United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Fulbright University Vietnam (Fulbright) have recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish a framework of cooperation in areas of common interest. In accordance, Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM) will collaborate with UNDP to analyze and research economic policies. Together, the two parties will create a forum for scholars, business, Government, and civil society to discuss Vietnamese important economic policy directions and outcomes.

The memorandum also focuses on building capacity of Vietnamese academic institutions to actively participate in economic policy debates and to strengthen relationships among universities, Government, business and civil society. It is a shared belief that constructive dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders will increase public awareness and understanding of policy achievements and challenges, including those relevant to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Vietnam.

These essential and seek-truth-from-fact discussions between the stakeholders – including policymakers, researchers, business, and civil society – about policies, have profound importance in Vietnam’s reform and development efforts,” Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Director of Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, explicated.

The recently signed MOU between UNDP and Fulbright is the development from the collaborative foundation of the Vietnam Executive Leadership Program (VELP). During the period from 2008 to 2012, UNDP cooperated with Vietnamese Government, the Harvard Vietnam Program, and the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (the predecessor of Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management) to provide policy dialog forums for Vietnamese senior executives. Accordingly, the delegates of high-ranking policymakers and executives, usually led by a deputy prime minister or a politburo member, can engage in the discourse with world-class experts deliberating the most significant global socio-economic trends and their implications to Vietnam. VELP was regarded to helping Vietnamese leaders enhance strategic vision and improve policy-making capacity.

Fulbright has a wealth of experience and credibility from a comprehensive and ongoing process of policy and economic research in Vietnam since the late 1980s, especially through the Vietnam Executive Leadership Program (VELP). I believe that Vietnam’s leading scholars and economists at Fulbright will continue contributing to researches and analysis that are independent, objective, insightful, and constructive to forward-thinking policies, increase social awareness about the challenges and opportunities that Vietnam is facing ,” Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam, remarked.

About the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam

The Government of Vietnam – UNDP partnership officially started in 1978, when there was a very limited foreign presence in the country. Since then, UNDP has stood side-by-side with Viet Nam as it began its development trajectory from a poor nation devastated by war to a middle-income country championing poverty reduction and leading in growth.

UNDP’s role is changing in the context of Viet Nam as a MIC country and reflects the overall picture of a evolving partnership, characterized by declining grants and concessional loans. UNDP continues to work closely with partners towards inclusive and sustainable development in the context of industrial revolution 4.0, for a green, prosperous, resilient Vietnam and no one will be left behind.

More information at: https://www.vn.undp.org/content/vietnam/en/home.html

Built on the academic foundations laid by leading professors at Harvard University over two decades ago, the Master of Public Policy (MPP), Policy Analysis concentration (PA) is the longest standing and most established program at Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM). As the first MPP program in Vietnam and the only one in Southeast Asia to be accredited by NASPAA, Policy Analysis is a pragmatic and up to date program, providing learners with a solid background in both economics and policy analysis.

Two years ago, Nguyen Thi Xuan Huong was hesitating to apply for the Policy Analysis concentration at Fulbright School. With her background in journalism, Xuan Huong was overwhelmed with the long list of quantitative and econometrics courses in the curriculum. After careful consideration and multiple recommendations assuring Fulbright is the best place for an education in public policy, she took the risk and submitted her application.

“The curriculum, heavily focused on quantitative and economic courses, was something I initially feared. But it turns out to be what I am most appreciative of in the program. I have been rewarded for taking the challenge. Indeed, there are some demanding courses for those from humanities and social sciences, such as Macroeconomics. I am impressed and touched by the Fulbright lecturers’ dedication and enthusiasm. Academic discipline was established from the beginning, and we are committed to put our greatest efforts in learning. In such manner, our passion for knowledge gradually grew. We are now frequently engaged in heated debates and deep academic discourse with lecturers and classmates alike,” said Xuan Huong.

Student Nguyễn Thị Xuân Hường, MPP20-PA (sitting, center)

To be eligible for the Fulbright program, Xuan Huong as well as other candidates without an economics major had to take some preparatory courses. After two semesters at Fulbright, she realized that quantitative courses are not intimidating to social sciences students alone.

