Higher Education in Vietnam: American-Vietnamese Partnerships (Conference Report)

Sheraton Saigon Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
January 15–16, 2009

Please click here to download the full report: Ambassador’s Higher Education Conference Report.


Conference Events

This Education Conference, organized by the U.S. Mission in Vietnam; Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City; and the Ministry of Education and Training, brought together almost 400 American and Vietnamese educators and officials for two days of discussions about how best to promote deeper linkages between American and Vietnamese educational institutions.

Those linkages support a number of educational goals shared by both countries, including increasing the flow of Vietnamese students to the United States; meeting the human resource needs of American and Vietnamese companies in Vietnam’s modernizing economy; and improving the quality of Vietnam’s system of higher education.

Welcome remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael W. Michalak highlighted the importance of education in the relationship between the two countries and noted many of the educational programs that the U.S. Mission operates in Vietnam. Remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan noted the importance of education in Vietnam’s development plans, while those by Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City President Phan Thanh Binh described some of his university’s linkages with American universities and colleges. On Day 2, Consul General Kenneth Fairfax welcomed the participants with remarks noting the many activities of the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City to support educational linkages.

Several of the Conference’s seven sessions focused on the experiences of American and Vietnamese partners in launching and developing joint educational programs, including 2+2 programs and the Ministry of Education and Training’s (MOET’s) Advanced Program. Other sessions focused on what has worked best in promoting undergraduate and graduate study in the United States by Vietnamese students, and on ways to promote private-public sector partnerships to develop human resources in Vietnam.

A presentation by members of the U.S.-Vietnamese Education Task Force of the Task Force’s preliminary findings enabled the Task Force to receive feedback from participants before finalizing its recommendations. The Task Force, created during a visit to the U.S. by President Dung in June, 2008, will present its Final Report to American and Vietnamese leaders in March, 2009.

The Conference also included an evening reception, hosted by the U.S. Consulate General, at which participants continued discussion in a more informal atmosphere.

Six informal breakout sessions were held after the Conference formally ended, enabling six organizations to share information on their activities with others.

Representatives from a wide range of American and Vietnamese organizations with an interest in education in Vietnam participated in the Conference, including:

Education Conference Participants

Results of the Conference

Through formal Conference sessions, informal breakout sessions, and networking opportunities between sessions and at the reception, American and Vietnamese educators became more aware of the wide variety of joint programs underway in Vietnam, and of the solutions that others have found to obstacles encountered by many participants. Important points made include ensuring that both partners are committed at the highest levels to the joint program, that both sides understand fully their responsibilities, that students understanding the terms of the program before enrolling, and that MOET simplify the procedures for establishing new joint programs.

Representatives of American companies also learned more about the educational and training activities of other companies, and of ways that they can work with each other and with Vietnamese universities to create courses and programs enabling students to acquire the skills needed by American and Vietnamese companies. Speakers from Intel, Rockwell Automation and Oracle noted that their programs provide financial support for schools through laboratories and teacher training, for students through scholarships and internships, and for themselves through the supply of graduates with the skills their companies need. They also noted that those programs with universities that succeed the best are those with open, honest communication from both sides and in which both sides demonstrated a sustained commitment to the program.

Another benefit of the Conference was the feedback that the U.S.-Vietnam Education Task Force received on its preliminary findings, thus enabling it to refine its recommendations before submitting its Final Report to the leaders of the two countries. Several participants noted the need to set priorities for systemic changes to Vietnam’s educational system, while others urged that changes occur in many tracks simultaneously, including teacher training, English language training, support for private as well as public universities, and the need to upgrade salaries and teaching conditions so that those educated abroad will return to teach at Vietnamese universities rather than work in the private sector. Many participants also volunteered to serve on one or more of the four advisory groups that will continue after the Task Force’s life ends.

The Conference was a valuable opportunity for officials of the two governments to learn more about the wide range of ongoing joint educational activities in Vietnam. It also enabled them to learn more about the educator’s concerns and areas where government action can help facilitate their joint programs.

Throughout the Conference, participants – from universities and colleges, companies, and governments – emphasized the critical importance of English language skills for Vietnamese students and workforce. Among the many ideas proposed for improving language skills were introducing English instruction earlier in primary school and broadcasting English language acquisition programs on TV and radio for adults. Universities and colleges with joint programs also noted that they have introduced English courses to prepare students for courses taught in English by American professors.

Conference Report

This Report is intended to capture the most important of the wide range of discussions that took place during the Conference. It is not intended necessarily to provide solutions, but to ensure that the information and ideas that arose during the Conference are widely available to those who might find them relevant for their own activities in Vietnam.

In addition to this Report, the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi is also preparing a comprehensive list of all American organizations with educational programs in Vietnam, information about those programs, and contact information for those in charge of them. That Report will be available by June, 2009.