At Fulbright, students begin their studies by gaining a range of knowledge and skills through a set of compulsory core courses. The core curriculum is a common trait of American liberal arts institutions, yet at Fulbright, it is designed and revised to be adaptable to trends and challenges in global higher education, while staying rooted in the Vietnamese context.
Developing practical and fundamental skill sets
Compared to previous generations, students today place more importance on career preparation. According to Arthur Levine, the former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, “They’re much more pragmatic. They say their primary reason for going to college is to get training and skills that will lead to a job, and let them make money.” This preference is one of the driving forces of 21st-century education. A survey commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) suggests that in today’s highly competitive and fast-paced economy, well-paid jobs require both specific knowledge in a field of study and a broad range of interdisciplinary skills – some of which are notably well developed through liberal arts education.
Humanities, arts, and social sciences were traditionally considered the heart of the liberal arts. Modern institutions, however, have adopted much more comprehensive programs, incorporating STEM subjects that are in high demand. At Fulbright, the core curriculum consists of five courses that extend across multiple disciplines, introducing students to a multi-dimensional worldview and preparing them for their future academic and professional journeys. These courses include Scientific Inquiry, Quantitative Reasoning for a Digital Age, Design and Systems Thinking, Global Humanities and Social Change, and Modern Vietnamese Culture and Society.
For the Fulbright core curriculum, it is not just about the content itself, but about developing key academic skills and mindsets for students. For example, Quantitative Reasoning for a Digital Age gives students basic mathematical and computational tools to solve problems, but the goal is not necessarily to educate future mathematicians or data scientists. Instead, students learn to think logically, to observe phenomena through the lens of numbers, to break away from subjective biases, and to work as a team. These skills allow them to make evidence-based judgments and communicate more effectively in a workplace.
Likewise, Scientific Inquiry is an exploration into the world of natural sciences. “It’s not really about physics, biology, chemistry, or anything in particular, it’s more skill-based than content-based. What we want the students to learn is how to put on the thinking hat of a scientist, how to think like a scientist, how to understand what scientific data means or how scientific knowledge is generated,” says former faculty member Dr. Samhitha Raj, one of the four faculty members who developed the course. Through collaborative projects, students practice collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data, as well as critically evaluating scientific claims.
Engaged, informed, and mindful citizens
Not only are students equipped with pragmatic skills, they also nurture a better understanding of their surroundings and empathy for those around them. By studying with classmates from diverse backgrounds, with varied strengths and interests, students learn to discuss different opinions in a respectful manner.
Global Humanities and Social Change examines key moments in global history and introduces students to significant works of literatary expression across philosophy, the arts, and religion. Students are guided through evolutions of thought, and how those have brought about transformation and have shaped perception in the contemporary world. It also provides a chance for students to respond to each other’s ideas in group conversations, allowing them to develop a more balanced point of view and to become more accepting of different perspectives.
Correspondingly, Design and Systems Thinking aims to help student identify and propose methods of problem solving in society today. The course introduces them to an array of tools, principles, and processes, such as how to identify and explain a market friction and an associated opportunity; how to build a prototype that serves a certain purpose for society; or how to make decisions based on technical judgment when several options or solutions are available.
A dilemma for students who pursue international programs is that they might feel disconnected from their own country, and have a hard time relating what they have learned to the Vietnamese context. One of Fulbright’s core courses, Modern Vietnamese Culture & Society addresses this issue. As a deep dive into the historical, cultural, social, economic and even political dimensions of modern and contemporary Vietnam, this course helps students explore Vietnamese identity and how to situate Vietnam in the region and in the world. With an open and critical mind, students develop unique ways to contribute to their community in meaningful ways.
The foundations for lifelong learning
In 2014, a Gallup survey attempted to examine “the relationship between the college experience and whether college graduates have great jobs and great lives.” Their findings were somber. Only 39% of graduates had found employment, and only 11% were thriving in all elements of personal wellbeing: social, physical, financial, community and purpose. It also revealed that graduates enjoyed significantly higher chances of having profitable jobs and fulfilling lives if well-prepared for life after graduation.
Such preparation is what Fulbright strives to deliver. After students finish their studies here, the takeaways gleaned from the core curriculum will remain advantageous throughout their lives. Facing a future of change and uncertainty, one can only stay ahead if they understand history and what processes have shaped humanity today. And as the world evolves, and new forms of knowledge will emerge, graduates cannot succeed without the skills of critical thinking and logical reasoning, proficiency in problem-solving, highly developed interpersonal skills, and the desire to be a life-long learner.
Despite the two years of core and exploratory curriculum required before declaring a major, it is possible that later down the road, students may still want or need to alter their chosen paths. In fact, a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27 percent of college graduates work in a field related to their major. With data from 125 million professional profiles, Emsi, a labor market analytics firm, also concludes that “the typical path is more of a swirl than a straight line.”
In these cases, such foundational knowledge and skills will support graduates’ transitions, enabling them to adapt more quickly to new environments. Given this foundation, they can effectively acquire new skills and knowledge, and continue to learn and improve. But most importantly, they will face challenges with confidence and courage. “They should be brave, without being afraid of something they haven’t tried,” according to Dr. Tran Vinh Linh, one of the three faculty members teaching Quantitative Reasoning.
On Friday, January 14, more than 50 Fulbright and Humphrey scholars gathered at the U.S. Consulate General’s Residence to explore how alumni can support education with a mission. The event was jointly hosted by the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City and Fulbright University Vietnam.
Acting Consul General Robert Greenan and Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam both shared their warm welcome to the alumni. In her speech, Ms. Dam Bich Thuy also urged the alumni to take action towards fostering an education that is not only of high quality, but also of equal access. Only then, more Vietnamese students’ lives can be changed, just like how our alumni’s lives were changed when they received scholarships to study in America.
The event was followed by a drinks reception where alumni conversed, socialized with old friends, talked with peers in different industries and discussed different ways to create more impact in education.
