Remarks by Secretary John Kerry at Fulbright University Youth Event

SECRETARY KERRY: Hello. Sit down, everybody. Relax. Nice to see you.

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: (In Vietnamese) John Kerry (in Vietnamese) Hanoi (in Vietnamese) Vietnam. (In Vietnamese) John Kerry (in Vietnamese) Vietnam, Cuba, Iran (in Vietnamese).

It is my great honor to have Secretary John Kerry here. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I got the Cuba, Iran –

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: And Vietnam. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: It’s a great honor to have Secretary Kerry here and to have 100 YSEALI students from Hanoi from – 20 from Hanoi and 80 from Ho Chi Minh City right over thee on our right.

SECRETARY KERRY: Hi everybody.



AMBASSADOR OSIUS: — I meet often with YSEALI students in these cities and in others, and I am very, very happy to say that I think the President’s vision for bringing together ASEAN youth is very successful, and we have the largest number of YSEALI youth from Vietnam of all the 10 ASEAN countries. SECRETARY KERRY: That’s good.

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: And we’re also very honored to have with us today Dam Bich Thuy from Fulbright University Vietnam. It’s one of our most important joint endeavors with Vietnam, and it’s something that we hope that many of you will be able to benefit from directly. So now let me turn it over to my boss, Secretary Kerry, a great, great, friend of Vietnam.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Cam on rat nhieu. You impressed? (Laughter.)

I can still remember a few phrases of things. But I’m really privileged to be here. Thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate that. And what an exciting journey the Fulbright Program is on and the possibilities of the Fulbright University are just extraordinary. We’re very, very committed to it, and I will do everything I can to help you and Tom Vallely and everybody make this a reality.

Thank you for having me today. I’m really privileged to be here with you. And I’m – I am now a veteran of YSEALI because I just came from Malaysia, where I met with a very large group of YSEALI folks who were there for three days in a very intensive discussion about entrepreneurship, and the whole notion of taking an idea and making it into a reality – a product that’s sold or a service that is delivered. And there – the energy that I felt was absolutely extraordinary. It’s not the first time I’ve met with YSEALI folks. So thank you for coming here to energize me today.

And I really look forward to just having a conversation with you. We’re living in such an extraordinary time now. When I grew up, the President of the United States could literally talk to the whole country just by getting four television networks to give him time. So they’d ask for time, and you had CBS, NBC, ABC, and public television – four different outlets. Now we can’t do that anymore. They just – there are 500 or 1,000 or something, just incredible choices. People have amazing choice. And increasingly, wherever I go, I find that your generation is totally locked into this. You’re totally tuned into the possibilities of this kind of communication and so many people sharing ideas on Facebook or sharing ideas through the internet or engaging in trans-boundary, cross-country efforts, because you suddenly meet somebody, you have the same idea, they’re in another country and you’ve met through the internet. It’s really fascinating.

And it provides all of us with an incredible set of opportunities in terms of building support for good ideas, dealing with climate change, working on issues of health and environment, environmental protection. There are so many different things that can come out of this. So for me it’s very exciting to be in Vietnam having a conversation with people here and in Ho Chi Minh City, because when I first came here 20 or 30 years ago, whatever it was, in terms of my life as a senator, it was an age when mostly people were riding around on bicycles. People still couldn’t necessarily talk to strangers because there was a still a law (inaudible) it. It was a very, very different Vietnam. Now, of course, I see your heads nodding. You have unbelievable choices, and so let’s talk about that and let’s talk about the road ahead.

Fulbright University will be an incredible asset to Vietnam, because with academic freedom and with the energy and association with Harvard and all of the things that will come from it, they’ll be just a great asset for this country to take its education levels to an even higher level. And already Vietnam is a leader in the world in terms of literacy and education. And so it’s fun for me to be able to share some thoughts with all of you today.

