In 2010, during the graduation ceremony for Fulbright School’s first Master of Public Policy cohort, the late Prime Minister Phan Van Khai remarked that he himself had learned a lot, especially about the market economy, through discussions with a group of Harvard and Fulbright professors. Such knowledge, which he “successfully applied during his tenure, contributed to the development of the country”.

As the Prime Minister of Vietnam from 1997 to 2006, he was one of the technocratic leaders with the most substantial contributions during the country’s reforming and opening period. He also played an influential role in establishing the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program, the predecessor of the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management at Fulbright University Vietnam today.

His deep connection with the Fulbright School stemmed from a study trip to learn economic reform lessons from East Asian countries, organized by a group of Harvard professors who founded the School in the early 1990s. At the time, Mr. Khai was the Vice Chairman of the Council of Ministers (the equivalent position to the current Deputy Prime Minister). He and other senior officials in charge of the economic sector in the state apparatus then learned methodically for the first time the core pillars of the market economy – from supply and demand, prices, exchange rates, to the import-export mechanism – concepts that were still extremely foreign to those who had just come out of the centrally planned economy.

The then Prime Minister Phan Van Khai attended the graduation ceremony of the inaugural Master  Public Policy cohort

Although the Doi Moi process started in 1986, “Vietnam’s development programs, guidelines and strategies were still very vague and exploratory” because “very few people understood the principles of economics,” recalled Professor Thomas Vallely, Director of the Vietnam Program at Harvard University, who organized the study trip that year.

The impression from this trip was so profound that later on, Mr. Khai became an avid advocate for the idea of a training program in applied economics for Vietnamese leaders and officials taught by Harvard professors, at a time when the relations between the two countries still had not fully normalized.

That was because Mr. Khai, along with other visionary Vietnamese leaders at that time, understood that more than ever, the country needed leaders with knowledge and a market economy mindset in order to successfully lead the transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy.

Later, Dr. Jonathan Pincus, Director of FETP from 2008 to 2013 noted that FETP “was an excellent idea born at the right time”.

A factor that shaped the Fulbright School in its early days was the emergence of Asian economies and the aspiration of Vietnamese leaders to be a part of the historic movement where the economic center of the world shifted from West to East,” said Mr. Pincus.

Overcoming numerous obstacles and challenges from both sides, eventually, Ho Chi Minh City, which had been considered a “laboratory” for innovative ideas in the early Doi Moi period, was chosen to be home to a Harvard training program. In January 1995, the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP) was officially established, only half a year before Vietnam and the United States normalized diplomatic relations.

Dr. Jonathan Pincus, Director of FETP 2008-2013

Foreseeing Vietnam’s path of reformation

When the Fulbright School was established, the founders faced different choices and they made strategic decisions that set Fulbright apart from any other economic or political training program in Vietnam even later on. It was a decision to not target central-level officials like the typical approach, but to focus on modern economic knowledge and improving management capacity for local government officials instead.

In the early 90s of the last century, access to modern economic management knowledge was a luxury for local officials,” explained Mr. Vallely.

This decision of the Fulbright founders also came from keen observations of Vietnam’s reform trajectory when Mr. Vallely and his partner, Professor Dwight Perkins, Director of the Harvard Institute for International Development, visited Vietnam and did a survey here in 1989. They found that Vietnam’s crucial national economic reform was largely driven by local reformations, which were later often described as a journey to “tear down” the old mechanism from the bottom up.

These ‘jumping the fence’ actions, such as the discreet ‘agricultural land allocation’ movements in localities on the verge of renovation were meant to ‘emancipate’ production and business activities that have been suppressed for too long in the old mechanism. These reforms were successful because they precisely hit local pressure points. When central-level leaders observed that these experiments succeeded locally, they felt confident and bold enough to enact them into national policies,” Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Director of the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, explains.

Professor Thomas Vallely, Director of the Vietnam Program, Harvard University and Harvard University President Catharine Drew Gilpin Faust at the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program in Ho Chi Minh City.