“This gathering was a unique opportunity to network with Fulbright and Humphrey scholars. Not only we could share our vision as the first Vietnamese university, inspired by the American liberal arts model, but also the progress we are trying to make. Education is a long-term investment, and one cannot change it alone. Only with the help from likeminded supporters, we can carry out our mission: Creating the next generation of change-makers in Vietnam for a rapidly evolving world,” Ms. Dam Bich Thuy reaffirms.
Five years ago, Ms. Dam Bich Thuy departed from ANZ, where she had served as the first Vietnamese CEO of an international bank in Vietnam, to become President of Fulbright University Vietnam and undertake the challenging task of advancing the country’s higher education. In celebration of Vietnam’s Teachers’ Day (November 20), Vietnam Finance recently sits down with her for an insightful conversation about the transformative power of education and her inspiring journey at Fulbright. (*)
Are you currently happy with your job at Fulbright? What would you consider the most gratifying moment in this 5-year journey with the university?
I was born and raised in a family of educators. Both my parents used to teach at universities, while my younger brother also followed the family trade and became a researcher. Wanting to become a teacher myself, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Pedagogy. But you see, life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned, as my career had taken different turns. However, I think deep down inside, I still carried with me the love and passion for education, so that when the time came, the decision to join Fulbright University Vietnam as one of its founding members, and then as its first President, was something completely natural to me.
The quest to build a university from the ground up, especially one that’s based on an education model relatively new in Vietnam, certainly entails many challenges. Yet the boundless joy, the rewarding moments are truly beyond compare. I still remember the early days of a newly formed Fulbright, when our entire project team worked together in a cramped office at Bitexco [Financial Tower], tirelessly preparing for our first school year’s admissions. It didn’t matter whether you’re an academic, a communication officer, or a finance specialist, each and every one of us pitched in with one mission in mind: how to convince students and their families of our vision, to earn their trust and confidence so they’d join us in this journey of building and co-designing Vietnam’s very first liberal arts university, together.
Nor can I ever forget the first meetings we had with a group of students and parents on the educational model at Fulbright. There were many questions, even doubts and skepticisms, raised about the practicalities of liberal arts, since it goes against a traditionally held belief of Vietnamese families that “higher education is vocational education”. Some people couldn’t understand why our students have to spend a minimum of one year at Fulbright to learn the basics of humanities and arts, social and natural sciences, before deciding on a specific major. Or when we talked about our need-based financial aid program that takes into consideration each family’s financial situation, not a few parents expressed misgivings about the fairness of this model, fearing that there might be people providing false statements to gain opportunistic advantage.
And so, you can imagine how gratifying it’s been, for all of us at Fulbright, to see more and more students and parents in Vietnam nowadays recognize the values of liberal arts education, while our society as a whole has embraced it as one of the creditable alternatives when it comes to higher education in our country. Or I was moved to receive a letter from a mother whose kid had been awarded full financial aid at Fulbright. She said that had the university not offered her child this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they might have to abandon their dream, for the family simply couldn’t afford it. The mother also shared with me her intention of notifying the school immediately once the family’s financial situation has improved, so we can pass this opportunity on to other students in need.
How important is higher education in providing a high-quality workforce for Vietnam’s future development?
In his seminal work on human capital theory, the Nobel prize-winning economist Gary Becker pointed out that human capital constitutes 70 to 75% of a nation’s capacity to reach prosperity. He illustrated how Asian countries from Japan to South Korea to China have come to recognize the critical role of education in economic growth. Despite having fewer natural resources, those countries invest heavily on their education systems, in particular higher education, to improve human capital which in turn, contributes to their transformation into global powerhouses.
Vietnam is no exception if we want to replicate their success stories. The matter at hand, however, has become increasingly pressing as we now live in a period of uncertainties and accelerating technological change. Automation and artificial intelligence, while enabling seismic shifts in society, have brought about concerns regarding the rapid disappearance of jobs across industries, from assembly lines to retail to law.
These trends will exert grave impacts on Vietnam, whose economy primarily relies on light industry and agriculture. The labor market of those manufacturing activities will exponentially shrink due to automation and technological advances, while our agricultural production is extremely vulnerable to climate change. To sustain our development and attain greater socioeconomic accomplishments, we must ensure a successful transition of our economy into knowledge and high value-added industries. Therefore, a skilled and high-quality workforce will serve as an important prerequisite.
In your opinion, what needs to be changed so Vietnam’s higher education can catch up with the higher education systems in developed countries?
Despite the fact that Vietnam’s higher education has made significant strides over the years, in reality, we’re still confronted with the gap between the demand for skilled labor and educational opportunities in the country. While Vietnamese students perform well on standard academic tests, employers consistently report that students lack the skills needed to excel, as reflected in the high underemployment rate of college graduates.
At the same time, young people are now faced with a future of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, also known as the VUCA world. A report has estimated that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030, less than 10 years from now, haven’t been invented yet. In large measure, a university curriculum that adheres strictly to the confines of traditional career paths has become outdated.
In the end, I think we need to come back to the ultimate, if not original, role of higher education, which is to help students manage and adapt to an ever-changing world. From our hands-on experience at Fulbright over the past 5 years, I believe that higher education in the 21st century must teach students to “learn how to learn”, so they will be able to continually develop new skills and reinvent themselves. The focal point of any educational model should be on providing students with the fundamentals of interdisciplinary studies which synthesize knowledge across different fields, while honing essential skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, curiosity and creativity.
Recently, I’ve got to hear from a human resources director of a tech company. She said to me their CEO thinks very highly of Fulbright students who currently intern at the company, for they demonstrate excellent critical thinking, problem solving, presentation and collaboration skills, even better than some of their full-time employees. I’m not sure if she exaggerated it, but it’s still a great encouragement for all members of Fulbright to keep going and have faith in our mission.
The last decade has seen the growth of private investment in education in Vietnam. How would you assess the nature and quality of these efforts?