I’m told you probably have some tough questions. I’ll do my best to avoid them. (Laughter.) No, I’m happy to answer any questions that you have at all. And I want to make sure we give our friends in Ho Chi Minh City an opportunity likewise to get as much chance to share in the conversation.

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: And while you get your questions ready, I just wanted to ask Bich Thuy to say a word to you about Fulbright Vietnam, and then we’ll start with questions in Hanoi and then go to Ho Chi Minh City.

MS DAM BICH THUY: Thank you (inaudible) and Secretary of State. And I think that we have a small exchange (inaudible) event, and I think many of you have known enough about a university more than I (inaudible). So basically, again, I think the questions always in your mind is of what we are going to think, how are we going to close the gap between the current education system in Vietnam and the market that Vietnam is striving for (inaudible) Vietnam (inaudible) includes the region and the world.

So I just want to give you, I think, a very brief description of the structure of the university in the future. There will be three different schools under the Fulbright University. The first school is going to be the School of Public Policies and Management. That will be a graduate training, and the school is going to teach things like public policies, MBA, or law or environmental studies, and we will teach (inaudible) I think, with the evolution of the school.

The second school that I know that many of you are very interested in is the School for Engineering and Applied Science, which is going to teach both undergrad and graduate. And there will be electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, and I think biology technology operate in the future. So all these we fall under that school which many school in the West are now building up and beefing up under the named called SEAS.

The last school, which is I think for me personally it is a symbol of the so-called gold standard of U.S. education. It is a college, Fulbright college, where I think it is going to be a liberal arts approach of teaching, and we hope that we are going to bring to you not only, I think, hardcore science, but it is also social studies of humanities. You will be able to learn art, you will be able to learn even Vietnam studies, which many American university already have.

So basically, that’s how it is going to work, and I hope that by bringing all these three schools together, we, I think, the people who are going to implement, I think, the Secretary’s ideas, I think, 20 years ago and to reflect what Senator Fulbright had been hoping for for any of the programs under this name that the programs should bring a bit of intelligence, a bit of reason, and a bit of compassion so that we can all work together and be successful.

SECRETARY KERRY: He had a great vision. A great vision, yeah. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: (In Vietnamese.)


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, my name is —

SECRETARY KERRY: Hold on for the microphone. There you have.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, name is (inaudible). I have a question as a proud graduate of American college, Bates College in Maine.

SECRETARY KERRY: Bates. Absolutely. In Maine. Yeah, very good.

QUESTION: Yeah, very (inaudible). I’m very glad that you mentioned about academic freedom. I want to ask about some of your discussion with the U.S. Government and Vietnamese Government. What step have been taken to ensure that the academic freedom that prevail at U.S. campuses will be available at Fulbright University Vietnam? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s a good question, and the answer is that it is a fundamental prerequisite for the university. It’s sort of a foundational principle of this university. It will not be able to be what it is setting out to be unless there is full academic freedom, because what we’re interested in is not just training people in what to learn and what to think, but how to learn and how to think, and that can only come about with a very full exchange of ideas and sort of dealing with, as you just heard the president say, the gold standard which will be applied to liberal arts, social studies, and history and so forth. And that requires a kind of freedom, not a doctrine – you can’t have a doctrinaire approach to that. It has to be something where you’re able to journey and ask questions and discover, because in many ways, there could be a different take on history, and if you are not free to think about and choose and decide what’s fact and what’s fiction and what’s true and what’s not, you never really find an ultimate intellectual truth.

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: (In Vietnamese.)

Who would like to ask a question? Please, in the front.

QUESTION: Personally, it’s a great honor to have you here talking to us. And my name is (inaudible) and here is my questions. From your perspective, what internal power or quality that differentiate the Vietnamese student from their counterpart in America and other countries (inaudible)? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry, can you ask – I missed the first part of that. Did you hear it?

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: What differentiates students in Vietnam from their counterparts in America?

QUESTION: Okay, so what internal quality that differentiate Vietnamese student from their counterpart in America and other countries?

