Built on the academic foundations laid by leading professors at Harvard University over two decades ago, the Master of Public Policy (MPP), Policy Analysis concentration (PA) is the longest standing and most established program at Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM). As the first MPP program in Vietnam and the only one in Southeast Asia to be accredited by NASPAA, Policy Analysis is a pragmatic and up to date program, providing learners with a solid background in both economics and policy analysis.
Two years ago, Nguyen Thi Xuan Huong was hesitating to apply for the Policy Analysis concentration at Fulbright School. With her background in journalism, Xuan Huong was overwhelmed with the long list of quantitative and econometrics courses in the curriculum. After careful consideration and multiple recommendations assuring Fulbright is the best place for an education in public policy, she took the risk and submitted her application.
“The curriculum, heavily focused on quantitative and economic courses, was something I initially feared. But it turns out to be what I am most appreciative of in the program. I have been rewarded for taking the challenge. Indeed, there are some demanding courses for those from humanities and social sciences, such as Macroeconomics. I am impressed and touched by the Fulbright lecturers’ dedication and enthusiasm. Academic discipline was established from the beginning, and we are committed to put our greatest efforts in learning. In such manner, our passion for knowledge gradually grew. We are now frequently engaged in heated debates and deep academic discourse with lecturers and classmates alike,” said Xuan Huong.
To be eligible for the Fulbright program, Xuan Huong as well as other candidates without an economics major had to take some preparatory courses. After two semesters at Fulbright, she realized that quantitative courses are not intimidating to social sciences students alone.
“In my class, even students with a mathematics background sometimes struggle with the tougher concepts in the syllabus. We encourage each other, and to be honest, this is the most difficult challenge I ventured myself into. On the other hand, the demanding curriculum indicates the quality of the Fulbright program and I am motivated to step out of my comfort zone. After two semesters at the school, I am more at ease and confident to continue my academic journey in economics research, realizing quantitative tools introduced in the curriculum are particularly useful and necessary to evaluate policy impacts.” shared Xuan Huong.
In last February, she defended her graduation thesis investigating the relationship between the government and the press in Vietnam, and how national policies shape domestic journalism. This is among the most outstanding theses of MPP 2020, and is slated to become a case study for future classroom use at Fulbright.
Solid knowledge background
The Master of Public Policy, Policy Analysis concentration at FSPPM is a full time program lasting 15 months. The curriculum of the program is inspired by a similar Harvard Kennedy School program, and keeps pace with the most advanced trends in international institutions regarding public policy education, all the while staying in tune with the local context here in Vietnam.
Lecturer Nguyen Xuan Thanh stated that “one of the benefits of the program is eligible candidates are not required to have background in economics or public policy. Fundamental courses in economics at Fulbright are said to match in quality with those offered by specialist schools yet remain of great relevance to our candidates’ careers. With their profound practical experiences, Fulbright faculty help non-specialist students quickly build up a fundamental understanding of economics. After one semester, students have acquired the necessary background knowledge to continue their study in applied economics. Upon the completion of the program, learners possess a solid knowledge in economics.”
Therefore, the program is suitable for candidates wishing to develop a solid background in economics together with an analytical mindset for better decision making, whether they are working in the public or private sector. Similar to other MPP programs in the U.S. and other developed countries, PA students are required to attend a 15-month full time program to accumulate as much knowledge as possible in the shortest time so they will be ready to utilize this knowledge in their workplace.
Attending a full-time program is a trade-off for employees in public organizations and business corporations; however, this curriculum design helps students to take full advantage of the academic dynamics at Fulbright. Ho Quang De, Class of MPP2, Deputy Director of Finance Department at Phu Yen Province, explained:
“I have attended many training programs, yet Fulbright remains the most vivid and fond memory. Of note, first is the academic integrity and discipline that Fulbright instilled in me. I am impressed with each classmates’ passion in finding the solutions to challenges offered by faculty. My classmates and I spent hours together debating and discussing to find out the most effective solutions. Some even pulled all-nighters for research and study. We are all motivated by the devotion faculty has demonstrated to research and study.”