Professor Thomas Vallely and students from the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management during a short course at the Harvard Kennedy School.

According to Dr. Tu Anh, FETP’s decision to focus on training local officials, therefore, showed ‘a deep understanding of the reform trajectory in Vietnam’ and such incredible ‘foresight’ that even to this day, he still feels truly fascinated and grateful about.

As a result of that strategic decision, a community of more than 1500 alumni from 62 out of 63 provinces in Vietnam has become an invaluable asset of FSPPM today. They have contributed to forming an excellent class of officials and civil servants of Vietnam in the Doi Moi era, pioneers who created positive change in their own communities.

Mr. Seth Winnick, U.S. Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, shared a story with Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh which happened more than 10 years ago. Whenever he went to localities in Vietnam and met Fulbright alumni, he could recognize them almost immediately by their distinct expression of the “Fulbright DNA”. He even coined the term “FETP Index” – a province with a high index means there are many FETP alumni working there and they are definitely at the forefront of innovation and reform in Vietnam.

The outstanding contributions of FETP alumni didn’t just take place locally. Many people, after serving in the leadership role of a particular province or department, have been promoted to the Central Government to lead the planning and implementing of important policies at the national level.

In 2013, Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc, then Deputy Prime Minister, led a delegation of high-ranking Vietnamese officials to attend the Vietnam Executive Leadership Program (VELP) – a joint initiative of the Vietnamese Government, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Vietnam Program at Harvard University, and FETP.

Global knowledge – local action

When it first started, FETP did exactly what was “requested” by the Government of Vietnam at that time, which was to impart the most up-to-date knowledge on market economy to state officials, in accordance with the context of the country.

We then taught neoclassical economics courses the way you would at Harvard, with the Harvard Kennedy School’s curriculum being translated into Vietnamese in a way that was easy to understand,” recounted Mr. Thomas Vallely.

Mr. Cao Van Trong, former Chairman of Ben Tre province was one of the first students of FETP. Before entering in the program, he had already obtained a bachelor’s degree in industrial economics from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics. However, a year at FETP for him was an entire journey of “reconstruction”, from his knowledge to vision and thinking.

We learned very new knowledge about micro- and macro-economics, about the economy management tools, especially the two very important tools in the market economy: fiscal and monetary policies. But the most significant thing that I learned from Fulbright is the approach and mindset that dissects an issue from many different angles. That is a timeless value,” said Mr. Trong.

Taking it a step further, when FETP has built trust with the society and with the government system, the lecturers were able to boldly put real Vietnamese practices at the heart of the training program. Harvard’s famous “case study” method was modified by the lecturers to suit the Vietnamese context, which Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh often likened to the journey of “Vietnamizing global knowledge”.

2008 marked a historic milestone for FETP when it changed from a 1-year applied economics training program to a 2-year master’s degree program in public policy – the first Master in Public Policy program in Vietnam. Transcending the framework of a traditional economic training program, the School had begun to venture into the “sensitive” but increasingly urgent issue in Vietnam: public policy, public management, and public administration.

That was because, as explained by Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, after more than 20 years of renovation and integration into the global economy, Vietnam had entered a period when the old driving forces of growth had gradually become outdated and required the apparatus to introduce drastic reforms, especially in terms of institutions. The decisions were no longer simply to “emancipate” from the old mechanism as before, these reforms must be relevant to the vivid, creative, and multi-dimensional realities in the drastically changing context of Vietnam and the world.

Former Trade Minister Truong Dinh Tuyen was one of the regular visiting lecturers of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program.

In order to solve these increasingly complex policy problems, leaders and executives needed to be equipped with new knowledge and mindsets. Therefore, Fulbright School’s faculty members have made constant efforts to create new knowledge that caters to the needs of the time. There are Fulbright “specialty” subjects such as Regional and Local Development, Public Investment Appraisal, Law and Public Policy… Every lesson at the Fulbright School has now turned into lively discussions about practical problems facing Vietnam.