It is an undeniable fact that over the past 10 years, the education sector in Vietnam has been vibrant and diversified thanks to a growing number of private investments. Universities have also changed to become more active and attuned to market’s demand.
But frankly speaking, we still lack high quality and internationally accredited universities. Whereas private investors might have spurred the formation of new universities in Vietnam, the priority set on profit maximization has hindered efforts to improve the quality of teaching and research.
I have an inkling that the concept of private investment in education has been, by and large, misinterpreted in Vietnam as the commercialization of education. Whenever education is excessively commercialized, the repercussions, chief among them an inequitable distribution of opportunities among students to get access to higher education, would be a serious cause for concern. We simply can’t stand by and let students with talent, passion and intelligence give up their dream, just because their families can’t afford tuition. This problem doesn’t affect only a few individuals, but in fact, it’s an important social issue directly linked to a nation’s social mobility. A large part of the world, Vietnam included, sees higher education as a decisive factor for its people to move up the social ladder.
I believe the solution to this problem lies in how we can gain a true understanding of the nature of investment in education, which we can certainly learn from countries with the best higher education systems.
It goes without saying that not-for-profit universities do need endowments to operate. In developed countries, especially the US, philanthropy is a time-honored tradition and has been instrumental to top universities’ long and successful history. Donations, charitable contributions, or capital funds gifted to educational causes have also become a common practice in Asia.
Although the mainstream media in Vietnam only highlights stories about billionaires’ hefty donations to universities across the world, such as the case of Ms. Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, Vietnam’s first female billionaire, and her £155m donation to University of Oxford’s Linacre College, in reality there are more and more middle-class individuals willing to give small donations to endowment funds or scholarship funds that support disadvantaged students. These are admirable gestures and should be widely popularized in Vietnam, so that education philanthropy can truly become an intrinsic value of our beautiful culture.
I’d like to reiterate that if we want to build a better, stronger Vietnam, collectively we must build and invest in good universities. I’m sure many of our readers carry in their mind the question of what we can do to help strengthen our country, so it can stand tall and proud in the world. I can assure you, making your contribution to the development of education in Vietnam is one such way. It’s the key, if not one of the most feasible solutions, to our concern.
What would you consider as the biggest challenge for Fulbright at the moment? How do you secure the financial resources need for the university’s future development?
The hurdles that a 5 year-old university must overcome are numerous. Yet the biggest challenge for Fulbright University Vietnam is how to prove ourselves worthy of Vietnam, by rising to the particular demands of our society through ensuring an excellent teaching and research program, among other activities and initiatives aimed toward social good. Our development would mean nothing and won’t be sustainable if Fulbright can’t connect to Vietnam at a deeper level. That requires contribution from goodwill benefactors and financially savvy individuals in our country.
At the moment, Fulbright is operating from the generous funds provided by the US Government and its affiliated organizations, not to mention a 15 hectare parcel of land in the Saigon High-Tech Park, donated to the university by the Vietnamese government so we can build a new campus, envisioned as the most environmentally advanced education complex in Vietnam, and will serve as a living sustainability laboratory for students, faculty and the interested public.
We’ve also received financial commitments from generous benefactors as well as Vietnamese businessmen and women, whose contributions represent their fervent support and investment in the future of education in Vietnam. But above all, we still look forward to education philanthropy becoming a common practice in our society. As previously mentioned, a $10-20 gift donated to non-profit universities in America is not at all uncommon, for it can accumulate into a valuable resource that enables them to invest substantially in teaching and research. As a result, they have been able to cultivate generations of innovators, changemakers and leaders that form the nucleus of the advancement of their society. And in turn, those alumni always come back and make contributions to their alma mater in whichever way possible. At Fulbright, we would also want to build that “pay it forward” culture.
Do we have similar types of small donations at Fulbright?
Absolutely. In fact, the endowment we’ve received so far has exceeded far beyond our expectations. Among our benefactors are individuals of middle income, who still manage to donate a small sum of money every month to support the university’s scholarship fund or endorse an initiative they believe in. Every donation, large or small, means the world to us.
Ms. Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao’s donation to Linacre College has captured the public attention in Vietnam. In your opinion, what can we do to incentivize private donations to universities in Vietnam?
Although I’m just a casual observer of that story, I still hope her gesture will serve as an inspiration for other well-to-do individuals in Vietnam in making their donations to local universities.
But words are not enough to build a culture of education philanthropy in Vietnam. The reason it has become so successful in America is due to the US Government’s federal tax deductions for charitable donations, in which contributions made to non-profit universities can be claimed as tax deductions. In Vietnam, we do not have similar incentives to encourage wealthy individuals’ charitable giving. But I think it’s time our government should give it due consideration to mobilize the untapped resources of our society.
In that ideal scenario, it’s critical that endowment funds are allowed to marshal contributions from every part of society as much as incentivized for doing so. In the US, the number of university endowment funds has increased hundredfold since 1980, in particular, the size of those of elite institutions have risen to tens of billions of dollars. While still a novelty in our country, I believe it’s an imperative to attract more private investment in higher education and in turn, the future of Vietnam.
(*) The article has been translated from Vietnamese to English by Fulbright.
It’s that time of the year again, Fulbright University Vietnam’s Buddy Program is calling for high school volunteers from all across the country. The Fulbright Buddies will act as the bridge connecting Fulbright and students in your high school or your area.
During the one-year term (from September 2021 to June 2022), the Buddies will work with students at Fulbright University Vietnam to support a series of activities to introduce the liberal education model in general and Fulbright University in particular. Activities will take place both online and offline, and Buddies are encouraged to be creative in organizing events that are relevant to your community.
- You are invited to participate in Fulbright University activities, thereby you can practice communication skills, project management, enriching operational experience and leadership capacity, experiencing Fulbright’s working environment and spirit.
- You are to connect, exchange, and learn from Fulbright students and dynamic students from all over the country.
