September 13, 2018

Remarks by H.E. Nguyen Thien Nhan at Fulbright’s First Convocation

September 13, 2018

Mr. Nguyen Thien Nhan, Politburo Member and Secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee, addressed the attendees at the First Convocation for the Co-Design Year 2018-2019 on September 9, 2018. 

You are future of our country. On behalf of Ho Chi Minh City, I would like to congratulate you on your decision to join this program. I want to thank all the people who helped establish Fulbright University Vietnam so that we have the day as today to celebrate. 

I remembered in 1993, I got an invitation to join the U.S. Fulbright Program. I was an instructor at the Polytechnique University of Ho Chi Minh City. But for the first time, I was to leave my country for the USA to study. I was living with my father and mother, who fought in the War. So I had to talk to them. I told my dad I would go to the U.S. to get a master’s degree. 

My dad asked: What would you want to do there, because they were our long-term enemy. So I explained to my father: Dad, we were enemies in the past, but I don’t think we will be enemies in the future. I want to know why they are so successful in economic development and science technology and some day we may cooperate. The best way to cooperate is to be there, as friends and partners. I will not forget my national duty. One day later, my dad said: Ok, go to America and let me know what you learn. 

So you see, in my generation, we have collections of the U.S from different aspects. But today, we are promoting cooperation between the two countries for the sake of the development of the two countries. 

Then, I went to America to study, and I never regretted it. 

As I was chosen to be the Minister of Education, I thought my mission was to look for enough money to build more kindergartens, more schools. But after two months, I met two ladies. They wanted to meet the Vietnamese Education Minister. One is American, one came from Japan but is an American citizen. They said they wanted to share two things with me. Firstly, they said: Minister, you should preserve and utilize Vietnamese culture. 

The lady from Japan said: We totally destroyed our old culture. You have to keep your culture. The second lady said to me: Vietnam has great potential to build the best university in the world. I looked surprised and asked why. 

She said: The best universities in the world always teach you how to earn money after graduation but no university is going to teach how to make students and other people live a happy life. So, if you can create the happiness university, you are the leading in the world. So these were two recommendations after I just took office for two months. After that, I convinced some schools to introduce the subject of happiness. 

Second story: In 2008, I went to Finland. This country scored the best in terms of PISA in many years. I didn’t know why and I wanted to learn why they succeeded. I met the Minister of Education. She share three lessons: First, you can teach if you have a bachelor degree. But it’s not enough in Finland. You must have a bachelor’s degree in a specific subject and a master’s in education science. 

So, teachers are very active in helping teaching organizations to design curriculum because they combine both expert knowledge and pedagogical capability, which does not exist in Vietnam. Second lesson, high school teachers not only teach in classes, but they also advise students to choose subjects and future professions. The third lesson, the best students go to the pedagogical universities. 

So the teachers are the best one in the country. I know what to learn but cannot apply, right? I asked The Finnish Minister who said: What is the weakness of your education system? She said, 51% in the marriage age range don’t want to get married so there will not be enough workforce. 

My internal lesson is that: You may have the best general education system, but if your people don’t want to get married, don’t want to have kids, your country could not be sustainable.  After that, I always teach people how to love and maintain family. Later, I realize Japan and Korea are facing the same problem. 

Third story: This year, I went to Israel. It’s the country of excellence, of innovations and start-ups. I was surprised. Every tree in the streets have water pipes. 

So the first day in Israel, the Israeli lady who helped organize the program showed me through the window (the hotel located nearby the ocean). Party Secretary, are you seeing this? The kids in Israel do not accept easily what teachers taught them. They always asked about the other way around. They asked why? And how? So questioning in daily life and in school is tradition of Israeli people. Don’t accept easily what people tell you. The culture of questioning is the key for innovation. 

Now, you are starting a new life. Who are you? Are you Vietnamese? Why don’t you learn in Vietnamese? Because you live in a new world. The world is interconnected. You learn the language that is most popular today. I have problems with English. I started learning English in my 40s. 

So, it’s your fortune. I remember 20 years ago, when American friends started Fulbright Economic Teaching Program at the University of Economics, we thought of an excellent US university in Vietnam already. 

Because it’s a long way to achieve, so they started with Fulbright Economic Teaching Program without certification in master programs, then they moved to second stage to recognize master programs’ certification. And now, the third stage: Fulbright University Vietnam. 

You are Vietnamese. You are learning English. And you get this opportunity. You are among the best students. So, I hope this University is not for average Vietnamese but the best Vietnamese. It’s your right and obligations to benefit as much as possible from this University. Are you determined to achieve the target of becoming the best Vietnamese citizens in the future? Yes? Do you want to thank our U.S. partners? Please. Or you want to thank your parents? Right? Yes. 

So it’s your choice. The country expects you. The family expects you. The ones who created this University are expecting you. Do your best with this university! It’s a new one and they will do some innovation. You are part of innovation. 

You participate in this program and make it the best one. I wish that five years later you will be proud of your decision, you are thankful to this university and you are determined to support your father, your mother and your home country. 

I want to thank our U.S. partners. Many of them are not here today. They worked hard to help establish the university. We think of them in our mind. One of supporters is Senator John McCain. I wish he could be here. 

I want to wish very good luck to the first University President, Dam Bich Thuy. Be healthy, be determined to take the job, to take the chance! We observe you. We support you.