From environmental and energy policy for the Mekong Delta region, to the strategy to promote infrastructure development projects following the public-private partnership (PPP) model, or even the strategy to build Thu Duc into a smart city, each graduation thesis of Fulbright students has been very practical policy analysis that they can continue to pursue after returning to their daily work.

Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh and students of the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management during a field trip to study about Regional and Local Development in Hue

According to a veteran Vietnamese diplomat, it is the journey of engaging in the center of socio-economic development of Vietnam over the past 25 years, reflected in the constant efforts to update the curriculum to accommodate the needs of the community and provide the country with high-quality human resources has helped “Fulbright to become the only international educational exchange program that still continues to reach new heights”.

While other projects came to an end, FETP has now become the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM), one of the first 10 public policy schools in Asia and the first in Southeast Asia to achieve accreditation from NASPAA – the “golden standard” of public policy, public management, and public administration schools around the world.

When they put down the first bricks to begin the construction of a humble school, located in a small alley on Vo Thi Sau Street, the founders of FETP could not have expected that it would go this far. Right now, Fulbright is not only “the most important educational legacy in the Vietnam-US relations”, but also an “invaluable intellectual property” of Vietnam.

Viet Lam

On June 27, Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM) organized an event to introduce the Master in Public Policy program for the 2020 school year to interested parties, with the participation of FSPPM alumni and faculty members. 

FSPPM alumni shared their stories and learning experiences at FSPPM, testifying to the quality of training and the values fostered at FSPPM. 

One such alumnus is Nguyen Xuan Ha. In November 2019, Ha decided to quit his job at a foreign-invested company to work for a small-scale Vietnamese private company. This constituted a tremendous change for someone who had worked in foreign-invested firms for more than 20 years.  

After graduating from Foreign Trade University’s International Business Economics concentration, Ha applied his skills to shipping, logistics and freight forwarding. He advanced in his career path through various management positions, from head of sales department, to head of procurement unit and trade director.

As an experienced manager, he signed up for FSPPM’s Leadership & Management class of 2020. This is when, on the cusp of completing his master’s, he decided to quit his job at a German group to become the CEO of Cargo Care Logistics Corp, a Vietnamese private company with only around 70 staff. 

“It was a very challenging time for me. Just two months after taking the job, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. The global economy and supply chains were badly affected. As for those working in logistics like us, the impacts also came from US-China trade war. When Covid-19 became a global pandemic, logistics firms, especially small ones, were really hit hard,” he recalled. 

Nguyen Xuan Ha

With the survival of the company hanging in the balance, he outlined a plan for major restructuring, re-assessing the effectiveness of business activities and the productivity of the staff. At the same time, Ha was still halfway through finishing his thesis, and decided to apply the lessons of leadership and economic management gained at FSPPM to solve his company’s problems. 

As Ha explained, this was the very time he realized that what he was learning in class had real value as effective tools to adapt to changes and challenges. He understood that classroom knowledge could really equip him with the necessary skills to drive the company out of a crisis. 

“I made the best use of what I had learnt from Fulbright school,” he emphasized. Nearly half a year after the Covid-19 outbreak, the company weathered the storm, regained stability, and resumed normal operation. 

Fulbright spirit 

Is this master’s program right for you? And if so, which concentration should you pick? When considering a graduate program in order to continue their education, or to upskill in the face of challenges, these questions are very important, recognized Prof. Pham Duy Nghia, FSPPM Director.

Public policy is an interdisciplinary major, and thus is not reserved for those working in the public sector. Highly applicable and drawing from a wide range of disciplines, it has become increasingly attractive to those from the private sector or working for social institutions. 

“No matter what your background is, you’ll find something relevant at Fulbright school,” Nguyen Thi Xuan Huong, a student of MMP2020 class, claimed. 

In 2015, Huong was selected as a Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) fellow for a short course at Fulbright Economic Teaching Program (FETP), the precursor to FSPPM. That was her first time getting acquainted with Fulbright school. She was impressed with the dynamic and modern learning environment at Fulbright. 