MS DAM BICH THUY: What is the internal qualities that differentiate the Vietnamese students from (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s what I thought, that’s what I thought. Well, I have to – look, an honest answer – an honest answer to you is I really don’t know enough about Vietnamese students to be able to distinguish. You could answer that more effectively than I can. I’m sure your president could answer that more effectively than I can. What I do know is that there is a kind of universality with all students everywhere I go. When I was in Malaysia, when I was in Singapore, I spoke with the Management University there.

Everybody wants the opportunity to make their own decisions about how they want to risk their money, or where they want to put their work effort, where they’d like to put their creativity. And what I find is an incredible hunger. I don’t find differences as much as I find a very broad-based thirst for knowledge and for opportunity and for the ability to be able to take an idea in your head and translate it into something real that you can deliver to people or – whether it’s making a product or making somebody healthier or improving people’s lives or whatever it is. I think there’s a commonality, but maybe you have a sense of that difference that I don’t.

MS DAM BICH THUY: So I would like to share my personal opinion, having been also a student studying in the U.S. at a time that there was very little understanding of the two countries and continue evolving with the relationship. And this is something that I always encouraged. I think that young students these days, (inaudible) knowledge (inaudible) forget a lot of internal qualities that the Vietnamese might bring to the workplace or to the academic institutions. I find that I think actually the level, I think probably not only Vietnamese, but that the level, a lot of strong desire for the (inaudible) knowledge. Sometime we just want (inaudible) two plus one just (inaudible) after the degree. That’s one thing.

The other thing is that actually Vietnamese are very, very tolerant. And just with that level of tolerance and perseverance, so we become, I think, a very (inaudible) and institution of cooperation. (Inaudible) the loyalty, believe me. In the world, there’s a lot of people talking about jumping from one thing to another, but one thing never change for humans, for human needs, loyalty.

And so these are the qualities that if we keep it, and it is in our blood, right, in our minds and this core belief, if we keep it, I think that I believe that it will be treasured and we will be successful.

SECRETARY KERRY: Very well said. Very well said. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: (In Vietnamese.)

Okay, I see a hand up on the left, from my side.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary. Can you (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: I can hear you.

QUESTION: All right. So I just want to extend my welcome to you from Ho Chi Minh City. And my question today is: From my understanding, the TPP agreement has not come to an end yet, so what’s your point on that failure and what didn’t happen in the room that caused the agreement to be delayed? And whether or not these factors are contributing to the formation of the ASEAN-Vietnam (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s a good question. No, I think the TPP is on track. There are a couple of difficult issues that have to be resolved between some countries. Vietnam, for instance, has to – most of the issues have been solved with Vietnam, but there is one part – the labor annex – which needs to be filled out. And I spoke with your president today, and I think your government is very much prepared to work very hard with us to help complete that.

Some other countries have some other challenges. There’s a challenge on automobiles still with Japan. There’s a challenge on dairy products with Canada and New Zealand. But that’s the nature of the negotiation. That’s always the way things work. I think what will happen is we can complete this negotiation by the end of this year, and we’re going to do everything possible to work through these differences. When you get 12 nations together, it’s very complicated. I will tell you that having just negotiated with Iran with five other nations – the P5+1 – so there were six of us, all with expertise, all with our own opinions, and we had to come together in order to agree on what we would then negotiate with Iran. So it’s – this is the same thing, TPP.

But here’s why TPP is so important to you, to Vietnam, and to the region: What is important in the world today is to create sustainable economic policies. We don’t want to just – it doesn’t – it’s not just a question of growing. It’s how you grow. You need to grow in a way that doesn’t make you choke to death on the air that you’re breathing because people aren’t being responsible about emissions of automobiles and motorcycles or power plants. You noticed maybe in the last few days President Obama has just put out new regulations, very strict ones, in America for our existing power plants. That’s to deliver on climate change obligations and responsibility, moral responsibility, as well as to deliver on the practical aspects of improving the air quality.