“In my class, even students with a mathematics background sometimes struggle with the tougher concepts in the syllabus. We encourage each other, and to be honest, this is the most difficult challenge I ventured myself into. On the other hand, the demanding curriculum indicates the quality of the Fulbright program and I am motivated to step out of my comfort zone. After two semesters at the school, I am more at ease and confident to continue my academic journey in economics research, realizing quantitative tools introduced in the curriculum are particularly useful and necessary to evaluate policy impacts.” shared Xuan Huong.

In last February, she defended her graduation thesis investigating the relationship between the government and the press in Vietnam, and how national policies shape domestic journalism. This is among the most outstanding theses of MPP 2020, and is slated to become a case study for future classroom use at Fulbright.

Solid knowledge background

The Master of Public Policy, Policy Analysis concentration at FSPPM is a full time program lasting 15 months. The curriculum of the program is inspired by a similar Harvard Kennedy School program, and keeps pace with the most advanced trends in international institutions regarding public policy education, all the while staying in tune with the local context here in Vietnam.

Lecturer Nguyen Xuan Thanh stated that “one of the benefits of the program is eligible candidates are not required to have background in economics or public policy. Fundamental courses in economics at Fulbright are said to match in quality with those offered by specialist schools yet remain of great relevance to our candidates’ careers. With their profound practical experiences, Fulbright faculty help non-specialist students quickly build up a fundamental understanding of economics. After one semester, students have acquired the necessary background knowledge to continue their study in applied economics. Upon the completion of the program, learners possess a solid knowledge in economics.”

Therefore, the program is suitable for candidates wishing to develop a solid background in economics together with an analytical mindset for better decision making, whether they are working in the public or private sector. Similar to other MPP programs in the U.S. and other developed countries, PA students are required to attend a 15-month full time program to accumulate as much knowledge as possible in the shortest time so they will be ready to utilize this knowledge in their workplace.

Attending a full-time program is a trade-off for employees in public organizations and business corporations; however, this curriculum design helps students to take full advantage of the academic dynamics at Fulbright. Ho Quang De, Class of MPP2, Deputy Director of Finance Department at Phu Yen Province, explained:

“I have attended many training programs, yet Fulbright remains the most vivid and fond memory. Of note, first is the academic integrity and discipline that Fulbright instilled in me. I am impressed with each classmates’ passion in finding the solutions to challenges offered by faculty. My classmates and I spent hours together debating and discussing to find out the most effective solutions. Some even pulled all-nighters for research and study. We are all motivated by the devotion faculty has demonstrated to research and study.”

Highly pragmatic program

Do Minh Tam, Class of MPP 2021, disclosed she was astonished with the amount of learning materials provided at Fulbright. In addition to foreign reference materials, required readings also include published articles in prestigious journals and Vietnamese case studies prepared by FSPPM faculty. These case studies hold special significance for learners, as they illustrate best how economic theories play out in our immediate, contextually relevant reality. This also serves to consolidate the learners’ understanding of various aspects of domestic public policy.

Learning materials incorporates textbooks as well as required and optional readings carefully prepared by Faculty through strict selection criteria and updated on OpenCourse Ware. Digital libraries at Fulbright are constantly updated with the latest academic research and books.”

 

Student Đỗ Minh Tâm, MPP21-PA

Besides core courses which are compulsory, students can customize their learning path with a variety of electives. Lecturer Nguyen Xuan Thanh affirmed that Fulbright courses are grounded in economics but very practical and ready to be applied in the workplace.

Students from any sectors can find courses suitable to their own development in the program. For instance, public sector officials can register for Public Economics, Law and Public Policy, and Development Policy. Business managers can sign up for Financial Analysis or Project Appraisal. Local leaders may be interested in Appraisal of Public Investment, or Regional and Local Development.

