November 29, 2017

John Kerry and the Journey of Fulbright University Vietnam

November 29, 2017

In mid-1990, the young Senator John Kerry and his two young daughters visited Vietnam. The idea of cooperation in education to promote relations between the US and Vietnam occurred to him from that trip.

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In December 2013, the first time he came to Vietnam as the US Secretary of State, an important event in his schedule was meeting with members of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP). At a meeting at the American Center, the US Secretary of State talked with each member of the program and former alumni.

For him, Fulbright University Vietnam (Fulbright), which was licensed on May 16th 2016, has a special meaning.

In the most difficult period of Vietnam-US relations when the embargo was not removed yet, FETP and the Fulbright program was the crucial link for cooperation between the former enemies.

Both FETP and Fulbright are the most important and the most successful educational cooperation projects of Vietnam in the post-war period.

Seeing a Vietnam that was struggling because of the embargo and the consequences of the war, the idea of promoting cooperation in education came to Kerry when he was a young senator. He took it as a natural next step in the normalization process.

In the context of the embargo, implementing the idea of cooperation was not easy when there was no US embassy in Vietnam and vice versa and no official channels. Painful memories of the war remained and Vietnam was nearly a “taboo” subject in US politics.

The projects related to Vietnam at that time as prisoners of war (POW) and missing Americans (MIA) were considered  “political suicide.” Despite this fact, Kerry persisted in promoting the idea of educational cooperation. The first breakthrough of this effort was in the budget bill in 1991 when the first $300,000 for scholarships for Vietnamese students was added (Harvard University then contributed additional $300,000). The breakthrough was made by John Kerry along with the support of veterans like John McCain, and Richard Kessler.

In 1992, the Fulbright scholarship program, under the guidance of Thomas Vallely – a veteran – came into operation. From this amount of money, the first group of students of the Fulbright program were Pham Binh Minh (Deputy PM and Foreign Minister), Nguyen Thien Nhan (former Deputy PM, now Chairman of the Vietnam Fatherland Front), and Duc Phat (former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development)… were brought to the US to study at the leading universities.

At the same time Thomas Vallely and a group of professors from Harvard University like Dwight Perkins and David Dapice worked as advisors to the State Planning Commission led by Phan Van Khai (former Prime Minister).

Cooperation of Vietnam-US in this program at that time included: learning from the experiences of East Asian and Southeast Asian countries such as South Korea, Indonesia, and writing the book “In search of the Dragon’s trails” with a series of suggestions on strategy from the experience of other countries from which the leaders of Vietnam can make economic policies.

At the same time, Mr. Vallely went to Ho Chi Minh City to establish the Fulbright Economic Teaching Program (FETP) with the simple goal of teaching the best and updated knowledge about the market economy for state officials in line with the conditions of Vietnam.

At that time the amount of aid from the US Congress for Vietnam education with the support of the US veterans began to increase, from $300,000 to $1 million, and $3 million. Diplomatic relations between the two countries was also established.

The success of FETP is the foundation for the proposal on the establishment of the Fulbright University Vietnam in 2013 during the visit of President Truong Tan Sang to the United States.

In December 2014, the US Congress approved $20 million to fund Fulbright University Vietnam on the condition that the university be independent, non-profit, and meet the quality of American universities.

A Vietnamese diplomat said that 20 years after normalization, when Vietnam truly steps into integration with the world, the significance of this educational program is meaningful. Vietnam currently needs high quality, world-class human resources more than ever.

“It was the foresight and broad view of veterans like Kerry and Vallely,” the diplomat said.

Director of the HCM City Department of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Vu Tu, who served a term in the Philippines, said he has recommended a group of Filipino students to come to Vietnam to learn about the country. One of the places they visited is the FETP.

They were very impressed with the program. Their question then was why was this program only for Vietnam, not for the whole of Southeast Asia? So far, the model of FETP remains the only one that America has implemented in the world.

(From VietnamNet Bridge)

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