No matter what your background is, you’ll find something relevant at Fulbright school – said Nguyen Thi Xuan Huong

In 2018, she found herself in need of policy-related knowledge for her job as a communication strategy consultant for NGOs. She did a little research and remained impressed with FSPPM’s training reputation and prestigious faculty, but felt somewhat reluctant when considering our undergraduate program’s strong economic and quantitative base, given the fact she held a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a social sciences background. 

In the end, she decided to apply for the graduate program at FSPPM, trusting it was the best public policy school in Vietnam. Although the program offered many courses focusing on economics, its methodical teaching framework quickly shored up her economic knowledge. With her serious learning attitude, she shot up to become one of the best performing students of MPP2020 class. 

“No matter where you are working in, economic or social areas, you will find something suitable for you at Fulbright. I was not left behind in this environment because I was inspired by and learned a lot from my classmates and professors. The key to surviving any challenging program is finding the best learning environment for you,” she explained. 

Over the past 25 years of its history, FSPPM witnessed quite a few students who had joined the graduate program and then returned to study again. 

Nguyen Xuan Dinh, deputy director of Vietcombank’s East Dong Nai branch, was a student at FETP in 2004. In 2008, he came back to pursue our Master in Public Policy program. 

During the event, he shared some of the memorable moments of FETP’s K9 class in 2004, when FETP was just a small institution tucked in a back alley on Vo Thi Sau Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. 

Nguyen Xuan Dinh

“There were 70 students in my class, who came from 56 provinces and cities across Vietnam. We lived together, studied together in the campus for the whole year. No one ever thought of going back home to visit their families because of the academic stress. We became close, even more than peers in college. After graduation, everyone returned to their hometowns, but we still kept in touch and supported one another in our work. There is one thing special about the Fulbright alumni community: you may not know each other, you may have never seen each other, but you can know they graduated from Fulbright after a short talk. There is a “Fulbright DNA” that helps us recognize each other easily. In my case, I’ve had several business partners from the alumni network. That Fulbright spirit really helped smooth our work,” he shared. 

The network of Fulbright alumni is one of the proud legacies of our school. Fulbright alumni work in various sectors and come from many parts of the countries. The Fulbright spirit is the thing that binds them together, helping them connect and support one another in their life and career path. 

A pioneer in public policy

Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, FSPPM’s leading professor, said this year’s event reminded him of a momentous moment, a short year past. In the middle of last year’s event, he received the news of FSPPM’s accreditation by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). He had immediately shared the good news with the prospective applicants right then and there.

Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh emphasized the school’s core principle: to be the pioneer in public policy teaching and research.

FSPPM was the first public policy school in Southeast Asia and among only 11 public policy institutions outside of America to receive the accreditation. 

When talking about FSPPM’s vision, Dr. Tu Anh emphasized the school’s core principle: to be the pioneer in public policy teaching and research. Accordingly, the school binds the public, private and civil society communities together in its public policy training environment. 

“From the structure of courses to the structure of students, our school always tries to connect all these communities. We aim to create a mini version of society in the class, involving all kinds of people that are related to policy: from policymakers in central and local authorities, to people working in private companies, university lecturers, and NGO staff. This will create a multi-dimensional space for discussions and debates, a public policy training in tune with the real world,” he explained. 

The professor further emphasized the keystone of FSPPM education: global knowledge is always localized, ensuring that the lessons learned fit in the Vietnamese context. And not just the knowledge: FSPPM students are also equipped with thinking methods, perspectives and attitudes towards current issues they can directly employ to bring forth constructive solutions tailored to Vietnamese society. 

In this year’s admission event, FSPPM for the first time held two demo classes for applicants to assess the teaching quality of the school. Prof. Pham Duy Nghia presented a case study: the Hanoi Urban Railway project for the Cat Linh-Ha Dong route. Case-study teaching was pioneered by FSPPM for our Master in Public Policy program and further refined over more than a decade. FSPPM inherited the cases archive from Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School and has been constantly adding Vietnamese cases ever since. Students could approach international cases, compare them with Vietnamese cases, and draw key lessons for Vietnam. 

