What’s in a name?

Vietnam, like so much of the world, embraces the”brand”.   Whether high end Gucci or lower end KFC, things with an identity – whether good or not – find a following.

So too it is with education.

The recent hoopla over the Fulbright University of Vietnam has evoked endorsements by the new US Ambassador, press coverage in Vietnam and the US, and a constellation of interests that seem irresistible.  After all , who can resist Harvard, Fulbright, big money and “elite” education?
The Fulbright folks have labored long in Vietnam (twenty years?) so you sometimes reap what you sow. I wish them well. My time here has only been 5 years – although there are days it feels much longer so I am hardly an “expert”.

What I do suspect is that they will be succesful,launching an “elite” graduate focused university with attendant speakers and speeches about cooperation, autonomy, academic freedom, a new chapter between our two countries etc.

It would represent a public relations coup for Vietnam and another notch in the belt for the Harvard-Fulbright axis (after all, rival Yale has its campus aready in Singapore!)

But,in the final analysis is that actually what Vietnam needs; can’t elite and connected students already find countless pathways to American university education?  Doesnt Vietnam benefit more from foundational learning – like english speaking, writing, understanding, problem solving, critical thinking and skill development in fields where there are actual jobs?

But Fulbright and Harvard come with a brand identity and that is hard to resist.  I wish them well, but I would rather see the US government and the Vietnamese government encourage the kind of educational diversity and variety that made the US education system great; all types of schools for all types of learners.


About Dr. Roy Nirschel

Thirty years experience as an educator; international traveler, occasional writer, on a personal journey. Author of My Seasons in Saigon (available at amazon.com). Upon the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States I promised to go to Mexico; I did! Carol and I are here now. In the spirit of full disclosure, I promised to go to Mexico if Hillary Clinton was elected president too. The Seasons in Saigon are over; I am uncertain about Vietnam for many reasons despite my love for the country. Now it is Mexico time.

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