- You will be awarded a certificate of participation in the Fulbright Buddy Program.
- Your student clubs will be prioritized to receive Fulbright University support in the future (i.e.: event venue support, media support, etc.)
You are the Fulbright Buddies that we are looking for if:
- You have an understanding or desire to learn about liberal education philosophy.
- You have good communication skills, the ability to convey information accurately, clearly, attractively, and persuasively.
- You have a wide network of friends in the school and area where you are studying.
- You are proactive and responsible.
You can apply to join the Fulbright Buddy Program at: https://bit.ly/2VBq4Z9
The Fulbright Buddies timeline:
- Application round: 09/8/2021 – 22/8/2021
- Interview round (online or phone): 30,31/8/2021 (Tentative)
- Results announcement: 01/09/2021
- Virtual onboarding boot camp (Tentative): 11,12/09/2021
Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact email@example.com or reach us at 028 7303 7788.
NOTE: The Fulbright Buddy Program is independent of Fulbright University Admissions. If Buddies apply to the Fulbright Undergraduate Program, you will have to go through the same admissions process as other applicants.
“In both years working as Fulbright Buddy, I have had unforgettable experiences with a dynamic community with core values of respect, cooperation, and uplifting one another. I am proud to be a Buddy, a piece of the puzzle that creates that diverse and harmonious picture of Fulbright!” – Ngo Kieu Anh (Nghe An)
“For me, the Fulbright Buddy Program brings to life the Fulbright spirit. It is the spirit of co-design in group activities, the spirit of community-oriented for each post that gives opportunities to young people, and finally a lot of room for us to freely create, experience, and implement the ideas that we are passionate about.” – Pham Minh Hieu (Dong Thap)
All the things that are happening in the world of technology are directly impacting education and learning systems.Technology has a profound impact on today’s youth. Educational Technology (edtech) is modernizing the entire student experience but could pose many challenges if not implemented with carefully crafted plans. As a pioneering institution to reimagine higher education for Vietnam, Fulbright University co-hosted the inaugural EdTech luncheon with EdTech Asia and InnoLab Asia to bring leaders of all fields in and discuss the future of edtech. In the opening panel on “Acceleration of Digitization in Higher Education in Vietnam,” discussing how universities should change to adapt in a world transformed ever since the pandemic. Here, with the wisdom of esteemed panelists and the participation of curious attendees, many intriguing questions and ideas were sparked.
By the numbers
As social distancing prolongs worldwide, the disruptions of education for students across the globe continue. In fact, the numbers are astonishing: according to UNICEF, over 1.5 billion children’s education was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and will continue to be throughout 2021. Luckily, education was able to continue despite the disruptions thanks to the vital support of technology. As more and more educators lean into technology, we are presented with the opportunity to reinvent education.
Amidst the chaotic waves of Covid-19 in the last year, the education technology sector received a major boost as many institutions shifted to remote learning. Dr. Nguyen Chi Hieu, CEO of IEG (Innovative Education Group), quoted a new report from Temasek Holdings, Google, and Bain & Company that “40 million people came online for the first time in 2020, pushed the total number of internet users in the South East Asian countries to 70% of the population.” There was also a spike in the amount of new registered users on massive open online course (MOOC) websites, particularly Coursera alone received 20 million new users and had over 35 million new course enrollments in just half a year since mid-March. These numbers may seem overwhelming and the virtual learning space may come as a new thing to many of these new users, but it was not born yesterday. Edtech has been around for quite a while already, the pandemic just brought it to light.
Although edtech has been made more common during Covid-19, it is still underestimated. Mr. Charles Lee, Founder of Coder School, remarked that “When you think about the impact of technology, on education, and across all industries, I think historically, people always underestimated the impact technology would have.” There is tremendous potential for the entire edtech space to be explored and yet utilized. What we have seen in the past year with remote learning, Zoom classrooms, and online courses are only a scratch on the surface of what edtech is.
The edtech space also includes learning assistant tools like AI analytics, AI-assisted grading; all sorts of content, ranging from online content, multimedia content, to interactive content; many learning mediums, which come with classroom aids and learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas, to name a few. Forbes projected the digital market for learning and teaching to reach $325 billion in 2025, and this prediction was made before the coronavirus happened. It is the quickest growing market in the education industry (900% growth since 2000 according to a research by KPMG), and with the pandemic bringing more attention to it, the market is thriving at an unprecedented rate.
Efforts invested and the road forward
Dr. Hieu explained that “so far, we’re only focusing on increasing the accessibility and the flexibility of remote learning and have yet to tackle the quality metrics of higher education going online.” With the uncertainty as to when in-person teaching will resume, it’s important for us as educators to accept that hybrid learning will be here to stay, and we should start to explore the benefits technology can provide in developing the skills of tomorrow. In a world where technology is shaping every corner, education must take an evolutionary leap for students to thrive in our digital society. And that requires institutions leaders to sit down and figure out some way to move forward.
One of Fulbright’s many initiatives to bring world-class education to Vietnamese students is collaborating with international institutions. In 2020, Fulbright has signed 2 MoUs with Princeton University and Dartmouth College to offer digitally-enabled co-learning environments, namely Princeton’s Global History Lab and connected courses with Dartmouth, so that Fulbright students can participate in the most forward-thinking pedagogical initiatives globally. President Dam Bich Thuy has noted that “COVID-19 has clearly shown, for better and worse, that our world is connected like never before. We are in this together, and we must solve this together. In a time of uncertainties, I am proud to see Fulbright University Vietnam embrace this vision for international collaboration, further enriching the academic dialogue between our countries, as well as educational opportunities for our students.”
These collaborations also expand some blended learning models, in which students learn at least in part through online learning, with an element of self-control over time, place, and path. The more prominent blended learning models become, the more they move education away from the ‘one size fits all approach’, offering students the opportunity to go at their own pace, thus reducing stress and improving retention for both fast and slow learners.
