The Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM) held the graduation ceremony for 54 students from the 2020 class of Fulbright’s Master in Public Policy. The graduation ceremony took place in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic with a number of students taking part online. All the faculty and students present at the ceremony gathered in the solemn yet cozy space of the school campus with their hearts filled with emotions as they ended a nearly two-year journey together.

Just like in previous years, FSPPM leaders and faculty named the graduation ceremony Commencement as they expected that FSPPM students will set off on a new journey for the next strides in their career and life after enriching their knowledge and academic skills with Fulbright’s master program.

Prof. Pham Duy Nghia, MPP Program Director, reminded participants of many generations of FSPPM students who got the access to a modern education to become leaders, economic experts, managers, policy analysts, and responsible citizens who contributed their parts to the country’s reform efforts.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pham Duy Nghia

He said that the 54 graduates of MPP19 and MPP20 classes this year would follow that same invaluable tradition of the school to represent new balancing forces in the society, including an increasingly reforming public sector, a dynamic private economy and a diverse civil society that increasingly reflect the interests and aspirations of the people.

Dr. Tran Thi Que Giang, FSPPM Faculty member, told students there are two sides of a degree scroll: its front honors the name of the new MPP20 Master, while its back embodies the entire journey leading to this honor.

“It symbolizes the journey of every student, hard wired with the obsessive 8:20 deadline, filled with challenging exams and essays, happy and sad memories with friends, teachers, schools, and family during his or her study time. The front of the degree is indeed a continuity. We all know today is called Commencement, or a new start, a new journey that follows the one just has been passed.

“The value of the degree you are about to receive today, is not just the knowledge you have learned, because knowledge is never static but changing and requiring constant updates. More importantly, these are the habits, methods, and thinking that have been harnessed, experienced, and practiced with intensity, instilling the core values in each and every Fulbrighter that resonate through our ability to self-learn, to think critically and constructively with evidence, through the spirit of public service, integrity, and professionalism.”

Dr. Tran Thi Que Giang

Với nhà trường, di sản các học viên để lại đó là nguồn cảm hứng và tạo động lực cho giảng viên cũng như lãnh đạo trường trong việc thiết kế, điều chỉnh, xây dựng khung chương trình, đổi mới từng môn học hay từng bài giảng.

As for FSPPM, these Fulbrighters’ legacy is the inspiration and motivation for the faculty and school leaders to design, adjust and build the teaching framework as well as make reforms to each subject or lecture.

“You are the ones who contribute to build, preserve and spread the values of Fulbright school. Without your active participation, the classes would have been less exciting, the teachers would have been less enthusiastic. Without your involvement, the values of Fulbright school would have stayed here in these four walls and never been known by the society and community,” Giang emphasized.

Traditionally during FSPPM graduation ceremony, a keynote speech is delivered by someone who has social prestige and makes considerable contribution to the public policy and management segment. Lawyer Truong Trong Nghia, a National Assembly member, is that one in this year’s graduation. He shared his personal story about how he kept updating knowledge and his thinking to make further progresses. He told students if they failed to enrich their knowledge, change their mindset and learn new things, they would not do their jobs well and would lag behind in this rapid changing society.

Overcoming challenges

In his congratulations sent to new MPP holders online, Dr. Ian Bickford, FUV Provost, emphasized the values practiced at Fulbright and FSPPM, including a commitment to public service and social responsibility.

“And education, we believe, is the bedrock of service to others and responsible citizenship,” he said.

Dr. Ian Bickford joining the Commencement virtually

Dr. Bae Yooil, FSPPM Lecturer, said the difficulties stemming from Covid-19 pandemic over the past few months had given him some enlightenment.

“I realized again how blessed it is to be in a good community. I learned again how much our students relied on each other, taking classes, doing group projects and writing theses in tight schedules. You became real brothers and sisters while studying at FSPPM,” he said.

According to Dr. Bae, it may be said that the purpose of studying public policy is to understand decisions that affect people’s daily lives and learn how to solve problems. However, one of the goals of public policy education he wants to emphasize is cultivating good citizens, good community members, and good society.

Vo Thanh Trung, a graduate of MPP2020-LM class, expressed his gratitude to the leaders and lecturers of FSPPM for their dedication and patience, guiding students throughout the three semesters.

“The profound lesson we all went through was resource allocation. For me, the takeaway is that the relationship between Resources and Effectiveness is nonlinearity. This is most evident when we faced the impact of the acute respiratory infection pandemic, severely disrupting our thesis progress. With thorough consideration, Dean of the school made two decisions. The first one, which increased implementation duration, allowed us to significantly increase the quality of research. The second decision, definitively ending the execution period, created the highest efficiency for the whole process.

“We have been facing the barrier of thinking every day, being afraid of differences in thoughts, subjective or fear of changes. With the knowledge acquired from Fulbright school, we are overcoming those barriers, full of inspired thinking, to take on the responsibility of being the leaders of change.”

