SEATTLE — The U.S. has partnered with Vietnam to implement multiple programs in order to improve Vietnam’s education system at the university level. The three main programs are the Fulbright University Program, the IMPACT MED Alliance and the BUILD-IT Alliance. These initiatives will help alleviate poverty by allowing impoverished Vietnamese citizens to gain access to education and career opportunities in government, industry, medicine, STEM and more.
A press release on this development from the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Vietnam states that “The United States is committed to supporting Vietnam’s efforts to develop a 21st-century high education system to produce trained, job-ready graduates with the skills necessary to compete in an increasingly global market.” Thus far, U.S. assistance has benefitted Vietnam’s education system by impacting 30,000 university students “through curriculum support, training, and capacity building at the faculty and administrative levels in the engineering and social work education sectors.”
Three Programs Address Varying Needs in Vietnam’s Education System
The first program is known as Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV). This project utilizes more than $20 million in U.S. government investments, and the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam has said that FUV will be the first independent nonprofit university in Vietnam. Some of FUV’s goals include academic freedom, meritocracy, transparency and equal access to education.
Fullbright University in Vietnam was introduced by President Barack Obama in May 2016, who developed the university from a previous teaching program as well as a public policy and development program. The university offers courses in liberal arts, sciences and engineering in order to develop critical skills for tackling large-scale questions, problems and decision making. FUV also offers opportunities for fieldwork, internships, exchanges with other universities and study abroad ventures.
The second major program is titled Improving Access, Curriculum and Teaching in Medical Education and Emerging Diseases (IMPACT MED) Alliance. This is a USAID program with private sector partners. The main goal of IMPACT MED is to help the health workforce address the most pressing medical problems of today, as well as those that may arise in the future.
The third major program is the Building University-Industry Learning and Development Through Innovation and Technology (BUILD-IT) Alliance. This program combines government, industry and academic partners within both the U.S. and Vietnam. Its goal is to connect science, technology engineering and math students in Vietnam with the industries that join as partners. It aims to build students’ professional and technical competencies so that they are able to go into STEM careers after they graduate.
Education Access Still a Struggle for Many Impoverished Vietnamese Families
One of the main reasons for these efforts is that the Vietnamese economy is progressing and changing at an increasing rate. However, many Vietnamese families find that education is too expensive, both before and at the university level, which prohibits many children from even becoming eligible to go to college.
Tuition-free education is promised by Vietnam’s constitution; however, the country’s education is not yet fully socialized. Students’ parents must pay fees for sanitation, traffic guards, gardeners, pens, notebooks and repairs. Secondary schools charge tuition, thus steadily decreasing the likelihood that many impoverished Vietnamese youths will be able to graduate. Universities have similar fees, along with high tuition rates and expensive books and supplies.
U.S. programs such as FUV, IMPACT MED, and BUILD-IT step in to give disadvantaged students the opportunity to attend universities without putting a strain on their parents.
U.S. Programs Can Easily Adapt to Vietnamese Educational Needs
For more information on Vietnam’s education system, The Borgen Project reached out to Brandon Minhvi Dang, a Vietnamese college student currently living in the U.S. Dang, as well as his family, has experience navigating both the Vietnamese and American education systems.
The Borgen Project: As someone with experience in both U.S. university accessibility as well as that of Vietnam, how accessible is a college education to the average Vietnamese citizen compared to that of the average U.S. citizen?
Brandon Minhvi Dang: College in Vietnam was available, but not many people attended because they were poor and taking care of their family. While education is expensive in the U.S. as well, it is more accessible to an average citizen. In Vietnam, the average citizen has less wealth than the average citizen in the U.S. does to spend on education.
TBP: Based on your and your family’s experience with the Vietnamese education system, how will these programs be an improvement on the current system?
BMD: The programs will allow more kids to get an education so they will be able to make more money. The Vietnamese poor are stuck in a cycle of being unable to pay college tuition, so their children go uneducated and get low-paying jobs. Then the children of those people are unable to go to college, as their parents cannot afford it either, just like their grandparents. These programs will be able to break that cycle by allowing impoverished children to get an education that will pay well after graduation.
TBP: How adaptable do you think U.S. college education programs are to Vietnamese culture? Are they likely to succeed?
BMD: U.S. programs are very adaptable to Vietnamese education and culture. The programs take their time to help students learn, rather than rushing to get kids out. Often, Vietnamese children go to school in other countries that offer more financial aid, but these programs will allow them to learn in their own country. The STEM programs in combination with liberal arts will cover a wide array of careers that students could choose to go into, which are in demand as the Vietnamese economy grows.
Hopefully, these joint U.S.-Vietnam programs will continue to have long-lasting and positive impacts on breaking the cycle of poverty in Vietnam and thus alleviate global poverty one step at a time.
– Theresa Marino