Led by Prof. Le Thai Ha, the second demo class introduced micro-economics through the lens of “Consumer Benefits and Policy Analysis”. 

In her lecture, Prof. Ha discussed social welfare, a highly relevant topic in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, a multitude of  governments around the world provided a variety of aid packages to families and companies in order to alleviate its negative impact on human lives and economies. Prof. Ha provided an in-depth analysis and insightful commentary on the effectiveness of these aid programs and how they affected consumer behavior.

Prof. Pham Duy Nghia

Xuan Linh

In 2019, the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management’s Master of Public Policy degree (MPP) became fully-accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) in Washington, DC (NASPAA) (https://www.naspaa.org/).

NASPAA accreditation is the most prestigious award a public policy and management school can receive. The School became one of only 11 non-US schools to be accredited worldwide: only 187 schools in total have to meet NASPAA’s rigorous standards. There are nearly 400 public policy graduate programs in the US seeking this accreditation. No other Vietnamese or ASEAN school has achieved a western accreditation at this level.

Whereas nearly every school usually fails to achieve accreditation in its first year, and most candidate schools have not yet attained NASPAA standards, the School did so on its first try. Not only that, but NASPAA found no major deficiencies, but cited many best practices that might be employed by others.

Earlier in 2008, the School became the first graduate school in Vietnam to offer an MPP degree. In 2016, the School was authorized to award the MPP under its own imperator. Prior to this, the School awarded the MPP under the National University of Economics in Saigon, with which it had partnered for two decades.

NASPAA accreditation is daunting.

Dr. Terry Buss, Fulbright School’s Senior Advisor on international accreditation

The NASPAA Process

NASPAA requires approximately two years of intensive work to complete the accreditation process. The first step is for schools to submit detailed information and statistics, demonstrating that they are eligible to undergo the process.

Next, schools prepare a report demonstrating that they have met NASPAA’s rigorous standards that reflect state-of-the-art best practices, innovations, and performance characteristics of the world’s most prestigious universities.

NASPAA is evidence-based, looking at a school’s mission, goals, and objectives; faculty qualifications and performance; student achievement academically and in the job market; infrastructure and financial resources; classroom facilities; strategic plans, and curriculum.

Some, but not all, of the evidence developed by the Fulbright School included…

  • Surveys of alumni; employers; and government and business leaders.
  • Surveys of current students upon enrollment and graduation; student class evaluations; and student opinions on student services.
  • Outside expert evaluations of course curricula; student exams; student homework; and graduate thesis evaluation.
  • Verification that students had mastered the policy and management curriculum.
  • Studies of alumni jobs (types and salaries) obtained after graduation; program satisfaction; use of knowledge on the job.
  • Analyses of admission practices, enrollments, grading, marketing, and counseling/advising.
  • Assessment of the School’s website, brochures, and marketing materials.
  • Comprehensive program evaluations.

The School chose several exemplar universities in the region to see how closely it mirrored their best practices.

A report documenting evidence is then prepared and submitted to a panel of 20 or so NASPAA members who are experts in all aspects of administering policy and management schools. The panel reviews the report and requests additional information or documentation as necessary. The School also employed outside experts to review the report before submission to NASPAA.

School leadership and faculty met with NASPAA leadership in Beijing to here presentations on state-or-the-art practices. For example, how to succeed in employing video conferencing and online classes.

Next, a site-visit team is sent to the school to verify the claims in the report to NASPAA in a four-day visit. The team consists of two senior faculty persons from NASPAA accredited schools and a public administration practitioner. All three must have expertise in theory and practice. Site visitors may review any data, reports, student exams, and theses, or documentation they like. This usually includes confidential interviews with faculty and students.

The site visit team then reports back to the panel who thoroughly review their findings against claims and achievements in the report.

NASPAA insists on in-depth faculty and student participation in preparing the report.

The faculty gathered data, prepared sections of the report, and voted on any changes in School policy, procedures, or data gathering. Students and alumni participated in focus groups to offer their opinions about the School.