MPP Graduate Vo Thanh Trung

Ho Bao Tram from MPP2020-PA class said she had received a great deal of added values at FSPPM.

“I have been greatly expanding my knowledge, broadening new perspectives, and learning to approach problems more calmly from various dimensions. Specific memories or stories may fade away, but I believe that the core values learned from the school, including integrity, discipline and spirit of service, will always accompany us.”

MPP Graduate Ho Bao Tram

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

Covid-19 has highlighted stark differences in crisis management approaches and responses by different states. These differences are determined by the prevalent legal and governmental traditions found in each country. As Assoc. Prof. Pham Duy Nghia argues, this healthcare disaster once again emphasizes the importance of public leadership and governance: despite different growth approaches adopted by each country, effective crisis management requires a responsible elite group and a competent executive government backed by civillian trust and support.

Over 400 participants watched and discussed with Associate Professor Pham Duy Nghia, MPP Director at Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, on the topic: “Covid-19 pandemic: An analysis from legal and public governance”. This is the second seminar in the online policy series hosted by FSPPM faculty during this April and May to discuss the lastest developments of this global epidemic from different perspectives.

As a leading public policy research and education institution in Vietnam, FSPPPM faculty has been observing the Covid-19 pandemic closely to come up with timely and authoritative analyses to support their policy recommendations.

Two divided responses: East vs. West

Reviewing the global responses to Covid-19 in the last three months, the dominant strategy adopted by most countries has been “flattening the curve” and mobilizing resources to contain the outbreak. However, some discernible differences emerged in how each country responded.

In late January, when the pandemic broke out in Wuhan and surrounding areas forcing China to issue massive lockdown procedures in some provinces, epidemiologists warned the possibility of a global spread. While Asian countries with vivid memories of the disatrous SARS in 2003 were fully aware of the dangerous consequences of a possible outbreak, Western countries showed a somewhat indifferent attitude. President Donald Trump’s tweet in February argued that Covid-19 was not as dangerous as seasonal flu, a disease which kills thousands of Americans every year. Some European governments, for instance the U.K. and Netherlands, advocated for a so-called “herd immunity”, tolerating the infection rate of 60% to create community-wide protection. It was not until March when the pandemic spiralled out of many government’s control, with infected cases and mortality rapidly escalating, that these countries began to establish more suppressive measures.

Even when the threats of an epidemic call for pressing state intervention, measures adopted by different nations varied in extent and effectiveness between Eastern and Western states, according to Professor Duy Nghia. More aggressive measures were typically adopted by many East Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, and more, curbing the spread. Infected areas established lockdown, suspicious cases were quarantined, social gathering were limited, schools were closed and masks were made compulsory in public. Some countries even comtemplated using controversial measures such as various digital tracking apps. Meanwhile, European countries’ only recommendation to citizens was t practise social distancing. Masks in public were also not compulsory. It was not until March when infection cases overwhelmed the healthcare capacity in some countries that governments did resort to national bans on public events.

So far, it can be confirmed that early efforts to curb the transmission of Covid-19 diseases in Asian countries have been  more effective considering the lower rate of infection and mortality. Among success stories, Vietnam stands out, given the constraints in national resources and healthcare system, for maintaining infected cases under 300 with a record of 0 registered deaths.

On the contrary, the pandemic is taking a severe toll on more developed and wealthier nations in U.S. and Europe with infection numbers accelerating daily with no clear signs of these countries passing infection peaks.

A lesson in crisis management

From the fight against Covid-19, according to Assoc. Prof. Pham Duy Nghia, there are many important implications on how to develop a competent and responsive government.

“During a crisis, whether a state is democratic or authoritarian matters little; the ability to correctly identify and respond to threats to the nation is much more important.” How one government recognizes threats predisposes their attitudes to counter these threats. On the other hand, European and U.S. states missed the first precious weeks or even months to act, while drastic measures during later stages are not as efficient to recover control of the situation.

Even when the government is fully aware of the dangers, the decision to intervene or not, and at what extent, are affected by careful considerations of trade-offs between costs and benefits, between economic growth or public health. Western countries were hesitant to act against the outbreak, too unwilling to forgo economic growth, and missed the golden opportunity to effectively contain  the disease.

After priorities are determined, available resources should then be mobilized to counter against the pandemic. That said, resources should be allocated to the healthcare sector to counter against the transmission. Prof. Nghia noted that transparency contributes to the effectiveness of counter measures. The success of Vietnam and other countries imply that constant updates on the state of the pandemic can help stakeholders make rational decisions, contributing to strengthen social trust and consensus.

