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The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation is being lauded by two presidents for its three decades of efforts to rebuild relations between the United States and Vietnam. In a joint statement issued at the White House on July 25, President Obama and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang expressing their shared belief in the importance of bilateral relations while also recognizing the success of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP)—the flagship initiative of the Ash Center’s Vietnam Program—and endorsing plans currently underway to create the Fulbright University Vietnam.
“This strong expression of support from the highest levels of the two governments represents an important step towards ensuring an independent future for FETP and the long term success of our new Fulbright University Vietnam,” said Tony Saich, Daewoo Professor of International Affairs and director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).
During remarks on July 24 at the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry elaborated on the history leading to the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, and praised the contributions of several leading figures, including Tom Vallely of the Ash Center, in the process. According to Kerry, education has played an important role in reestablishing strong diplomatic ties, a role that will be further enhanced as the two countries enter a new phase of bilateral relations.
“Ultimately, Vietnam’s next generation needs schools that are close to home, that can better prepare Vietnamese students for competition in the era of globalization,” said Kerry. “I have long been a supporter of the…Fulbright Economics Teaching Program in Ho Chi Minh City, and its success demonstrates that independent U.S.-run institutions of higher learning can flourish inside Vietnam.”
Higher Education: An Important Pillar to the U.S.-Vietnam Relationship
Since the early 1990s, Harvard has led the way in efforts to re-engage with Vietnam.
“Harvard has a long track record of successful engagement with Vietnam, in public policy and many other fields,” said Ben Wilkinson, Vietnam Program Director. “More generally, U.S. higher education is widely admired within Vietnam.”
In 1992, even before the United States had rebuilt its diplomatic presence in Vietnam, Harvard’s Vietnam Program took the lead in reestablishing the Fulbright Scholarship program in the country and administered it until 1995 when the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi reopened its doors. The scholarship program provides Vietnamese and American students with opportunities for academic exchange, research, and study in social sciences and humanities.
In 1994, the Vietnam Program launched the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP), the country’s first independent public policy teaching and research center. As a joint venture of Harvard University and the University of Economics-Ho Chi Minh City, FETP now offers a Master’s of Public Policy—the first degree program of its kind in Vietnam—and follows the Kennedy School case teaching model. FETP students now hail from government, academic and the private sector, and nearly 60 students graduate each year.
The Fulbright University Vietnam
Through a signed memorandum of understanding in July 2012 between the Ash Center and the United States Agency for International Development, FETP will evolve into an independent academic institution and much of its valuable research, human capital, and activities will be folded into a successor entity, the new Fulbright University Vietnam.
As part of this transition, the Center has appointed Nguyen Xuan Thanh as the new director of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program. Thanh holds a Master’s in Public Administration from HKS, and has been integral to the development and management of the FETP MPP program and the school’s adoption of the case teaching method. In his new role, he will oversee FETP’s evolution into an independent public policy school and help define the Fulbright University Vietnam’s programmatic strategy.
“My hope is that when students leave at the end of class, they feel really connected to the world and what Vietnam needs to do to become a modern and prosperous country,” said Thanh. “We can try to make Vietnam a better place, and that really excites me.”