Initiated by Fulbright and IEG Foundation, Pioneering Educators Network (PEN) workshops have been introduced as an effort to promote innovative teaching methods, updated educational trends, cutting-edge pedagogical practices, and the liberal education model in Vietnam as well as in the region. Among these seminars was one about digital learning and teaching by Dr. Ian Kalman, a professor at Fulbright, to share some theoretical perspectives as well as some practical strategies to approach e-learning for educators from across Vietnam. His lecture and presentation opened up many dialogues about how to effectively engage students in virtual classrooms because just as digital technology offers new possibilities for teaching and learning, it also poses many constraints that need to be addressed. “There is also a material and infrastructural need when it comes to digital accessibility, which is not equal among the students. Digital teaching can reduce, but also reinforce inequality,” Dr. Kalman assessed.
Additionally, as we push edtech further and everything becomes artificial intelligence and machine learning, there stances a threat for education to focus more on the ‘superficial’ than on deeper conceptual understandings. Without careful implementation, edtech’s role in ‘making assessment more effective and efficient’ may lead to a disregard for creativity and critical thought. On that note, Mr. Thanh Bui, Founder of Embassy Education, posed a thought-provoking question: “What is the picture of universities in the future? Right now, we have an opportunity to reconsider not just edtech, but also reimagine the higher education systems and how it would progress in our very different world post-pandemic.”
Edtech that connects
If new models for both teaching and connecting emerge in the wake of the pandemic, they will be put to an even greater test in the years ahead: preparing students for a labor market rife with inequalities that have only worsened during the recession. With the rate of everything becomes digitalized very quickly, in 20 years, everything will be automated and as cliché as it may sound, the most critical skills for this young generation to focus on developing is actually human to human interaction.
“The question then remains is how do we bring the humanistic side to edtech. We need to consider the whole picture of education and see where the new technology fits in to enhance these learning experiences. Just because you have the potential to do something or the ability to do something does not mean that you should do it,” Thanh Bui postulated. That is a question for all of us to ponder upon, and that question may not have an answer, but rather require the step-up of industries’ leaders to be the heroes, to inspire other people, to ignite passion and more forward-thinking innovations.
Technology is understandably a poor substitute for maintaining the strong connections we miss seeing each day. But using technology to foster new connections beyond students’ reach actually plays to tech’s competitive advantage: overcoming time, geography, and cost barriers to growing their networks. As a matter of fact, Fulbright held a number of virtual events in 2020, such as David Rubenstein’s How to Lead virtual talk and the YSEALI online panel on the Future of ASEAN, which proved that “we can effectively use technology to try bridging the heroes and create a support network to inspire people,” Charles Lee concluded.
‘Edtech that connects’ holds the immense potential to connect students to people – experts, mentors, near-peers – who can help them reach their goals. Over time, it could help education systems address the social side of opportunity gaps by disrupting the inherent limitations of students’ networks. Edtech is also proving powerful drivers of outcomes that educators are starting to pay more attention to connecting learning to real-world projects and people, expanding students’ professional horizons and connections, and building students’ abilities to connect across lines of difference.
As the majority of students around the world begin yet another term at home, we are faced with the opportunities to create a new (and somewhat improved) normal for students and teachers. The challenges, such as technological infrastructure and access to hardware, are surmountable with time and effort. With the right approach, technology, and resources, we can prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, on platforms that are becoming more accessible and using methods proven to be more powerful. As students continue to grow hungrier and more inquisitive for knowledge and technology, reimagining higher education is something to be excited about, and it all starts now.
Hundreds of scholars from many countries gathered at Fulbright University later April to discuss new approaches to university education in Asia. Envisioned as Vietnam’s first (and largest) international education conference, it focused on the changing landscape of higher education locally, regionally, and globally.
Dr. Trisha Craig, Vice President of Yale-NUS College was among prominent keynote speakers. In her keynote address, she revisited the emergence of the liberal arts education in Asia and addressed challenges facing these nascent institutions.
Following is the excerpt of this important speech.
It is no secret that the liberal arts are enjoying a moment in Asia. Institutions are being established, there is rapid expansion and growing demand for the liberal arts. Recently, we’re all excited to welcome a new member to our family of liberal arts institutions in the region – Fulbright University Vietnam. This is in contrary to the difficulties and even hostility this model of education faces in the West where it was born.
At a moment, close to 40% of the non-US liberal arts institutions in the world are now in Asia, which take different forms. Hence, it makes sense to reflect on the growth of the liberal arts to date and highlight the issues that have arisen across the region in order to inform future directions, both avoiding pitfalls and seizing opportunities.
There are two types of challenges that liberal arts institutions face, including sustainability and political headwinds.
Across Asia, the myriad forms the liberal arts can take: branch campuses of Western institutions; partnerships between governments and foreign institutions; local institutions founded by wealthy donors; specialized schools within existing tertiary institutions; etc. mean different funding models but some combination of tuition revenue, donor funds and endowment, government grants/subsidies and external research money will typically play a role in sustaining institutions.
The first challenge to sustainability is the cost of a liberal arts education. The focus on critical thinking, writing, experiential learning, and dialogic interaction with full time faculty members in small groups is an expensive form of education.
Some of the potential issues arising here include overly optimistic initial projections for fundraising targets, maintaining and cultivating the long-term interest of donors, after the initial enthusiasm. In Asia, the liberal arts may find it hard to compete with science and medicine in the more traditional educational philanthropy space.
The long-term commitment of Western partners may also be an issue. Ensuring that there are opportunities for interaction, not just at the administrative level but the academic: faculty exchanges, joint conferences and research, co-taught courses and opportunities for student interaction through study abroad and finding creative ways that work. Presence is important.
When liberal arts institutions rely on government funding or are part of established institutions, maintaining the level of funding necessary maybe be difficult over the long run because of changing in priorities and politics, etc.