Highly pragmatic program
Do Minh Tam, Class of MPP 2021, disclosed she was astonished with the amount of learning materials provided at Fulbright. In addition to foreign reference materials, required readings also include published articles in prestigious journals and Vietnamese case studies prepared by FSPPM faculty. These case studies hold special significance for learners, as they illustrate best how economic theories play out in our immediate, contextually relevant reality. This also serves to consolidate the learners’ understanding of various aspects of domestic public policy.
“Learning materials incorporates textbooks as well as required and optional readings carefully prepared by Faculty through strict selection criteria and updated on OpenCourse Ware. Digital libraries at Fulbright are constantly updated with the latest academic research and books.”
Besides core courses which are compulsory, students can customize their learning path with a variety of electives. Lecturer Nguyen Xuan Thanh affirmed that Fulbright courses are grounded in economics but very practical and ready to be applied in the workplace.
Students from any sectors can find courses suitable to their own development in the program. For instance, public sector officials can register for Public Economics, Law and Public Policy, and Development Policy. Business managers can sign up for Financial Analysis or Project Appraisal. Local leaders may be interested in Appraisal of Public Investment, or Regional and Local Development.
“My favorite course is Research Methods. Although it is quite an abstract course and does not count towards the final GPA, I find the course especially useful for my study at FSPPM. Economic theories and study skills from this course have honed my ability to search for and assess scientific information, problematize with concise and objective research questions, guide analytical arguments and conduct experiments that confirm or reject the research hypothesis,” said Do Minh Tam, Class of MPP 2021.
Lecturer Nguyen Xuan Thanh elaborated that the objectives of Master of Public Policy, Policy Analysis concentration are not to award students with a higher degree only meant to broaden career opportunities. Graduates from our MPP program can confidently proclaim that they participated in an internationally acclaimed public policy program. More importantly, the program provided learners with an advanced and complex understanding of economics, embarking students on a lifelong learning journey.
The Master of Public Policy at Fulbright is built upon the model developed by Harvard Kennedy School and is continually adjusted to reflect domestic dynamics. This is one unique and distinctive feature Fulbright faculty strived to achieve with the program.
Fulbright pioneered more than a decade ago how to incorporate and utilize case studies as a tool for learning. Since then, many Vietnam universities have introduced this approach using both paper-based and multimedia cases. However, lecturer Nguyen Xuan Thanh noted that, inheriting the valuable stockpile of case studies from Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, Fulbright School can tap into both international and regional experiences.
Professor Nguyễn Xuân ThànhThese global cases are supplemented with practical cases in Vietnam by FSPPM faculty who are leading economics experts in the country. The “mix of international and local knowledge” helps learners realize the differences between Vietnam and the world, so that they can apply theoretical knowledge in a more flexible and creative way.
Dr. Terry Buss, senior fellow at the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) and former Dean of Carnegie Mellon School of Public Policy, Australia, was the senior consultant for Fulbright School in its endeavor to obtain international accreditation.
Working closely with Fulbright over the course of 18 months, he explained Fulbright is highly appreciated by NASPAA reviewers for the consistent input from renowned foreign experts in public policy and management. The constant efforts have supported the school on its journey to adopt the best practices and strategies to strive towards becoming a leading institution in the region and the world.
“Among the efforts to internationalize the program, Fulbright faculty are motivated to access to latest trends in public policy and management; for example, how to design and utilize case studies set in Vietnam background with teaching approach from Harvard University,” said Dr. Terry Buss.
Furthermore, NASPAA accreditation is an opportunity for Fulbright to expand its research networks to leading institutions around the globe. For Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dean of Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, joining the NASPAA network opens new possibilities for Fulbright faculty and students to connect with advanced knowledge. Combined with local understandings, Fulbright can derive valuable lessons and policy implications for Vietnam and the region.