“My favorite course is Research Methods. Although it is quite an abstract course and does not count towards the final GPA, I find the course especially useful for my study at FSPPM. Economic theories and study skills from this course have honed my ability to search for and assess scientific information, problematize with concise and objective research questions, guide analytical arguments and conduct experiments that confirm or reject the research hypothesis,” said Do Minh Tam, Class of MPP 2021.

Lecturer Nguyen Xuan Thanh elaborated that the objectives of Master of Public Policy, Policy Analysis concentration are not to award students with a higher degree only meant to broaden career opportunities. Graduates from our MPP program can confidently proclaim that they participated in an internationally acclaimed public policy program. More importantly, the program provided learners with an advanced and complex understanding of economics, embarking students on a lifelong learning journey.

Unique identity

The Master of Public Policy at Fulbright is built upon the model developed by Harvard Kennedy School and is continually adjusted to reflect domestic dynamics. This is one unique and distinctive feature Fulbright faculty strived to achieve with the program.

Fulbright pioneered more than a decade ago how to incorporate and utilize case studies as a tool for learning. Since then, many Vietnam universities have introduced this approach using both paper-based and multimedia cases. However, lecturer Nguyen Xuan Thanh noted that, inheriting the valuable stockpile of case studies from Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, Fulbright School can tap into both international and regional experiences.

 

Professor Nguyễn Xuân ThànhThese global cases are supplemented with practical cases in Vietnam by FSPPM faculty who are leading economics experts in the country. The “mix of international and local knowledge” helps learners realize the differences between Vietnam and the world, so that they can apply theoretical knowledge in a more flexible and creative way.

Dr. Terry Buss, senior fellow at the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) and former Dean of Carnegie Mellon School of Public Policy, Australia, was the senior consultant for Fulbright School in its endeavor to obtain international accreditation.

Working closely with Fulbright over the course of 18 months, he explained Fulbright is highly appreciated by NASPAA reviewers for the consistent input from renowned foreign experts in public policy and management. The constant efforts have supported the school on its journey to adopt the best practices and strategies to strive towards becoming a leading institution in the region and the world.

“Among the efforts to internationalize the program, Fulbright faculty are motivated to access to latest trends in public policy and management; for example, how to design and utilize case studies set in Vietnam background with teaching approach from Harvard University,” said Dr. Terry Buss.

 

Dr. Terry Buss

Furthermore, NASPAA accreditation is an opportunity for Fulbright to expand its research networks to leading institutions around the globe. For Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dean of Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, joining the NASPAA network opens new possibilities for Fulbright faculty and students to connect with advanced knowledge. Combined with local understandings, Fulbright can derive valuable lessons and policy implications for Vietnam and the region.

 

Xuân Linh

It is a common misconception that public policy is only suitable for students who wish to work in the public sector. In fact, public policy is increasingly seen as an attractive option to professionals in the private sector and social institutions, a change that can be credited to its interdisciplinary nature and wide range of applications.  

The blurred line between public and private 

When someone asks Assoc. Prof. Pham Duy Nghia, MPP Program Director whether public policy is a suitable major for people from the private sector, he usually answers with the story of a special coffee shop founded by Nguyen Van Duong, chairman of Dong Thap Province People’s Committee, inside the provincial government’s headquarters.

Dong Thap businessmen frequenting the location named it the Chairman Coffee Shop. There, they can meet with provincial leaders every morning for one hour before office hours. 

The place is small, sparsely furnished with a white stone table, and coffee is served free of charge. There, businesspeople have the opportunity to share directly with provincial leaders the difficulties and issues their companies are facing, and even provide critical input or suggestions on current public policies. As a result, many policies were identified as unsuitable or ineffective, and fixed or amended in the process.

As Assoc. Prof. Nghia explained, the spheres of what is considered “public” and “private” are slowly blending. By recognizing that governments cannot encompass all sectors, a vibrant public-private partnership becomes an asset. The public sector has much to gain by cooperating closely with the private sector, and even much to learn in areas where the private sector excels, such as in human resources management and public relations. Mutual understanding and the sharing of successful strategies are key to accomplish administrative goals more effectively. 