For most institutions, tuition plays a part in the funding equation. With the hope of educating smart students with great potential from modest circumstances, lots of institutions admit students on a need blind basis and offer them assistance at a level beyond that to fulfill actual student need.
However, just fewer than 2 dozen institutions in the world are in good position to offer that. And financial aid can lead to an unintended consequence that more and more students with little ability to pay will be incentivized to apply, which means verification of parental can become exceedingly difficult.
If institutions expect students on financial aid to earn a specified sum of money during the academic year and/or summer to contribute to their expenses, we have to consider whether they can earn enough money to pay the contribution so that it does not take away from their ability to do their coursework and participate in the life of the institution.
In order to earn the contribution, do they have to forego the kind of unpaid summer internship that may lead to professional connections and career opportunities? Are we aware of the financial obligations to family our students may have? Besides, do we have the kind resources to help them find such work, either in terms of providing on campus jobs or advising about how to find jobs?
A different type of sustainability relates to the newness both of institutions and the idea of the liberal arts in Asia. Future enrollment, subsidies and general reputation are all affected by the results of an institution’s first graduating cohort in terms of employment and graduate school admissions.
Those early results are watched intently by potential future students, parents, funders – whether government or private – and often the media. We in Asia are not immune to the issue of the employability of our graduates, and discussions about the practicality of degrees exist here as they do in the West.
In Singapore for example, every year there is an annual exercise called the Graduate Employment Survey, run by the Ministry of Education. For every degree at public tertiary institutions in Singapore, new graduates are surveyed at the 6-month mark about their employment.
The results are reported in the media and put up on the ministry’s website. Parents can see exactly how much higher the starting salary is for computer science degrees compared to humanities majors (and can torment their children accordingly).
In many of the countries where we operate, the liberal arts are part of a state developmentalist model, where ideas of the needs of the future workforce are coupled with investments in educational transformation to ensure that in this globalized world, economies remain or become competitive.
And in this top down approach, sometimes there is a lag in terms of how to fit our graduates into the existing labor market or the labor market does not yet perceive the need or understand the value of such graduates. Therefore, we not only prepare their students for the labor market, but we also have the additional task of preparing the labor market for our students.
What this means is that even before the first cohort of students arrives, institutions must start to make inroads with employers and continue that outreach during all years of students’ undergraduate experience to ensure a strong outcome out of the gate. Internships, bringing the local business community to campus, establishing mentoring programs, having a career services office, all of these are critical to start very early on.
There is a similar task with respect to graduate and professional schools. Faculty are often in the best position to use their own connections at the places where our students choose to look for post-graduate degrees to help introduce our institutions.
We also need to be aware of how to provide graduate and professional schools with the kind of information that will encourage them to consider our graduates: information like the competitiveness of our admissions, our yield rates, median SAT scores if we require them, who our peer institutions are, how to read our transcripts, and after our first cohort, what are the other institutions our students attend for graduate school.
What do we mean by success
While we need to show that our students are professionally successful, we also need to figure out ways to move the conversation about the value of the liberal arts in two ways.
One relates still to the idea of how practical liberal arts degrees or the skills are that we’re helping students develop. Although starting salaries are not at all a good measure of earning potential or ROI, the data we have and the data that people have been accustomed to look for says that ROI is best measured by starting salaries.
We need to figure how to go beyond that. It is in our interests to start to collect the kind of longitudinal data that will really allow us to make the case for the liberal arts in the future. It is hard and complicated to keep people in longitudinal studies. It is also expensive and quite intrusive to track them, but it would be worth the effort.
Besides, part of our success as institutions will be measured by how our graduates contribute in the world. Helping students find role models of people who are making a difference, encouraging them to connect with meaningful volunteer opportunities, and having career offices that truly understand how to build a variety of professional pathways that combine a vocation with a focus on impact in the world is crucial.
As the world enters an era of populism and nationalist revival on a global scale, liberal arts institutions must be attentive and nimble with respect to the problems this can mean for higher education.
We have only to look at recent events in Hungary – a NATO ally and member of the European Union expelling an important university that had been there for 25 years. In Singapore, The Global Schoolhouse initiative was launched in 2002 would not only allow Singapore to capture part of the multi trillion-dollar world education market but also bring high skilled people to a small, aging open economy. Such a model was in keeping with Singapore’s long tradition of using education to enhance its global competitiveness.
But in 2011 the PAP, the ruling party, which has been in power since the founding of modern Singapore in 1965, came as close as it has ever been to losing an election with 60%, partly because of the rejection of the country’s liberal immigration policy of voters. It wasn’t just this moment of populism that killed the Global Schoolhouse but it is absolutely part of the story.
The erection of borders also has implications for what students are able to do; while many of us talk about creating global citizens, national passports still matter. Where students can go for internships, whether students who go abroad for their undergraduate degrees are able to stay in the country after graduation, whether faculty can secure research visas to collaborate with foreign scholars – these things matter for us and the models of education we can develop.
Given that liberal arts institutions tend to be highly selective and resource intensive, they run the risk of being branded as elitist institutions, which can become the target of the rise of populist, often anti-elite sentiment. On one hand, we can be elite without being elitist and this means ensuring that we are able to support students from non-elite and first-generation backgrounds.
It is also incumbent on us to make sure that we remain connected to the local societies in which we operate. We should be producing social goods through our education, not just private returns for the students fortunate enough to enroll in our programs.
While the liberal in liberal arts does not refer to a political stance, there’s no question that the kind of critical stance and reflection that the liberal arts prizes often translates into students with a sense of social justice, a desire to enact change and new-found sense of agency.
Whether that’s around issues of the environment, equality, LGBT or other minority concerns, or policies on campus like mental health funding or even thinks like where our endowments are invested, liberal arts institutions can find ourselves in uncomfortable spaces. We need to balance issues of free expression within our own walls but protect our students and institutions from predictable but often not fully understood, at least by students, consequences.