In addition, the School enlisted internationally-recognized experts in policy and management to help the faculty think about best practices, options, and strategies necessary to become a world-class program. Part of this effort included “in-service” capacity-building opportunities for faculty to stay abreast of the latest learning in public policy and management. For example: developing and writing up case study materials geared to the Vietnamese experience, but based on the Harvard University case study model.

Dr. Terry Buss at a seminar in the Fulbright School.

Why Pursue Accreditation 

NASPAA accreditation has numerous advantages.

Students graduating from the School can rightly claim that they received a world-class education, recognized everywhere. This helps in applying for jobs, seeking a doctoral degree, or transferring course credits to US and western universities.

Faculty can burnish their credentials when changing jobs, seeking grants and contracts, or competing for academic rewards.

The School can attract visiting professors and guest speakers to embellish the program. Accreditation helps attract outside funding.

The School has numerous partnerships made possible through accreditation. For example, the School recently partnered with the National Academy of Public Administration (www.napawash.org) in Washington to pursue joint projects, exchange faculty and fellows, and offer courses and seminars. NAPA is an organization, chartered by the US Congress, whose members are elected for their lifetime contributions to public policy and management. It is considered the highest honor for practitioners and academics.

So, with this foundation, the School now has the potential to become a leading institution in the Asia-Pacific region. It is already well on its way to doing so.

Evidence of Success

Receiving accreditation is the ultimate indication of a successful program. The most important indicator in my view is the 1,300 alumni. Whenever the School offers a program, the alumni show up. Whenever the School needs help or support, the alumni respond “whatever you need.”

Other indicators are that 90% graduated from the program, and 95% are employed in public policy and management positions.

When the school held an information session for this year’s class, several hundred potential students showed up, and another 10,000 viewed the event online.

Dr. Terry Buss (NAPA Fellow, Fulbright School’s Senior Advisor on international accreditation)

Over the 25 years of development since establishing the Fulbright Economic Teaching Program, and its successor Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM), we have always given precedence to the growth of the Vietnamese faculty members and teaching program.

For the first 15 years, Harvard Kennedy School actively assisted FSPPM with technology transfers to ensure it met the strictest academic standards. Built on this foundation, FSPPM continuously developed and reformed its teaching program, a relentless effort that was recognized in July last year, as the school was accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administrations (NASPAA).

The road to accreditation began in May 2017, as FSPPM Director Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh met over Skype with NASPAA chairman David Birdsell and other experts to learn more about the international accreditation process of NASPAA. 9 months later, in early April 2018, Dr. Tu Anh and Prof. Terry Buss of the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration and chief strategy advisor at FSPPM arrived in Beijing, China, to attend a conference held by NASPAA.

 

 

The aim of the conference was to exchange ideas and establish relations with the network of more than 300 member schools within NASPAA. FSPPM leadership and faculty prepared a special document called a Self-Study Report to be reviewed by NASPAA leadership. This is when Dr. Tu Anh and Prof. Buss met with Prof. Jeffery L. Osgood, chairman of NASPAA’s Commission on Peer Review and Accreditation (COPRA) in Beijing, and directly presented the document.

Prof. Osgood and other COPRA experts seemed surprised as they perused it on the spot. As they mentioned, the report was impressive, comparable to a final report as it would be submitted before qualifying for the accreditation. 

Once returned to Ho Chi Minh City, FSPPM leadership received an email from COPRA asking the school to submit an Eligibility Report to COPRA before their mid-April deadline. COPRA also recommended that FSPPM send a proposal asking for permission to send their Self-Study Report in August the same year.

FSPPM members involved in the process only learned recently that our school was the only one in the world to receive exceptional permission. Indeed, under NASPAA regulations, Eligibility Reports and Self-Study Reports must be submitted one year apart; accordingly, FSPPM was supposed to submit our Self-Study Report in summer 2019, with an expected accreditation date in summer 2020 at the soonest.

Four months after the Beijing event, FSPPM’s file was put in NASPAA’s waiting list, joining around 400 public policy graduate programs in America alone.

