Twenty-five years ago, Fulbright University's antecedent, Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP), embarked on a journey from the shoulders of a giant, Harvard. After over two decades, Fulbright has emerged as one of the leading public policy institutions in the region, being the first South East Asian school to be accredited by NASPAA.
January 14th, 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of FETP, the antecedent of Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management. Among distinguished guests who attended the ceremony was Professor Douglas W. Elmendorf, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School.
Then FETP and now FSPPM plays a unique role in the diplomatic relations between Vietnam and America. In 1994, FETP was established as a joint program between Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Hochiminh City's University of Economics, at a time before the U.S. and Vietnam had normalized their relationship. Over twenty years (1995-2016), Harvard's Vietnam Program managed the School and helped to educate new generations of Vietnamese policy makers and public managers for the country that has been desperately in need of "trained talents".
Over 1,400 alumni of FETP have worked in the Government, state-owned and private enterprises as well as academic institutions nationwide. They have been playing a pioneering role, contributing to the positive changes of the country for over a quarter of a century and will continue to do so in the future. Two hundred of them attended the ceremony, representing 24 classes that have commenced since the inauguration of FETP and FSPPM.
Moreover, Fulbright has established strong relationships which have significant influence on the nation's policymaking process, via evidence-based research and critical policy recommendations tackling vexing challenges faced by the nation, from the Mekong delta's sustainable development, to institutional reforms. In 2017, FETP was concluded in preparation for the establishment of FSPPM, Fulbright University Vietnam's first academic unit.
Harvard Kennedy School's legacies acted as a launchpad for Fulbright to thrive. In July 2019, one year sooner than anticipated, FSPPM has successfully acquired the accreditation from NASPAA – Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dean of FSPPM accentuated the privilege Fulbright enjoyed "standing on the shoulders" of Harvard.
Vision, courage and unwavering determination
During the ceremony, Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh paid tribute to the departed predecessors, whose passion, brilliance and foresight sowed the seed for FETP. They are Former Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, Senator John McCain, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Co Thach and Director of the Institute for Strategic Development Luu Bich Ho.
Fortunately, the event received Mr. Thomas Vallely, the most devoted and pivotal figure in the establishment of FETP. He is Director of the Vietnam Program at Harvard and now Chairman of Fulbright's governing board, who has just spent his 70th birthday in Hanoi. Professor Thomas Vallely has spent over a quarter of a century leading FETP and founding Fulbright University Vietnam. With his vision, courage and unwavering determination to overcome hardships, he pursued the education mission passionately.
"Today, looking back on the quarter-century journey of FETP/FSPPM, we can proudly state that with strong commitment, clear vision, relentless efforts and valuable support from our partners, we – the Fulbright community – has made possible the impossible and transformed mistrust and conflicts in the past into trust and cooperation of the future," emphasized Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh.
Dean of HKS applauded the fruitful collaboration between Harvard and Fulbright via FETP. The program has now been reconstructed into FSPPM, the first institution in Vietnam specializing in public policy that strictly adhere to the principles of academic freedom, meritocracy, accountability and the most rigorous international academic standards.
"The Fulbright Economics Teaching Program welcomed its first students before the United States reopened a diplomatic mission on Vietnamese soil—a wonderful example of the power of academic exchange to help bring countries together. We are also marking now the 25th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Vietnam and the United States. In the last two and a half decades, our countries have created positive and productive ties, and our peoples have benefited tremendously from these ties", said Dean Elmendorf.
Professor Elmendorf highly appreciated the dedication of individuals from both countries that contributed to the construction and development of Fulbright University, aspired by the commitment to benefit young Vietnamese generations by offering high-quality education, hence realize a better society for Vietnamese people.
"My colleagues and I look forward enthusiastically to continued cooperation between Harvard University and Fulbright University Vietnam. As your university grows and strengthens over time, we want to be part of that process, sharing scholarly interests and goals, and learning together. Today, four of your faculty members are fellows at the Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and one of our students is directing your Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. These individuals are building more connective tissue between our schools, which is in some ways even more important than formal structures and agreements. We look forward to more.
If William Fulbright were alive today, he would be thrilled to see what you have done, and what we and you have done together, to serve the public good, expand education, improve governance, and strengthen governance between our countries," Professor Elmendorf avowed.
President of Fulbright University Vietnam, Ms. Dam Bich Thuy recalled how the Harvard Kennedy School came to Vietnam to offer its assistance in teaching the most up-to-date leadership and management skills to generations of Vietnamese leaders and executives, whose country had just disembarked central planning economy. Now and twenty-five more years from now, Fulbright University Vietnam pledges to fulfill the same promise, to help create new generations of Vietnamese citizens that are not only adaptable, but also capable of bringing about positive changes to an eventful world.
"Utilizing the same formula that constituted Fulbright's success from its beginning days twenty-five years ago, Fulbright University Vietnam will always remain closely relevant to important contemporary issues. I have no doubt that Fulbright can serve best by actively participating in open discussions, to find disruptive solutions that can tackle the challenges we are facing in the country, the region, and the world in general, from climate change, development and conservation, to institutional reforms for a more just and prosperous society," asserted Ms. Dam Bich Thuy.