Foreign Education Organisations in HCMC: From America to the Netherlands

Education - Saigon/HCMC: April 10, 2017

Going abroad to study is one of the most common dreams among Vietnamese. Families bear high tuition and travel costs to send children to study abroad because, rightfully or not, they place more trust in other countries’ educational systems than in Vietnam’s. For families who can’t afford the costs, scholarships are the way to go.

The Vietnam International Education Development (VIED), established in April 2008 by the Ministry of Education and Training, reports that around 130,000 students are studying abroad today.

study abroad interview

While 90 percent of these students are financially self-supporting, the remainder take advantage of scholarships, both domestic and international. These scholarships work to improve international ties, heal historical wounds and promote closer business ties.

War Wounds on the Mend

These sentiments were shared by Bill Clinton in July 1995 as he announced the normalisation of diplomatic relationships between the United States and Vietnam:

“The histories of our two nations are deeply intertwined, in ways that are both a source of pain for generations that came before and a source of promise for generations yet to come. This shared suffering has given our countries a relationship unlike any other. May our children learn from us that a painful, painful past can be redeemed as a peaceful and prosperous future.”

As of September 2016 the programme has supported nearly 600 fellowships. In addition, the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) has supported 55 Vietnamese visiting scholars to do research in the United States and 42 US Faculty Scholars to teach in Vietnam.

However, the VEF fellowship program has a broader perspective in mind. “When we started in 2000, we wanted to really focus on science and technology in areas that we now refer to as STEMM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine and public health degrees], because we know that the Vietnamese government would support that. Vietnam needs to build new infrastructure. So STEMM was and still is extremely important to Vietnam as they continue to modernise,” Dang says.

As per the legislation written in 2000, VEF stopped awarding fellowship in 2016 and will officially end in 2018. Dang sees that the foundation has done its purpose – inspiring enthusiastic young minds eager to improve Vietnam’s future. In 2016, VEF alumni established an organisation that continues to offer aid to students in Vietnam. To date, they have selected 24 students and helped 10 students gain admission to leading universities in the United States.

Universities on Solid Ground

The end of the VEF certainly doesn’t mean an end to American influence on the Vietnamese education system. As reported by the Fulbright University of Vietnam (FUV), in 2014 the US Congress authorised the US State Department to use the remaining funds within the Vietnam Debt Repayment Fund to create FUV. This money, along with $20 million of American federal grants to the Trust for University Innovation in Vietnam, is currently being used to create this new university.

FUV, being constructed on 25 hectares in Ho Chi Minh City’s Saigon High Tech Park in District 9, plans to use American and Vietnamese instructors and administrators to provide quality education.

Unfortunately, the ghosts of the troubled past between these two countries are not fully at peace. In May 2016, while announcing the plans to build the FUV, former Secretary of State John Kerry also announced that former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey would serve on its board of trustees.

This came as a shock to many, given the fact that Bob Kerrey’s service during the American War included a swift boat raid in the village of Thanh Phong in the Mekong Delta region, part of a free-fire zone.

Vietnam and the United States may use education as a bridge, but the river underneath is still turbulent.

where vietnamese students go

Education, Dutch Style

The United States isn’t the only country interested in Vietnamese students – not by a long shot. Australian university RMIT, for example, has around 6,000 Vietnamese studying at its multiple campuses in Vietnam, and almost 13,000 studying in-country in 2015. One country you might not have suspected, however, is the Netherlands.

The Dutch interest in education comes in the form of the Netherlands Education Support Office (Neso). Neso is itself a branch from Nuffic, the Netherlands’ official education organisation geared towards international education opportunities.

Out of 11 offices around the world, and three in Southeast Asia (Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta and Bangkok), Neso Vietnam is admittedly one of the smallest. Following a cut-back in 2014, Neso Vietnam moved from a separate building to an office within the Dutch consulate in District 1.

From here, 28-year-old country representative Bang Pham works tirelessly to show the youth of Vietnam, eager to gain abroad to use in Vietnam, what a Dutch higher education can offer.

Pham reports that the interest in Dutch universities has been growing. Thanks to his marketing efforts on social media and through education fairs, he is proud to say that since he took over the position in 2014, Neso Vietnam has seen a 75 percent increase of Vietnamese students studying in the Netherlands. Most of the programmes, he admits, are either business administration or in the STEMM fields. However, he gives a good reason for these concentrations:

“In Vietnam, we need a lot of people in water management, in agriculture, in logistics and supply chain. These sectors are exactly the strong fields of the Netherlands.”

These are also the industries in which Dutch companies have FDI presence in Vietnam. Pham cites the Dutch government’s Mekong Delta Plan, a 126-page document written by the Dutch Partners for Water, aware of the Mekong Delta’s current crisis unfolding due to climate change.

Another convenient expertise for Dutch universities is transport and logistics strategy. With a strong history of shipbuilding and trade, the Netherlands understandably have a thing or two to say on the subject. And when you take into account Vietnam’s plans to build up the country’s coastline with a series of harbours by 2050, these two countries become a match made in heaven.

Pham is keen to tap into the Dutch notion of internationalisation: “If you have a classroom with only Dutch students, the problem will be solved by the Dutch way. But if that problem is happening in Vietnam, you can’t have Dutch people solving problems in Vietnam the Dutch way. So you need Vietnamese students in the Dutch classroom.”

Such far-reaching global perspectives seem to make sense for an increasingly connected world.