In late July 2019, FSPPM was officially accredited by NASPAA for a period of 7 years, the highest possible accreditation outcome. FSPPM is the only public policy school in Southeast Asia and one of 11 public policy institutions outside America to be accredited. Among 300 NASPAA members, only 187 met the strict standards demanded by the accrediting board. 

Looking back at FSPPM’s history, we realize NASPAA’s accreditation is not an overnight victory for the school. It is the result of relentless efforts to improve teaching quality, forging onwards for over two decades. 

Harvard legacy

Cuộc họp của FSPPM với NASPAA tại Bắc Kinh

When the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP) started in 1995, American founders wished to equip Vietnamese policymakers with modern economic management knowledge to support Vietnam in their transition to a market economy. The project was assigned to Harvard Kennedy School with the aim of creating a mini version of HKS’s teaching program in Vietnam. 

FETP’s first professors came from leading American universities. They were very excited to lecture on neoclassical economics at FETP the way they lectured at Harvard, with the curriculum compiled from those of American universities. 

Looking back at those days, Dr. Tu Anh claimed this Harvard legacy was a precious foundation for FSPPM. Vietnamese managerial officers did not only absorb economic management knowledge from a modern curriculum but also received direct academic assistance by dedicated professors from Harvard and other American universities. Some professors stayed in Vietnam for a whole semester, some traveled back and forth many times in a year. 

After a while, American professors realized Harvard’s curriculum should be localized, rooting deeper into a Vietnamese context. Based on their research, observations, and experiences, they started to incorporate Vietnam’s current issues into their teaching framework. 

At that time, FETP was the only school in Vietnam to have courses such as Investment Project Appraisal and Development Finance. In developed countries, these majors may sound familiar, but for a transitioning economy like Vietnam where the need for reforms was most urgent, those concepts were crucial to bringing fresh perspectives to Vietnamese policymakers. 

NASPAA Delegation visited FSPPM

For classical courses such as Microeconomics, Macroeconomics or Econometrics, FETP professors always tried to include practical cases from Vietnam in their lectures so that students could apply what they learnt to solving economic management issues in the country or analyzing Vietnamese policies. 

Gradually, this localized teaching program became the hallmark of FSPPM’s identity and a legacy that the school is proud of. 

Reaching for the highest international standards

In 2008, FETP’s one-year training program on applied economics was upgraded to become Vietnam’s first Master in Public Policy program. With an interdisciplinary approach and evidence-based teaching and research, it aimed to solve the problems facing Vietnam’s policy community. 

Above all, FSPPM devised a more ambitious plan: to reach for the highest international standards as applied by leading universities in the world.

With the stable development of academic training and the rich experiences of honored Vietnamese faculty members such as professors Nguyen Xuan Thanh, Pham Duy Nghia and Huynh The Du, the Fulbright school set out to challenge and assess the quality and effectiveness of training. Before being accredited by NASPAA, our school invited outstanding lecturers from the University of California (US), the University of Washington (US), the University of British Columbia (Canada) and Duke University (US) to conduct two independent appraisals of the school’s training program, first in 2009 and then in 2016-17. 

“Using thorough appraisals by partner schools with their own standards is how our school affirms our training quality. We do our best to give our diverse student community access to the globally recognized education they deserve. Through academic excellence, we can ensure they are equipped with the skills they will need, preparing them for various career opportunities in diverse areas after graduation,” Dr. Tu Anh emphasized. 

Chau Ngo Anh Nhan, former student of the MPP2 class, said the outstanding feature of Fulbright’s training program was the provision of a basic theoretical framework for students that offered new possibilities to analyze real-world issues for consulting and policymaking. Additionally, Fulbright school focused on providing analytical methods and skills so that students could make effective decisions and have a positive impact on society.

Ho Quang De, deputy director of Phu Yen Province’s Finance Department and a former student of MPP2 class, highly appreciated how the training program intertwined theoretical work with case studies, keeping at the forefront the policies affecting the lives of Vietnamese people every day, and comparing them with what is happening in the world. 

