discussion and for formulating recommendations for the Vietnamese government and U.S. education partners, priority must be given to participants who have relevant experience in establishing education partnerships in Vietnam and other countries.  Decisions regarding participant selection will be made as quickly as possible.” 

For more information, contact Elisabet Garriga, Public Affairs Section, U.S. Embassy, Hanoi, Tel (84-4) 3850-5196, Cell (84-4) 90-400-8657, Fax (84-4) 3850-5120, GarrigaE @

And the Top Five Are…

In the past week the most frequently viewed posts on An International Educator in Vietnam are related to Wikileaks, the next US Ambassador to Vietnam (i.e., David Shear), US-Vietnam educational exchange and the College of Charleston.  This is what I see in the “site stats” section of my blog: 

Top Searches

wikileaks vietnam, college of charleston, david shear, david b. shear, david shear ambassador to vietnam

Click on the links below to find out why.    

Wikileaks & Vietnam    
Obama Nominates David Shear to Become the Next US Ambassador to Vietnam    
US-Vietnam Educational Exchanges: Impact and Prospects    
VEF: From Vietnam With Money ($)    
College of Charleston Establishes Center of Vietnamese Enterprise