FSPPM X Harvard Kennedy: Sustainability in a polarizing world


After a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, an elective course for Master in Public Policy students from the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM) at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS, Harvard University) was restarted in early November 2022. This is a program co-organized by FSPPM and HKS on the foundation of a 28-year partnership between the two institutions.

Rising from the invaluable foundation of the partnership between FSPPM and HKS since 1994, the program was designed to combine advanced theories and global knowledge with a deep understanding of the Vietnamese context. With this course, Harvard professors hoped that FSPPM students would experience new perspectives and analytical frameworks that they might find useful to take back with them to Vietnam for their career and future goals and to solve the challenges that the world is facing today. 

Experiencing educational legacies on the Harvard campus

Thirty-nine students from FSPPM experienced the week-long intensive course (from November 7 to 11) themed “Sustainability in a polarizing world” on Harvard’s renowned campus. The initial unfamiliarity quickly turned into a sense of excitement as the students got used to the fast-paced learning and found themselves immersed in the lectures, discussions, and field trips in Harvard’s wonderful learning environment.

It is not by chance that FSPPM chose HKS for this short course. FSPPM’s predecessor was the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP) – a partnership between the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City and HKS. Founded in 1994, the program was inspired by the world leading public policy and management program at HKS and the incorporation of a deep understanding of local knowledge in Vietnam. For 28 years, FETP, now FSPPM, has trained new generations of Vietnamese policymakers, policy critics, and advisers, to build capacity and promote the understanding of public policy for the private and non-governmental sectors, and to advance inclusive public policy for the development of Vietnam.

Without a doubt, HKS is known as the world’s top graduate school in public policy, with many alumni being government leaders. Thus, listening to a range of different ideas from the U.S. leading public policy experts and lecturers on the Harvard campus was a special experience for FSPPM students. “When you come to the world leading public policy school, you’ll see the values that the Fulbright school has created since 1994, and you could broaden your horizons even further, based on what you’ve learned at FSPPM. FSPPM students will see very clear evidence that Fulbright is associated with the pinnacle of intellectual capability, the world leading academic institutions and very in-tune with real life,” said Dr. Huỳnh Thế Du, FSPPM Adjunct Lecturer.

Ngô Nguyễn Thảo Vy, FSPPM alumnus – Class of MPP2022, said that the short course at HKS was a dream come true for her. Having set foot in the world-renowned Harvard, she had the chance to hear from global experts who shape public policy, advise governments, and help run major institutions in the United States. “Therefore, we had a deeper understanding of how they influenced the policymaking process and how it met the needs of the American society,” she shared.

“Before I came here, Harvard was just a famous brand for me; but now, I understand that what made Harvard Harvard were their people, the atmosphere, the learning environment, and the competition they have created, intentionally or unintentionally, to bring out the best values of democracy and learning,” Ngo Nu Huyen Trang, an alumnus of Class of MPP2021, said.

Putting Vietnam in the contemporary global context, leveraging collective intelligence

The course themed “Sustainability in a polarizing world” was jointly designed by the faculty from FSPPM and HKS to ensure that “it was relevant to challenges that Vietnam is facing now and is likely to face in the future”. According to Prof. Anthony Saich from HKS, the curriculum revolved around sustainability-related issues like climate change, energy, and the environment, which were posing quite a lot of challenges to Vietnam’s current development trajectory. These issues were set in a broader and comparative perspective to bring in experiences from other countries in the world that Vietnamese students might find useful. That was why some sessions focused on energy issues in China, Indonesia, and or the development trajectories of the U.S. and China, whose actions will determine much of what will happen in Southeast Asia.

What we want the participants to get out of this course in part is an answer to pressing challenges facing Vietnam. And we want them to be able to experience a range of different ideas and suggestions that they might find useful to take back with them to Vietnam and to be able to incorporate in discussions in Vietnam,” Prof. Anthony Saich said.

The course was not only diverse in theories and discussions, but also tailor-made for Vietnam, with a lot of policy implications from the big picture of the global energy market, the advantages and disadvantages of energy solutions that some countries have applied, and feasible policies aiming at reducing carbon emissions and developing renewable energies, etc. From these angles, Vietnam may find sustainable solutions to energy issues in the future.

At HKS, faculty members conduct research on public policy problems and issues—and then share those insights with students. This is a commonality between FSPPM and HKS. FSPPM is committed to excellence in teaching, research, and civic engagement. Over the past few years, FSPPM has strived to produce high-quality, evidence-based research, in which climate change and energy, including climate change-related projects in the Mekong Delta, are the topics on that FSPPM faculty members and researchers have been deeply engaged.

Dương Hoàng Long, a student of the Class of MPP2023 and the Deputy Head of the International Cooperation Division of Hai Phong City’s Department of Foreign Affairs, found the course valuable thanks to the practicability of the lectures and discussions. “Harvard professors encouraged us to discuss the matters related to our work in Vietnam, right here in the Harvard classroom. It turned the process of learning into self-learning. Even though we are studying at Harvard, which is halfway across the globe from Vietnam, and we are discussing the world’s issues and trends that are very macro, I have the feeling these issues are very related to what I am doing in Vietnam every day,” he shared.  

Searching for a broader perspective was what prompted Ms. Ngô Nữ Huyền Trang to sign up for the course, although she graduated from FSPPM and got back to work one year ago. “The closer you look, the less you see. I think it is a good time for me to go a bit further from my industry and from Vietnam to look at Vietnam’s issues from a broader perspective,” she said. According to her, the way Harvard professors look at a problem with lots of information from various perspectives, and the way they encouraged students to ask questions, and discuss and critique professors’ opinions helped students open their minds and learn more skills to solve their problems.

Prof. Anthony Saich viewed the problems as too grand to be thoroughly resolved in this one course. What he hoped would help was to allow Vietnamese students to have an understanding of how these issues are looked at from the U.S., and what some of the comparative perspectives are, and then they can draw their own perspective on the grand challenges facing the world today. Whoever is concerned about Vietnam’s present and future, or sustainability, and those who have an inquisitive mind and want to have a broader framework to think about these challenges and put them into a comparative perspective, all of these people could benefit from this course, according to Prof. Saich.

  • Thúy Hằng

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