In July 2019, Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management has earned its accreditation from Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA), and entering the international network of leading public policy institutions. To international academics, NASPAA accreditation is commended as the “gold standard of public policy and management education.”
To Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh and his colleagues, NASPAA accreditation is the first medal obtained in their relentless race towards higher international standards over the past decades. Preceded by the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program, the current FSPPM, had already firmly established itself as an outstanding public policy research and education institution within Vietnam. Yet complacency and contentment with the status quo or past glory have slowly eroded the foundations of many formerly successful organizations.
As such, international accreditation is not merely seeking recognition or prizes. Recognizing the pitfalls of “self-comparisons”, the board of the school set in motion the process of “benchmarking against the world”. As Dr. Tu Anh puts it, “International accreditation is not our ultimate goal. We want to initiate the internal transformation to becoming a distinguished academic organization in the region and the world, striving towards the highest standards in academics, and making meaningful contributions to Vietnam society through our quality research and education activities.”
Impressed with “breakthroughs made by FSPPM in its search of international recognition,” Dr. Terry Buss, former Dean of Carnegie Mellon Public Policy School in Australia believes that “Fulbright School has great potential to be among reputable institutions in Asia Pacific region.”
Internal pressure to move forward
In its early days, FETP was hidden away in a small alley on Vo Thi Sau street, where classes with foreign lecturers were accompanied with interpreters and Vietnamese teaching assistants for language aids. It would be hard for these early cohorts to imagine their successors would one day take classes at prominent universities such as Harvard and confidently interact with international classmates and world-renowned scholars at these institutions.
The short course “Firms, Market and Economic Development in East Asia” last August at Harvard Kennedy School created a fantastic experience for Ms. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Diep, Class 2020 of MPP Program – Leadership & Management. In over two weeks, participants attended courses by around ten professors, distinctive scholars in their respective fields and discussed the successes and failures of domestic firms as well as their effects on one nation’s growth and economic development.
“Despite its duration of around 2 weeks, this Harvard course was packed with astonishingly diverse and useful knowledge. Learners were immersed in the admirable learning environment of Harvard, debating and contemplating novel ideas with scholars well known for their academic achievements and deep understandings of Vietnam and its region. The instructors are always willing to answer in great detail long-standing questions we had. We are exposed to unique and diversified perspectives on controversial political and economic issues and practise essential skills for effective leadership and management in the public and private sectors,” noted by Ms. Diep.
Dr. Tu Anh believed that sailing FSPPM students to greater oceans and exposing them to international academic environment with foreign professors and classmates in world-acclaimed institutions is a strategic move of the school. In the past two decades, Fulbright worked hard to “localize global knowledge” and contextualize universal theories to equip leaders and managers with market principles and advanced management skills during the country’s transition towards reforms and modernization. However, the school has currently changed its focus on training the next generation of leaders with a “global mindset and willingness to make a positive impact on any fields they are devoted to, be it public or private.” A proven recipe for success, promoted by FETP for the last 20 years, is “to be excellent. The bar needs to be risen to allow to reach the world. International exchange programs will motivate our students to improve and compare with their international peers,” explained Dr. Tu Anh.
In return, Dr. Douglas Elmendorf, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School, a long-standing academic partner of Fulbright believes there are many wonderful learning opportunities for Kennedy students when they participate in exchange programs with FSPPM.
“To a certain extent, challenges currently facing Vietnam are not uncommon to those we are grappling with in U.S., though set in a different institutional context. Therefore, the two schools (Kennedy and FSPPM) are shouldered with one same mission to address these global challenges. Knowledge transfer will drive innovation and transformation. I believe Kennedy students can gain a better understandings of development challenges confronted by developing countries and foster their new perspectives and experiences,” stated Dr. Elmendorf.
Continuing innovation – the DNA of pioneering institutions
“Benchmark against the world for knowledge innovation” is the philosophy adopted by Fulbright since the first days, unlocking the great potential of this 20-year-old institution to achieve even more. This philosophy inspires Fulbright to keep on innovating and improving beyond the school’s established reputation.
In order to meet the changing needs of labor market, innovation at Fulbright is not limited to the expected Master of Finance, Law or Business or to introducing new training programs, such as the Master of Public Policy in Leadership & Management. Innovation is woven into every level in FSPPM’s quest for solutions to Vietnam’s developing challenges, with issues ranging from urbanization, energy security, climate change, land reforms, and the environment, to sustainable development more broadly. Dr. Tu Anh revealed that his faculty are in talks with their Harvard colleagues to develop joint research initiatives serving as reference framework for Vietnam policy makers – a combination of universal knowledge and local policy actions.
One of the challenges Vietnam needs to address, according to Thomas Vallely, Director of Vietnam Program at Harvard University and founder of Fulbright Economics Teaching Program and Fulbright University Vietnam, is how to develop cities sustainably. Megacities such HCMC and Hanoi in particular should fulfill their great potential to be growth engines, driving Vietnam to the next level of modernization.
Mr. Vallely believes that Fulbright has a mission to pioneer the most urgent development issues facing Vietnam’s growth, and therefore needs to redefine its direction to be more involved in policy research and dialogue focusing on megacities, particularly HCMC, given the lack of effective urban development strategies in Vietnam at the moment.
Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh and his faculty share this view. In recent years, they have been proactive in their policy consultation projects for the HCMC government, ranging from making HCMC into an international finance center to research solutions that will improve the city’s transportation network reduce the environmental degradation common in urban cities.
Fulbright researchers have to that effect a huge advantage unique to our modern times. They have at their disposal more accurate and more reliable research tools, as well as many avenues to utilize big data. Although large dataset research is only introduced at a few public policy institutions in the world such as Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech for their research purposes, Dr. Tu Anh believes utilizing big data in research activities are instrumental for leading public policy institutions forward in our era of digital transformation. To keep abreast with this trend, FSPPM quickly recruited outstanding big data experts into its faculty, such as Dr. Huynh Nhat Nam, who has over 10 years of experiences in working for Australian government and universities in big data projects and developed simulation models for urban infrastructure networks. Soon after joining Fulbright School, Dr. Nam and his colleagues have successfully earned a research grant worth 10 billion VND from Vingroup Innovation Foundation (VINIF), opening the path to harnessing big data to develop optimal and cost-effective operations for the HCMC public transport system.
Recently, as the world is hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, FSPPM has been particularly engaged in policy consultations for the central government as well as HCMC authorities. FSPPM research teams built simulation models to describe and explain the underlining dynamics that govern the spread of Covid-19 in HCMC, one of the two pandemic hot spots in the country. The research findings are expected to provide policy makers more accurate information and forecasts as basis for proper and timely policy responses to contain the epidemic. To provide the general public with expert analysis on Covid-19 developments, Fulbright faculty have also led public webinars to discuss the implications of the virus on Vietnam from different perspectives, from economics to public health, law, or public governance.
Dr. Douglas Elmendorf, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School, celebrated in Vietnam in January 2020 the 25 years anniversary of the two school’s partnership, and was quite impressed with how FETP and FSPPM grew over time, never losing their pioneering momentum while maintaining their commitment to public service.
“Nowadays, there are few problems that can solved solely by the government or private sector. Greater cooperation from all stakeholders are required for any effective solutions. I believe Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management is best positioned to build these relationships and enlarge the views of challenges facing Vietnam today,” noted Dr. Elmendorf.
- Việt Lâm