To manage a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, empowerment and trust to authoritative experts should be prioritized. Professor Nghia cited the terrible consequences when populist leaders ignore the warning of healthcare experts to please some voter groups. For example, the  Brazilian president insisted that Covid-19 is just inflated fears and threatened to fire the Brazilian minister of health. The president himself also joined anti-lockdown protests. To this day, Brazil remains the country most devastated by Covid-19 in South America with 45,000 infected cases and 3000 reported deaths. Likewise, the UK, Italy and some other countries are regretful for their populist decisions in early stages, as leaders decided to please voters rather than base their decisions on evidence-based analyses from experts.

 Pathways to a competent government and responsible leaders

From those observations, Dr. Pham Duy Nghia argued that “an advanced market economy without a competent government and responsible leaders can lead a nation to disaster just as well when confronted with emergencies like Covid-19 pandemic.” Advantages of the market economy, such as property rights, freedom of enterprise, freedom of contract are undeniable. However, differences in Eastern and Western historical and cultural traditions leads to various approaches to build a competent government and responsible leadership.

The speaker explained that Asian cultures with great emphasis on community values can tolerate partriachal governments and place greater trust in governmental institutions. As a result, citizens are more tolerant of governmental measures restricting their freedom of movement or enteprise to mitigate the outbreak. Some are willing to give out their personal information in “tracking smartphone apps” to circumvent the spread of the disease and protect public health. These governmental and cultural traditions reinforce public support for Asian states’ containment decisions. Civilian support for the government’s policies laid the foundation for Vietnam’s success in mitigating the disease. Dr. Nghia cited the survey of Dalia GMbH stating that 62% of respondents believed the intervention measures of the Vietnamese government were appropriate, the highest consensus among 46 nations in the survey.

The Covid-19 pandemic also demonstrated the fact that policies are crafted by elite groups, although all governments claim to be by the people and for the people. Therefore, a selfish elite group seeking to secure their own interests instead of being accountable to public interests can push one nation to disaster.

One clear example is the lack of transparency observed in some responses to the situation that saught to protect the interests of ruling groups, even in democratic societies. The Japanese government was denounced for their confusing and obscured pandemic statistics, as well as their late declaration of the state of emergency. The Abe administration is currently criticized for deliberately hiding the reality of the pandemic to keep the Olympics 2020 from being cancelled. On the other hand, U.S. journalists found out that advisor Peter Navarro had submitted two policy memos (dated 29th January 2020 and 23rd Fenruary 2020) warning the dangers of  Covid-19, both of which were ignored by Trump offices, fearing that drastic measures may send the U.S. through an economic downturn, diminishing Trump’s chances to be re-elected to the White House. The consequences of turning a blind eye to these early warnings have had severe and deadly consequences: the U.S. topped the world with the highest number of infected cases, and deaths.

Confidence in Vietnamese legal traditions

With early achievements in the fight against corona virus, Dr. Pham Duy Nghia encouraged Vietnam’s confidence in its legal traditions, and observed that legal identity and public governance in Vietnam are shaped by multiple factors, including political commitments, the legitimacy of ruling groups in Vietnam, international commitments, the code of conduct in the private sector, civil society and domestic communities, and the soft power of global multinational corporations. Besides, similarly to other Asian countries, the cultural, religious beliefs of Vietnamese people also remain influential factors. In other words, “while law assumes a supreme position in some countries, in Vietnam law is an additional resource when other social responses fail to achieve their desired outcomes.” This explains why Vietnam can quicky contain the pandemic with resource contraints, since pre-existing community groups and behaviours boost the quick implementation of pandemic measures.

“The question now is after the crisis, how should Vietnam take advantage of these diversified resources to come up with policies backed by great public support?” asked the professor.

As a keen observer of legal reforms in Vietnam over 30 years, Dr. Pham Duy Nghia believes this question is increasingly important considering that Covid-19 is fundamentally changing the dynamics of globalization and international commitments, a primary factor motivating legal and institutional reforms in Vietnam.

Viet Lam

Professor Pham Duy Nghia has officially assumed the position of MPP Director since July, 3 . He succeeds Dr. Huynh The Du, who served as MPP Director for the last four years. In his role as MPP Director, Du has made a significant contribution to the transformation of the MPP program from FETP to FSPPM.

Du is also a program director who is loved and respected by many generations of students.

He is a leading legal scholar in Vietnam and has been with the Fulbright School since 2009.

In mid-2017, Professor Pham Duy Nghia is invited by the Supreme People’s Court to join its 12-member Case-Law Advisory Council.

Before joining FETP in 2009, Professor Pham Duy Nghia was the Chair of the Faculty of Business Law of Hanoi National University’s Law School. He then became the Dean of Law Department of the University of Economics of Ho Chi Minh City.

In the process of transforming FETP into FSPPM, Professor Nghia initiates the idea of establishing a Leadership and Management Program – a brand-new MPP concentration that FSPPM will begin enrollment this Fall term.