Now, the TPP will raise the standards of doing business so that environment matters, labor standards matter, so children aren’t exploited and people aren’t working in inhuman conditions. And what will happen is it will improve across the entire Pacific, because this goes to Latin America up to North America around to Japan and down through Southeast Asia. And so what it will do is create a Pacific, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a partnership that raises the standards by which we are doing business so that people benefit from that and we build better – what we called shared prosperity so that everybody shares in the prosperity that comes from the work, and the work is sustainable in the impacts that it has on the resources that are being used and on the people who are producing it. It’s a virtuous cycle of production, of entrepreneurial activity, and that’s what we want to have – the strongest possible rules that will raise the standards so there’s a race to the top, not a race to the bottom. And that’s why it’s very important.

We think we will get there, and thank you for asking a good question.

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: (In Vietnamese.)

There are hundreds – I think there were 500 questions on Facebook. We want to start with that, and we’re going to have a question from Facebook.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, sir. I’m (inaudible) Vietnam and here’s a question about (inaudible) here on campus. He’s asked about the qualifications, for instance, to be accepted into Fulbright University in Vietnam, and also the outstanding points of Fulbright University Vietnam against – compared to other educational institutes, especially international ones.

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me ask the president. (Laughter.)

MS DAM BICH THUY: Let me answer the second question first, because I think with my longtime friend and mentor here, Tom Vallely, I just want to say that the Fulbright University was established so that Vietnam can compare ourselves with other institutions in the region or in the world. What we’re trying to avoid, I think, the missteps that we often made in the past and we compare ourselves with ourselves. So let me not try to compare Fulbright University with other current academic institutions in Vietnam, because that’s not the point of what we are trying to do.

But so that leads me to the first part of your question, that is, what is the good thing or the thing that I want to share about Fulbright University. I think that the first thing we want to say is that Fulbright University is going to operate on a very basic principle that – one of these the Secretary had, I think, explained earlier. It will be a nonprofit university. Number two, it will be (inaudible) based on honesty, transparency, and full accountability. The way we teach, it will be the form of open inquiry in exchange with the professor. It is not the professor who dictates. The professor only opens the knowledge and so that (inaudible) and to explore.

So in order to do that, one thing that we – like I shared with you before, I think, we started the event, we strive for this institution not to be only for the rich. It should be inclusive for all type of people in the society or in – yeah, in Vietnam.

So you asked what do you need to be accepted into the university. We just need you to have a strong desire to learn, and your ability to learn and commitment to learn. Many of you have applied for university in the U.S., and I don’t think we are going to divert from what you have seen. And that’s what, in my personal opinion – it is a great way of being an inclusive university.

SECRETARY KERRY: Very good. (Applause.) And I talked this morning with the president – your president of the country – about making scholarships available in order to help people be able to attend.

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: (In Vietnamese.) Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for giving me a chance to pose question at you. I want to introduce myself. I am a diplomat from the ministry of foreign affairs. I’m luckily still young enough to be included in YSEALI. I have greatly benefited from the wonderful development in the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. I got my bachelor’s degree at Connecticut College. I graduated. I also was the first student accepted to the Fulbright Teaching Program in 2003 right after graduation, and also spent some time doing a master’s degree at the Harvard Kennedy School.

SECRETARY KERRY: And now you’re —

QUESTION: So I am so glad that the Fulbright —

SECRETARY KERRY: So now you’re over-educated for this. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — the Fulbright University has become reality today, and I believe you will train wonderful scientists, great policymakers for Vietnam in the future. And as Ms. Thuy has presented, a very comprehensive program. And my question is: What about doctors? Are you going to train – are you going to – your program will allow students to qualify for pre-med courses, for example, to be able to train future great doctors of Vietnam? Because this will be a touch – touch the Vietnamese people and make a great impact, because in Vietnam we have wonderful doctors, but still we are not compatible in the system with the U.S. and Europe. And I do hope that in the future, the Fulbright could be able – and if you already, that would be wonderful. But if not, an extra step that would really make a difference in the Vietnamese life and (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: I have no doubt that the graduates of Fulbright University Vietnam will, any of them, be able to choose to be doctors and be qualified to do so. And I think you – I’m going to let the president, again, decide how that’s going to happen. (Laughter.)