Challenges notwithstanding, the new liberal arts institutions of Asia have tremendous opportunities. With the critical mass of institutional development in the region, there are many possibilities for intraregional collaboration. In the morning panel we heard about some examples of cross institutional research that involved both faculty research and student interaction.
At the level of faculty research, student curricular and co-curricular programming, and joint extra-regional initiatives, there is untapped potential to organize greater cooperation and one outcome of gatherings like this ought to be to move us forward in terms of collaboration.
The liberal arts in Asia also benefit from their newness; without the organizational and institutional inheritances and legacies of similar institutions in the West, they are freer to innovate and push the model of liberal arts ahead.
We’ve heard many examples today of new models – moving away from not only a sole focus on texts based in the West but also away from the facile idea that we should just juxtapose the East and West with each other. We’ve also heard about experiential learning and ways to create transferability of skills.
In doing so, not only are we, as institutions, able to redefine the liberal arts for the 21st Century but we can act as models and inspirations for our Western counterparts and offer them the potential to reclaim some of ground they have lost.
My final point is this: We have the chance to show how the liberal arts can thrive. The speakers today have been clear that what’s going on in the region is not a simple export from West but rather something that is more authentically local. Today, here, but also in the recent books on the liberal arts in Asia that several speakers have referenced, there is a rich conversation going on in the region; we can learn from each other.
Our next step needs to be one of greater engagement between institutions in this region and those in the West. If the first part of the conversation started in the West and moved East, and now there is a lively conversation occurring in the East, we need to close the loop and drive the conversation to engage the West where our experience can offer valuable insights.
A failure to offer feedback to the long-established liberal arts programs outside of our region would represent a real missed opportunity for the nascent institutions of Asia.
While microscopes are her favorite, pen and paper characterize another aspect of Raj.
The road to the lab
In a house tucked among Mysore’s iconic palaces and temples, a young girl was bending over, trying to breathe life into her portrayal of a lotus – her hometown’s traditional flower. This scene, far from being an anomaly, soon became a signature of the house, leading the girl’s parents to be confident that their daughter would pursue art.
The girl, now in her twenties, finds herself indissolubly linked to biology, a discipline whose embodiment of artistic creativity often proves elusive to many.
Born to a pair of doctors in Mysore, a royal city steeped in Indian tradition, Professor Samhitha Raj enjoyed a happy childhood alongside supportive parents. That probably explains her undaunted advancement towards the male-dominated field of science in a country where academia is still ridden with discrimination on the grounds of caste and gender.
“My parents didn’t discourage me from going into science,” Raj said, her eyes sparkling with pride and gratefulness.
Raj’s enthusiasm for science, particularly mathematics and biology, was spotted early and nurtured all the way through university as she opted for a degree in Bioengineering. Yet, it was not long before she realized she had a propensity for scientific thinking, at which point she decided to follow the calling of biology in the next phase of her life.
“I got my undergraduate degree in Bioengineering because I like biology and I love math, so I wanted to combine the two. But then I realized I didn’t think as an engineer. I thought more as a scientist,” Raj said.
This momentary insight led to a career of longevity. From that moment onward, Raj dedicated herself to understanding the core of biology, which, for Raj, began at themolecular level.
During her six years at the University of Michigan, where she worked as a graduate student, Raj conducted research into the role of thyroid hormones in modulating DNA methylation in the development of the vertebrate brain, a topic that has enthralled her ever since.
Albeit guided by her burning passion, Raj’s career path was no bed of roses. Raj recollected falling victim to sexual harassment during her stint at an Indian research institute, which hindered her from focusing wholeheartedly on her project.
“I felt no gender-based disparagement in terms of opportunity,” Raj asserted. “But the inappropriate behavior of some male colleagues at that institute reflected badly on my experience as a female scientist.”
Beyond the lab
A scientist by profession and an artist by instinct, Raj was also a journalist, though for only a while. Upon graduating from JSS Science and Technology University, she made her foray into journalism by attending a few courses that spanned a total of one year. Reminiscing about this unique endeavor, Raj concurred that adding the journalism chapter to her all-science storybook was a wise move.
“My whole pursuit had been science, so I wanted to try and see what journalism was like. As part of the practice, I had to redefine what I had done previously to make science a topic understandable to everybody,” she recalled. An ability to communicate sophisticated scientific findings to the layperson was what Raj acquired from those journalism courses, extricating her out of the ivory tower that isolates researchers from the outside world.
Take a look back at Raj’s history, and none should be surprised that when she talks about writing, she doesn’t solely mean writing on paper. Since university, Raj has tried writing into space, and now considers bringing it into her classroom.
“During my years at college, I choreographed classical Indian pieces,” revealed Raj. “I’ve talked with Jill about the possibility of a class that combines yoga and Indian dancing. We will see.”
In the wake of her cross-field experiences, transdisciplinarity appears to have permeated Raj’s life and mediated her choice-making mindset. Last September, from the other half of the globe, Raj traversed oceans and fields for a job interview in Vietnam.
The interview turned her life, as a scientist, upside down. She was co-opted onto the team of Founding Faculty Members at Fulbright University Vietnam, the country’s first non-profit liberal arts institution.
While the term ‘liberal arts’ brings music to the ears of creative artists and social scientists, it, in the conservative’s eyes, is a curse on the career prospects of natural scientists. Hanging in the air is the question of how a natural scientist may make a mark in a university where the laboratory goes by conspicuous absence, and education is interpreted as an integrative project rather than the in-depth exploration of any predetermined discipline.
This problem, however, doesn’t seem to demoralize Raj. The lotus in the lab remains optimistic about what the future holds in store for her, possibly because she sees transdisciplinarity as a vehicle for scientific fluidity.
“The university will support me in whatever ways it can. And personally, I have to make a choice. I made the choice that to me, teaching science is a little bit more important than doing research work,” Raj smiled. “I love collaborating with other faculty members here to get different perspectives, and the transdisciplinary learning is really what I’m looking forward to.”