“This helps students to deeply understand and flexibly apply these theories to solve real problems or put forward the most proper solutions to a problem,” he clarified. Ở góc cạnh khác, học viên Nguyễn Chí Dân, lớp MPP21-PA chia sẻ, điều thú vị đó là chương trình được thiết kế để khai thác tối đa khả năng học tập, mà có thể xem là một thử thách về giới hạn bản thân của học viên.

Với cường độ làm việc dồn dập, các học viên dường như luôn có cảm giác cần thêm thời gian cho việc học. Điều mà tôi thấy tâm đắc nhất đối với chương trình học đó là hầu như tất cả các kiến thức của các môn học đều có bài tập giúp học viên ôn lại và hiểu cặn kẽ hơn từng vấn đề được học”.

Ngo Nu Huyen Trang

Do Minh Tam, a student of MPP21 class, agreed that in comparison with other teaching programs imported from foreign universities, FSPPM takes special care to tailor its program to the Vietnamese context. Along with readings from foreign sources and articles published in prestigious scientific magazines, FSPPM’s faculty always carefully prepare Vietnamese case studies for their lectures. 

“These case studies are really useful and wonderful illustrations for students to better understand the theories. They also act as references for learners to understand about Vietnam and other angles of public policy issues,” she said. 

Nguyen Chi Dan, a student of the MPP21 class with a policy analysis concentration, reflected that the training program was clearly designed to optimize learning within a relatively short time frame, challenging the students to test their limits. 

“With the academic stress here, students always feel that they need more time to study,” he said. 

Ngo Nu Huyen Trang, a student of MPP21 class with a Leadership & Management concentration, remarked that Fulbright’s professors gave their lectures new life in a creative way. 

“The way they lecture always makes us curious and eager to know more about the course. The environment here with dedicated professors and classmates deepens our love for knowledge and motivates us to learn new things beyond the curriculum,” she explained. 

Dr. Tran Thi Mien Chi, a former FETP student, is now a researcher and lecturer in Economics and Finance at Queen Mary University, London. She believes NASPAA’s accreditation is the first step for Fulbright school to join the international academic network and thus make bigger contributions to Vietnamese society. 

Xuan Linh

On July 26th, The Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management received accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administrations (NASPAA), becoming the first accredited public policy school in Southeast Asia. The school’s Master of Public Policy Program is accredited by NASPAA for a period of 7 years, which is the highest possible accreditation outcome that one can expect.

NASPAA is an international accrediting body for Policy and Management Schools. There are only 183 accredited schools in the US and just 8 internationally. Recognized as the strictest accrediting system, it bases its assessment on rigorous scientific evidence gathered to show that students are learning at the highest levels in the profession of public policy and management and that they are highly capable of working in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

“This is a great milestone in our efforts to become a leading policy and management school of graduate education,” said Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dean of Fulbright School.

He also added that “international accreditation, however, is not our ultimate target. It is more critical that we continuously strive for the highest academic standards, setting up to be a world-class institution. We will continue to serve Vietnamese society through our excellent, impactful teaching and research.”

“NASPAA accreditation is considered the highest award recognizing outstanding accomplishments in the field of public policy and management. As testament to the rigor of the assessment, there are hundreds of schools seeking accreditation but less than 200 who have achieved it”, said Dr. Terry Buss, Fulbright School’s Senior Advisor on international accreditation.

The accreditation process ordinarily requires three-years of continuous work in evidence gathering, analysis and evaluation before NASPAA makes an accreditation decision. FSPPM, based on its own high standards and accomplishments was able to complete the process in less than two years.

ABOUT FULBRIGHT SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY AND MANAGEMENT

Founded in 1995, the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (formerly the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program) was a partnership between the University of Economics, Ho Chi Minh City and the Harvard Kennedy School, USA. As the pioneer of education and research in applied economics, Fulbright School has been highly recognized not only for its excellence in teaching and research but also for its impactful engagement in Vietnam’s public policy dialogues. Its alumni currently hold senior positions in both public and private sectors.