MS DAM BICH THUY: Thank you for the questions and it is great that you bring it up, because this is exactly one of the issues that we are discussing internally among the project team to see, okay, when we can basically introduce medical school into FUV. We believe that Vietnam, like you say – Vietnam doctors are not bad. They were trained well, I think, to do all the basic practice in the hospital. The problem with the medical system in Vietnam is health care policy, which we hope that in the beginning, we can – under the Fulbright and the School for Public Policies and Management, we can introduce, I think, the teaching of health care policies. And that will be the first step.

Now, in the future, we are going to – we have a plan (inaudible) and some of the – probably the top five medical school in the U.S. have expressed their interest in working, joining with us. But (inaudible) Vietnamese, talking, always complain that I’m just too cautious about everything. So we want to make sure that we are – we have all the funding and I think the – for the (inaudible) to make, I think, the best medical school before we come to you and say that, okay, in two years’ time I’ll make (inaudible) medical school. But rest assured that health care policy – which we have to improve the health care system in Vietnam – will be one of the subjects in the public policy program.

SECRETARY KERRY: And I would assume, Madam President, that any student who graduates from a program who is in your second school, which is your science, engineering, and biology and so forth, will, as I said, be extremely qualified to then go into the medical component, but —

MS DAM BICH THUY: Yes, exactly.


SECRETARY KERRY: How about Ho Chi Minh City?



AMBASSADOR OSIUS: Yeah. And for Ho Chi Minh —

SECRETARY KERRY: We’re leaving Ho Chi Minh now. I want to get them in.

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: (In Vietnamese.) I thought there was somebody.

SECRETARY KERRY: Is there somebody there?

QUESTION: Thank you for letting us have a conversation with you. So I am going to ask whether – and what point you think about it will be the – not only standards of education in Vietnam, but also it’s a totally different thing about freedom in academics. It’s a – well, it’s true that in Vietnam we’re taught to be quite passive learners. So the freedom in everything, and having to support (inaudible) environmental issues rather than the reverse.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I think – I mean, again, I think the president already addressed this, that it’s the type of teaching that is so critical here. You mentioned passivity in the process. In many places – not just in Vietnam, but in different parts of the world – teaching is viewed as you tell students how to do something, or they have to memorize what they’re told. And then if they can parrot back what they were told to memorize, that’s supposedly learning. That’s not really learning.

I tell you, I went to a great university in the United States, Yale University, and I learned a lot. But I didn’t completely really learn how to think, to be truthful with you, until I went on to law school and then got into a kind of Socratic, critical kind of give-and-take. It was my fault that I may not have gotten more out of my earlier adventures in education. But I really think that what – what the Fulbright Program is trying to do is begin at the beginning with this critical thinking discipline. And as the president said a few minutes ago, the professor is there to open up the conversation, not to direct it and close it down or to tell you how limited it is. And that’s really the distinction here. You need to put things to test, you have to test ideas. And just because somebody says this or that, you want to know for yourself that it’s actually correct or how did you get there or why you arrived at that conclusion, and maybe you draw a different conclusion yourself. So I think that’s really the way you break the barriers. That’s how you come up with the new ideas and think. And for Vietnam – if you think about Vietnam, the great progress Vietnam has made in the last 20 years is remarkable. What has been achieved here in this country – I know you’re all very proud of it and you should be. It’s an amazing journey. But the next 20 years can be defined by even more and by greater results and by more people being able to participate. And I think the president has hit the nail on the head when she defines how important this new discipline is so that you’re comparing – so that you’re thinking about your education possibilities in Vietnam not in comparison to what you have here, but in comparison to what the rest of the world has or even to what your own imaginations suggest you ought to have. And that’s a different test. I think if you can get to that, you’re really opening up a whole new set of possibilities.

