Bringing positive changes to higher education in Vietnam

Update: 07:00 | 28/04/2018
This is the statement made by Mr. Ted Osius, former US Ambassador to Vietnam, Vice President of Fulbright University in Vietnam (FUV) about the programs that FUV has been carrying out, in an exclusive interview with The World & Vietnam Report
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Can you explain more about the visions and missions of Fulbright University Vietnam?  

Let’s start with words from Senator Fulbright, whose name we are honored to bear. He said, “we must dare to think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world.” This is our impetus for building a world-class university in Vietnam that can transform the lives of young people, address the pressing needs of Vietnamese society, and ultimately point the way toward a new approach to high quality education in developing countries. So how will we do that?

bringing positive changes to higher education in vietnam
Former US Ambassador Ted Osius, now Vice President of Fulbright University Vietnam.

For the most part, universities today look as they did 200 years ago. They were designed for a different world where people needed to come together to convey knowledge. There weren’t other channels to do that. However, the world is very different now. Today information is readily accessible and problems are more complex. We need a university education to align with today’s world rather than with the past.

I think Fulbright University provides us with an opportunity to help shift the paradigm of education. Students will not just learn information, but learn how to work with the knowledge they obtain. And they do that best when they are the ones who do the thinking and learning. Also, we’re beyond the point where problems and ideas are simply contained in single academic disciplines. Today’s complex problems span disciplines. We need an educational program that has an integrated approach and students need to take the lead in shaping their own learning.

Unlike well-established institutions that have been struggling to change, Fulbright starts its undergraduate program from the ground up, which allows us to pursue the most up-to-date innovations and cutting-edge pedagogy. Meanwhile, our historic connection with Harvard Kennedy School through Fulbright Economic Teaching Program gives us a strong foundation for collaborating with leading universities in the U.S. and the world. Fulbright is the only university in Vietnam that has received significant financial support from U.S. government. The U.S. created important international universities in the past, including Tsinghua University in China, American University in Cairo and American University in Beirut. They have been successful because they were not a “transplant” of American universities but, instead, deeply rooted in their home countries. Fulbright aims to be a center of excellence in Vietnam and for Vietnam, to help tackle the grand challenges that Vietnam faces.

The current situation in the Vietnamese job market is that, students, even though they are well-trained in universities, don’t meet the needs and requirements that employers seek. Do you have confidence in the quality of training of FUV when the training model is quite different from the traditional university in Vietnam?

Yes. As an innovative university, we have been engaged with business community in our institutional design process from the beginning. We have asked: What you need a Fulbright graduate to look like?

Employers tell us they seek graduates who are creative problem-solvers, who excel at collaborating and team-building, and who are eager to take the initiative.  It is not sufficient for students to absorb knowledge; they must learn to apply what they learn to the challenges they will encounter in the evolving Vietnamese economy. 

The educational approach that Fulbright University is pursuing will provide students opportunities to develop as a whole person, to expand their knowledge, skills and mindset. We intend to prepare our students to be successful not only for the first job but for a long-term and changing career over the next twenty years.

The Vietnamese Ambassador to the US Pham Quang Vinh once affirmed that education has always been an important area of cooperation in the US-Vietnam relationship. Do you sympathize with this statement?

I agree completely.  A strong, long-term partnership is built on the foundation of private sector and educational ties.  Even before our two countries normalized diplomatic relations, we began to build educational ties through the Fulbright scholarship program, the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program and the Vietnam Education Foundation.  Those ties have been critical for creating the kind of relationship we enjoy today and will be even more critical going forward.

Is the decision to switch from foreign affairs to education difficult for you? Given that you had been working in the State Department for 30 years.

I decided that the best way I could continue to strengthen U.S.-Vietnam relations was outside of government, by helping to build an innovative university that will contribute to Vietnam’s prosperity and its long-term relationship with the United States. 

Is the country, people and memories here a part of your choice to continue living and working in Vietnam? Could you share with us some of your future plans?

It’s no secret that I love Vietnam. My family is thriving here. While I cannot predict what the future will bring, I believe Vietnam will always be part of our lives.

Thank you very much!

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