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Indiana University leads USAID effort to transform higher education in Vietnam

Mar 11, 2024

University leaders and senior administrators from Vietnam National University - Hanoi, the University of Danang and VietNam National Univers University leaders and senior administrators from Vietnam National University, Hanoi, the University of Danang and Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, visit Indiana University to work closely with IU experts who are sharing knowledge about innovations in higher education. Photo courtesy of PHER Vietnam

Indiana University is leading efforts to equip Vietnamese universities with the tools they need to innovate. For the past three years, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs professor Anh Tran and IU Global associate vice president for international research and development Teshome Alemneh have been at the forefront of transforming higher education through a multi-million dollar initiative funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development called the Partnership for Higher Education Reform project in Vietnam.

Indiana University Professor Anh Ngoc Tran, seen here in the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs building, has dedicated his Professor Anh Tran, seen here in the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs building, has dedicated his career to transforming developing countries. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University“Higher education in Vietnam is moving from a central control system into one that is more autonomous and dynamic,” Tran said. “USAID has been supporting this transition, and Indiana University got engaged as an implementing partner. This gives us the opportunity to bring our expertise to help universities in Vietnam with this transition.”

Tran, who was born and raised in Vietnam, has a long history of contributing to the development of his native home. He created training programs at the O’Neill School for Vietnamese government officials and leads the Vietnam Initiative, a global think tank on development policy that incorporates expertise from IU and other world universities.

Now, in collaboration with IU Global’s Office of International Development, Tran is leading the Partnership for Higher Education Reform. For more than a century, IU has built partnerships that improve lives and strengthen institutional and individual capacity in developing countries. IU Global collaborates with governments, higher education institutions and nonprofits around the world to empower local leaders to become change agents in their home countries.

“My passion is to use knowledge to help transform developing countries, so that is the thing I’ve been working towards for the past 25 years,” Tran said.

The partnership’s team at IU also includes John Baumann from the Office of the Vice President for Research, Victor Borden from the School of Education, Dennis Cromwell from University Information Technology Services, Hye-Seung “Theresa” Kang from the International Development Office, Rebecca Torstrick from IU South Bend and many other leading experts. By 2025, they will have significantly strengthened teaching, research and governance within Vietnam’s three largest public universities.

They are addressing four key pillars to ensure success:

  • Governance: Improved autonomy and accountability at public universities.
  • Teaching and Learning: Improved academic quality and excellence.
  • Research and Innovation: Improved research and innovation capacity.
  • University-Industry Linkages: Enhanced higher education cooperation with businesses and industry.

Inspiring higher education leaders

In the first year, the partnership implemented the Leadership Capacity Development Program to build joint teams to inspire reforms. Each cohort is composed of senior administrators including university presidents and vice presidents from Vietnam’s three public universities. They observed IU models of governance, teaching and research excellence, and university-industry cooperation, which helped them determine action plans.

Capacity Development Program at IU Bloomington in September 2023. A Capacity Development Program took place at IU Bloomington in September 2023. Photo courtesy of PHER Vietnam“The experience, awareness and knowledge gained through the PHER capacity development program have been extremely useful, especially what I learned about university-industry linkages, community service and management information systems, which are areas important to my own work,” said Nguyen Van Tam, vice president of Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City.

“The impact from the course is immeasurable. After working with colleagues at Indiana University who have devoted several years to public universities, we feel confident and encouraged in the path we have chosen and the strategies that we have been implementing.”

In September 2023, more than 100 higher education leaders from 22 universities in Vietnam came to the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses to experience Indiana University for themselves.

“They come here, are inspired by the IU model and learn about how we do things so they can bring that back to Vietnam to adapt and innovate for their universities,” Tran said.

Imparting career skills to students

IU students are also involved in the partnership’s mission. They worked with Vietnamese students on a project designed to enhance career skills and services.

Vietnamese university students participate in an event that is a part of the Career Skills Course designed by members of Indiana Universi... Vietnamese university students participate in an event that is a part of the Career Skills Course designed by members of Indiana University. Photo Courtesy of PHER Vietnam and VTV1

IU Handshake, a tool for connecting students to employers, was presented to Vietnamese universities. This led to the creation of career skill courses to help Vietnamese students map a vocational path, linking their academic degree programs to their career aspirations. The learning activities helped students build their professional profile, master communication skills and develop leadership potential.

More than 300 students from Danang University of Economics, Hanoi University of Engineering Technology, Hanoi University of Economics and Business, and Ho Chi Minh City University of Information Technology participated in the career skill courses, culminating with 180 receiving certificates of completion from IU.

Chris Van Allen was a graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Affairs from the O’Neill School when he became a course assistant for Tran. He helped develop course modules that outlined how successful universities operate.

“I learned a lot for my own personal growth and career development as this gave me much more experience in the international relations field,” Van Allen said. “I felt proud to be part of a project that promotes an increase in global equity in higher education. The work we performed is fostering tangible growth for Vietnamese universities and is a model that can be used globally.

“All students, regardless of location and background, should be able to have the same access to resources and opportunities to advance their knowledge, career opportunities and growth for themselves, their families and their country. I am confident that through our efforts, PHER is actively helping universities and students achieve all of this.”

Innovating research

Dr. John Baumann, the Associate Vice President for Research Compliance of Indiana University, led several coaching sessions on Research Comp John Baumann leads a coaching session on research compliance. Photo courtesy of PHER VietnamTo create dynamic research communities, seven Vietnam International Academic Networks were established across three of the country’s prominent universities:

  • Advanced Materials.
  • Anthropology and Cultural Studies.
  • Economics, Business and Public Policy.
  • Climate Change and Environment Science.
  • Computer Science.
  • Education
  • Health Sciences.

The Partnership for Higher Education Reform brought together Vietnamese and international researchers through the network’s webinars. Other institutions included Dartmouth College, Ohio State University, Central European University and Yale University.

Each network held a summer workshop to support knowledge sharing, build research capacity, provide peer review for emerging scholars, and increase opportunities for joint research and publication.

Baumann, associate vice president of research compliance at IU, was brought in to ensure that the research conducted at Vietnamese universities will meet international ethical norms and standards. This training will ultimately increase the volume of recognized publications and innovations emerging from research efforts in Vietnam.

Impacting the future

The U.S. government has entrusted IU expertise and leadership to prepare the higher-education system in Vietnam for the world stage. The implications of this work will have a lasting impact on the future growth and prosperity of the country and its people.

Dr. Rebecca Torstrick leads a series of onsite in-person training and mentoring activities. Rebecca Torstrick leads a series of in-person training and mentoring activities. Photo courtesy of PHER VietnamThere are many success stories from people across the world who have benefited from initiatives led by IU Global. Serving as a university hub for international development collaborations, the office has coordinated IU’s efforts and led grants that established partnerships in several countries across the globe.

“For over 25 years, the IU Office of International Development has mobilized IU faculty and staff to partner with institutions in the Global South, contributing to improving lives and institutions in these countries and fostering cross-cultural understanding,” Alemneh said.

IU students also have an opportunity to take part in a Vietnamese study abroad program through O’Neill International. Tran offers the following guidance for students interested in international development.

“Working in developing countries is challenging and rewarding,” he said. “You address pressing issues that affect humankind. The goal is to transform across many intersecting areas, such as the economy, environmental issues, public policy and more.

“Attending universities that will train you to improve life for other people is extremely rewarding. What we have at Indiana University is very valuable to developing countries.”


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Nikki Livingston


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