Ambassador Kritenbrink Remarks: Fulbright University Vietnam / Trust for University Innovation in Vietnam Joint Board Meeting

Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Hoang Yen Restaurant, Ho Chi Minh City

Ladies and Gentlemen – good afternoon!

It is an honor to address this meeting that joins the Fulbright University Vietnam Board of Directors and the Trust for University Innovation in Vietnam Board of Directors, together with Fulbright University Vietnam faculty, for the first time.

I would like to thank FUV Chairman Kim Bottomly, FUV President Dam Bich Thủy, and TUIV Chairman Tommy Vallely for this outstanding opportunity to talk with you today about FUV and what it means to Vietnam and the bilateral relationship.

The bilateral relationship between the United States and Vietnam is stronger than it has ever been. In every field, our two countries are working together for our mutual benefit – the definition of a comprehensive partnership. If my Vietnamese friends describe our relationship as one with strategic substance, I certainly agree.

Our nations share a remarkable history: after years of war and hardship, together we have forged a Comprehensive Partnership that covers every aspect of the relationship, from defense, to trade, to health, to people-to-people ties – all of which benefit our two countries and the entire Indo-Pacific region.

This includes an understanding of, and mutual respect for, our two political systems. While differences remain in our political philosophies, we continue to build a constructive relationship and deepen cooperation.

Our mission statement and our fundamental goal is for the United States to be a vital partner in supporting the development of a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam that contributes to international security, engages in free, fair, and reciprocal trade, and respects human rights and the rule of law.

We are committed to this relationship and are invested in Vietnam’s future. And this investment is what brings me here today.

There is perhaps no better example that underscores our investment in Vietnam’s future than Fulbright University Vietnam. No more important investment in Vietnam’s future and in our future relationship.

FUV will be Vietnam’s first not-for-profit, independent, liberal arts university. FUV is a remarkable example of the people-to-people ties that strengthen the bonds between our nations on a personal and lasting basis. It is evidence of the great things we can achieve together.

Today, I would like to share my thoughts on what this university means to this country and our bilateral relationship.

The United States has a long connection with the institution we now know as Fulbright University Vietnam. Its predecessor, the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program, trained over 1200 of Vietnam’s top leaders in public policy for over two decades.

FUV represents the next step for Vietnam’s education system. It is the start of something bigger and more vital for Vietnam’s future. FUV takes the best of the American tradition of liberal arts and sciences education and advances it through the lens of Vietnam’s aspirations, identity, and history, as well as its rich cultural heritage. It is building an institution dedicated to serving Vietnamese society through innovations in education and technology, as well as through a spirit of discovery.

Vietnam needs this university. The pace and scale of change in Vietnam has been extraordinary during the past two decades. Half of Vietnamese lived in extreme poverty during the mid-1990s. Now that figure is under 3 percent. According to Boston Consulting Group, Vietnam’s middle class will be 33 million people by 2020, which is roughly one-third of the country. That’s more than double the size of what the middle class was as recently as 2015.

About 30,000 Vietnamese now study at education institutions in the United States. Thousands more go to Australia, Singapore, the U.K., Japan, and South Korea to study. This country’s thirst for modern education is undeniable, and it is the result of rapid economic growth, generational change, and international integration.

Vietnam’s leaders understand this. The central government is gradually extricating itself from direct ideological and financial management of the country’s university system. Higher education institutions are developing the tools to modernize and thrive in this new landscape. Vietnam’s university leaders understand their universities must be competitive and serve many new clients: students, families, communities, the private sector, and other universities in Vietnam and overseas.

Fulbright is helping Vietnam respond to these changes. This university is growing as a laboratory to develop and test new ideas about institutional independence, academic freedom, autonomy, admissions criteria, the relationship between students and teachers, research and development, student life, citizenship, communications, and technology. The success of these experiments translates into success for Vietnam’s education system, people, and society.

This university is also re-defining what an “elite” educational institution is in Vietnam. The first class of undergraduate students pledged an honor code in front of their classmates at Fulbright’s first convocation back in September. I was delighted to receive a framed copy of this inspiring honor code from President Dam Bich Thuy.

What did these 54 students pledge to one another that day? Relentless curiosity. Integrity and honor. To respect everyone’s differences. They expect each other to embrace challenges. And perhaps most exceptionally – the new students pledged to translate their learning into meaningful actions at home and around the world. A Fulbright University Vietnam education will be intricately tied to service.

Higher education institutions are already major actors in the United States – Vietnam relationship. So I expect that FUV will bring our peoples ever closer together in the future, through exchanges, collaborative research, mutual learning, joint problem-solving, and much more. The United States is very optimistic about Fulbright University Vietnam, and we are committed to supporting its growth and success.

Like all countries, Vietnam faces a unique set of development challenges as it continues to grow and change. Nations often discover solutions to their challenges through education and collaboration. FUV’s promise to all of us is to take on this role, to help a new generation of leaders and values emerge and advance Vietnam towards modernization and global integration.

In closing, I would like to re-emphasize a couple of points.

Regarding the U.S.-Vietnam partnership, I’m quite optimistic about our shared future together – particularly when you think about how far we’ve come already.

The history of our two nations reveals the possibilities for peace and progress in our world. Moving forward as partners, we will achieve great prosperity and success for the American people and for the Vietnamese people.

We are committed to Vietnam’s success and development and that starts with its people and supporting institutions. We want to help Vietnam’s “golden generation” realize its goals and dreams.

Again, we are invested in Vietnam’s success and intend to take our partnership – and FUV – to new heights in the years ahead.

Thank you for your time. I would be happy to take a couple questions now, and I look forward to more discussion over lunch.