Prof. Pham Duy Nghia

Furthermore, the government has to think the way businesspeople think, continues Prof. Nghia. Local public servants should put themselves in the shoes of small business owners and managers. They should treat local people and businesses as their customers, using their contentment as a key indicator to assess the quality of public service and performance of public servants.

A closer relationship also means local residents and businesses can both better understand the intent and implications of the policies affecting them, as well as feel empowered to provide feedback that will further refine how they impact their daily lives and operations. Whether from the standpoint of policymakers or those affected by said policies, it is crucial that all parties understand the scientific foundations as well as the practical implications when considering policy implementation. 

“If you run a small company, you have less frequent interactions with local authority. But if your company grows bigger, so do your company’s social responsibilities. As it scales up, your company should learn to explore public policies and interact more with local authority. Then, maintaining close relations with the general public and local authority becomes a necessary component of your company’s public relations activities, of sound risk management, and to ensure an enhanced social value as well as the sustainable growth of your company,” Assoc. Prof. Nghia explained. 

Diversity 

The study of public policy is very practical and interdisciplinary. It is rooted in economics, political science, law, administration, social sciences, and more. Students of public policy and management come from very different backgrounds, hold different majors, and have varied professional occupations. 

Dr. Scott Fritzen, Associate Professor at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington, said public policy students can come from any sector as long as they are determined to apply what they know and learn on solving problems related in one way or another to the public sector, effecting positive change along the way.

Public policy as a major is rapidly growing, attracting large numbers of applicants in universities across North America, Europe, and other developed countries in the world. Private companies and non-public institutions are showing their preference to public policy degree holders. 

At FSPPM, applicants that have a bachelor’s degree in any major can apply for the Master in Public Policy program, regardless of whether they come from the public, private or civil society sector. 

For Ho Quang De, deputy director of Phu Yen Province Department of Finance and a former student of MPP2 class, the diversity within the student body was what made FSPPM different.

Dr. Scott Fritzen

“There is a balanced ratio of students coming in from different regions, sectors and occupation, making our class a diverse pool of talents. Each member of our class has his or her own understanding and experience of a specific field. This opens vast possibilities to exchange ideas and learn from one another. It also makes the theories we learn become easier to digest, as everyone has a different way to approach them,” he explained. 

According to statistics, 41.2 percent of students studying Policy Analysis at FSPPM are from the public sector, 26.5 percent of them are from the private sector and the remaining are from social institutions, universities, and research centers. 

Meanwhile, 51.4 percent of students studying Leadership & Management at FSPPM come from the private sector, 28.6 percent of them come from the public sector and the remaining come from social and educational institutions. 

Chau Ngo Anh Nhan, a former student of MPP2 class, was a public official when he joined the Master in Public Policy program at FSPPM. He recalled how the teaching program offered an approachable theorical framework that students could lean on to in order to analyze practical issues, as well as provided students with analytical skills so that policymakers could make decisions that bring about positive results for society at every level. 

“The interactions with local and international professors and with other students coming from different sectors will help you analyze the issues mentioned in the class better. After studying at Fulbright, you have the chance to connect with people from different areas, with different experiences, and build a network of alumni that will open the way for future collaboration,” he emphasized. 

The public policy training program at Fulbright has strong foundations in economics. But its most valuable aspect is that it builds in students the capacity to think. It provides them a framework and habits for future self-learning, even for those who do not major in economics. 

Chau Ngo Anh Nhan, a former student of MPP2 class

Applicants are not required to graduate from an Economics majors; they only have to complete foundational courses as required by the Ministry of Education and Training before starting the Master in Public Policy program officially.

“What a professional graduate education in public policy and management provides to students is the ability to integrate across different domains of knowledge: management, economics, politics, sociology, all in the service of solving problems. This is what makes it so unique. Instead of being an expert in any one discipline, any one set of methods, what the Fulbright school is trying to produce are graduates who can flexibly draw from different domains of knowledge and employ them to tackle very real problems societies face, and to communicate that effectively in the real world. That is the single most important skill that will carry the graduates far and wide in the Vietnamese landscape,” Dr. Fritzen concluded.

  • Xuan Linh