Do you want to add anything? (Inaudible.)

MS DAM BICH THUY: Yes, I just want to add two things – that we keep talking about having courage. Having physical courage, okay – just run a marathon or (inaudible). I think it is very valuable, but then I think intellectual courage requires much more courage in itself, and I think that the U.S. invasion is actually (inaudible) the model (inaudible). For – I think for my personal opinion, it would be (inaudible) all of us that kind of courage that normally we don’t have.

And the second thing I want to say is that there will not be a right or wrong concept anymore in the classroom. There will be different answers. Right for you will be wrong for the others and vice versa. It is each of us at the end of the day – after classroom, we go home and we reflect and we make a decision whether one way or another – but if you believe in it, that will be the right decision for yourself. No one can dictate if it’s right or wrong, except in math class (inaudible). (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: (In Vietnamese.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Is there a microphone? Does somebody have the microphone? There we go. Can we borrow that? Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. So we know that a part of Stanford in the success of Silicon Valley. And we see that the entrepreneurship in Vietnam is very high, that many people want to start their own business. So do you think that Fulbright can play the role of Stanford in supporting the ecosystem of startup in Vietnam? Because, like, we now see the gap between the quality of (inaudible) student and the quality of people who can start their own business. And also, if the answer is yes – so it’s still a lot of other factor to make – to push up the startup ecosystem in Vietnam. It’s not just education. It’s still other thing like investor, like support, for example. And do you think that the U.S. can support more the style education to the ecosystem of startup in Vietnam?

SECRETARY KERRY: Sure. Very, very good question, excellent question, and very complicated in many ways. Look, can it – can the Fulbright provide what Stanford does? Over time, absolutely over time. It’s not going to happen overnight, the first day. But yes, absolutely it can begin to do that. And I think that – right now there are billions of dollars in the world looking for places to invest. People will – by and large, they’re going to look for many of the things that you already have in Vietnam. Your president just referred to – I mean, you have – she talked about tolerance and loyalty and so forth. But you have – and it’s in your blood, as she said – a kind of discipline, a willingness to work hard, a kind of an enormously patient willingness to work and stay at it in order to get where you want to go, your goals. And I find that that’s a critical element of being able to do a startup. And you’re smart. That’s obviously a very important place to begin. You have the brainpower.

So if you apply these things, that money is going to come, as it already is. Already there’s an enormous amount of money coming to Vietnam looking for these outlets. And that’s why I believe there’s a foundation for success here in Vietnam, because as the money comes and as you produce more people who are thinking more entrepreneurially and engaged in kind of critical thinking, then you’re going to find a marriage between the money and the idea and the people who are there to give it life. That’s where the – that’s really the difference. And I find the basic energy and excitement that you all have about this kind of possibility is in itself extremely encouraging and will attract a lot of attention from people. So to me it’s almost automatic, but you deserve to have this university that is being defined in the conversations we’re having here and in conversations we’re having with your government. This university will be a huge springboard to probably more institutions like it, ultimately, over the next 50, 60, 100 years, whatever, but more importantly, immediately to the realization of your dreams to be able to apply yourselves in a way that you want to to this kind of entrepreneurial activity.

There are always other challenges. Look, government has to make the right decisions. You need infrastructure. You need to have – you need a good airport so you can move your goods from the airport to the rest of the world. I mean, all – there are a lot of different factors that are into this. But the beginning, you’ve got to have the ideas, you’ve got to have the ability to take them and make things happen. And I think you have that here, and so I’m very, very excited about the possibilities of Fulbright University. I think it can be part of this transformation of the next 20 years.

AMBASSADOR OSIUS: (In Vietnamese.) Thank you very much.