In Module 5 of the Co-Design Year, Raj instructs the Grand Challengescourse with KinHo Chan, a Fulbright neuroscientist. Set against the backdrop of a tumultuous century, the course strives to harness a common ground between disciplines in identifying, analyzing and tackling pressing issues ranging from climate change to genetic engineering. So, instead of experimenting with microscopes, Raj is having fun experimenting with the big wide world.
Dang Thi Hoai Linh
(Student of Co-Design year)
- Photographer : Nguyen Nhu Phuong Anh
Fulbright University Vietnam wishes to announce our annual conference on New Approaches to University Education in Asia. The 21st century has witnessed an unprecedented globalization of education, alongside the development of new pedagogies and epistemologies rooted in transnational research and local context.
What does the future hold for higher-education in Asia? What role will policy, the liberal arts, fine arts, STEM, and everything in between play in re-shaping minds, nations, and regions?
We invite educators, scholars, researchers, graduate students, experts of practice, and all other interested individuals to join us at our Fulbright Crescent Campus in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, April 20-21.
Ho Chi Minh City is one of Asia’s most dynamic cities – a vibrant center of innovation in business, culture, and education.
Examples for topics of interest include:
- Big Problems in Liberal Arts in Asia
- Engineering in/as a Liberal Art
- Policy and Practice in Higher Education
- Cognitive Research in Education
- Teaching Contemporary Literature, Art, and Cinema in Asia
- Tradition and Modernity in Higher Education
- Assessing Innovation
- Transcending Disciplinarity
- Integrating Fine Arts and Engineering
- The Classroom as Laboratory
- The Space of the University
- University Mental Health
- Teaching Ecological Consciousness
Thanks to generous supports from Coca-Cola and Fulbright University Vietnam, we are pleased to announce that all presenters will receive partial financial support for costs related to travel, lodging, and food. Additionally, we can offer support with publication following the conference proceedings in the form of an ISBN number.
The general submission deadline isFebruary 28th, and submissions will be evaluated on a rolling basis. We encourage all interested participants to submit an application byFebruary 10th to ensure accepted presenters have sufficient time for visa applications.
Interested participants are also encouraged to propose their own session.
For more information and to submit applications please visit our website at: https://conference.fulbright.edu.vn
Please forward this call for papers to any party who may be interested.
About Fulbright University Vietnam:
Fulbright is a new university built on American academic traditions offering innovative, rigorous, and independent teaching and research programs concentrated on contemporary challenges. Our undergraduate program launched September 2018 with a Co-Design Year, which brings faculty and students together to design the curriculum before the inaugural academic year in 2019.
Fulbright emerged from the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program, a partnership between the Harvard Kennedy School and the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City.
Now known as the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM), our graduate school is proud to be Vietnam’s center for sound public policy teaching and research. To learn more, please visit: http://fulbright.edu.vn.
Minh Ha confessed: “To be honest, the decision to study at Fulbright is one of the most suitable decision I’ve made for myself. Many told me that choosing the best school is more important; but for me, the most important thing is to find a place where I can truly feel belonged.
I love social activities and Fulbright is one of those places that provides me with the skills, the knowledge, the passion, and even the partners to help me realize my dreams.
What I love most about Fulbright is that you know your professors and your friends will help you explore your ideas, no matter how crazy or naive they may seem.”
According to Da Ly: “I am not saying that Fulbright is better than any other universities; but Fulbright is definitely different from what I perceived a university would be like.
Life at Fulbright is as open as you are willing to expand your horizon. I now have to wake up early to do homework instead of staying up late like before, but that is my choice.
I now have to work on different small projects with my classmates. Unlike before, when I had to explore new grounds and find resources on my own, now I have all the help I can get from the Fulbright community, from how to shape my ideas to how to realize my them.”
Phuong Thao shared: “When I came to Fulbright, I started realizing what it is like to be respected, to express my thoughts freely without the fear of being judged, and to build my own future.
Fulbright is an open environment that allows us to think out of the box. Our ideas can be crazy at times, but they are definitely unique.
Everyone here is friendly and supportive. The tea ladies are willing to share food with us anytime. The nice photographer always takes nice pictures for us to post on Facebook. The professors do not hesitate to play games together with us in the dorm. And there are many more stories like that. Fulbright is a family.
In my last feedback I have to Ms. Pam, I told her that Fulbright was beyond my expectation. I could imagine what a university would be like in other countries such as America, Canada, or Singapore. I also knew that Fulbright would be an open environment. But honestly, when I study at Fulbright, I think it is even better than what I imagined.
At Fulbright, we can choose to focus on what we are really interested in. We can freely share our thoughts and have the opportunity to follow through with our ideas. I have to say there is no boundary to limit our creativity at Fulbright.”
With Thuc Khang, “if you like to explore, to experience new territories, my advice for you is to apply to Fulbright. Fulbright is a place that always welcomes you to express your true self. Studying at Fulbright, you will become a real adult, living indepently away from your family.
Fulbright gives me the opportunity to be as creative as I can be, to pursue my dreams, or even to explore my limits so that at the end of the day, I have to say: “Wow, I’m actually very good.” And that is Fulbright.”
To Thuy Linh, “the environment at Fulbright is something so unique that I get to experience for the first time. At Fulbright, everyone is equal, even if you are a student, a faculty, or a staff.
If you don’t hesitate to dream and challenge yourself in a completely new environment, I think Fulbright may be the right place for you.”
High school and university students may register to attend faculty interviews taking place May 17-18, May 20-21, and May 23-24.
Fulbright would like to invite high school and college students to our Faculty Interviews in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City from May 17th to May 24th. You can choose to attend one or multiple days (Please note that students who choose to participate in two consecutive days will be given priority). If you’re interested in attending, please submit the form below by noon Saturday May 12th, and we will contact you shortly afterwards.
Classes will be conducted in English.
Register to attend the Faculty Interviews here.
If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.