Vietnam’s declaration to open up,in mid-June 2020 was hailed around the world as a model in the fight against the Covid 19 pandemic. For Mali student, Aolama Mallé and his classmates, the announcement was more than good. They are students of the International Francophone Institute (IFI), a member of Vietnam National University, the largest higher education system in the country. As universities re-opened, they could now return to the traditional face-to-face classroom learning with professors and friends since all were weary from boring e-learning and the draconian pandemic control measures imposed by the government.
IFI’s Student Affairs Department claims that the scheduled educational discovery trip, that was postponed suddenly because of the pandemic, was now possible. This extra-curricular cultural activity is organized annually by IFI for its new students. This year, it included a visit to Vinfast’s auto manufacturing plant and Halong Bay.
The bus left the campus at 7:30 a.m. with over thirty students on board and took the modern expressway that cuts across the dizzying development of high-rise skyscrapers in sharp contrast to the ancient and fragile Old Quarter influenced by French colonial architecture.
This startling transformation and opening up to change, development, industrialization and integration with the West, was spurred by the nation’s Doi Moi (Renovation) policy established in the late 1980s. That policy began to introduce sweeping liberalization in all sectors of Vietnam’s previously hardline, centrally planned and closed economy. The adoption of this open policy brought about dramatic changes in all aspects of society, especially in the lives of Vietnamese farmers, workers, and their households. The reforms also led to breakthrough innovations in the higher education system.
Vietnam has in a single generation leaped forward from a poor, insular economy to a middle-income country with a globally integrated, socialist-oriented market economy. Now in its dual global leadership roles at ASEAN and the UN Security Council, Hanoi reaffirms the principles of the UN Charter to maintain peace, security, and international cooperation.
The international students gathered together on the school bus sang songs in both English and French and sometimes, also in the many African language dialects. In so many ways, the higher-ed led excursion reflected the government’s redesigned post -renovation curriculum calling out the new slogan ‘Opening of the school to life, a social life in its full development.’ Furthermore, the planned trip to a state-of-the-art auto factory, reflects the government ‘s model curriculum that all educational programs establish collaborative programs with enterprises to enable both students and educators to learn from real production factories.
The choice of Vinfast for this international student visit was not a random selection.
“Vinfast is the first truly national automobile trademark of Vietnam”, explained Dr. ĐàoTùng, director of IFI’s Department of Cooperation and Development. “By organizing this visit, we want to show different aspects of modern Vietnam. Halong Bay is widely known as a world natural heritage, and Vinfast is a symbol of Vietnam’s economic dynamism”.
The conglomerate reflects why innovation is the driver for the growth of Vietnam’s economy even during this pandemic. Local companies across multiple industries have been developing quickly in areas which have been traditionally dominated by foreign companies.
Vinfast, created in 2017 and situated in Đình Vũ industrial zone (Hải Phòng, is the third-largest automobile manufacturing complex in the world. It is a subsidiary of Vingroup, the largest private corporation in Vietnam, whose empire covers the sectors as diverse as real estate, tourism, healthcare, retail, education, and smartphone production. Apart from traditional cars, Vinfast also produces electric cars and scooters. Vingroup’s CEO Phạm Nhật Vượng declared that Vinfast plans to sell electric cars in the USA by 2021.
Vingroup is just one of many examples of Vietnam’s economic achievements over the last three decades. Others include, Viet Jet Air, Vinamilk, Trung Nguyên, and of course, Viettel, which is now operating in10 countries and recognized as one of the largest telecommunication companies in the world.
UN bailout helped Vietnam at critical post-war junction
The picture was completely different 40 years ago. When Vietnam became an official member of the United Nations (UN), on September 20, 1977, it was one of the poorest countries in the world with per capita GDP around US$100. In the 1977 – 1986 period, the country was placed under an embargo imposed by Western countries after Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime. Fortunately, the $500 million received from UN assistance enabled the nation to tackle post-war difficulties.
The Communist Party’s reform policies introduced in 1986 led to opening the country to the outside world and adopting a new “socialist-oriented market economy model.” During the last three decades, Vietnam’s GDP increased at an average rate of about 7 percent, and per capita GDP increased from under US$100 in 1989 to over US$ 2,700 in 2019 (World Bank), transforming Vietnam from a war ravaged and starving country into a recognized emerging economy. Vietnam is set to become one of the most dynamic markets in the world by 2030, according to Euromonitor International, a global market research company. GDP growth is expected to reach 91.4 percent in the 2020-2030 period and disposable income to reach $9,740 per household by 2030.
Aware of its delicate geopolitical position in relation to China, Vietnam has been very active in expanding its foreign relations, which forms today a large network of 30 strategic and comprehensive partnerships.
Vietnam and the United States normalized bilateral relations in 1995 and are now comprehensive partners. The US-Vietnam bilateral trade is about US$77 billion in 2019 compared to only US$450 million in 1994. Recently, Vietnam signed and approved the Vietnam-European Union Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which is considered as “the most ambitious” Free Trade Agreements that the EU has ever signed with a developing country.
According to Japanese media, Japan’s newly appointed Prime Minster Suga Yoshihide has chosen Vietnam and Indonesia for his first state visits in mid-October reframing Vietnam’s rising global reputation.
The international students on the bus, the 30,000 Vietnamese students studying abroad in the US and millions in Vietnam know the educational impact of the current economic progress.
As living standards and market demand for qualified human resource are now higher, the number of universities continue to increase rapidly. Although this rapid expansion has been facing criticism from some scholars who remain concerned about quality, Vietnam’s higher education has been advancing steadily.
By renouncing the Soviet-style model, mobilizing private funding resources, allowing the use of foreign languages as means of instruction, and fostering research and scientific publication, Vietnamese universities have been emerging on the most prestigious global rankings. In 2020, Tôn Đức Thắng University is ranked in the TOP 400 by Academic Ranking for World Universities, and Vietnam National University Hanoi in the TOP 1000 according to The Times Higher Education.
Gradually, Vietnamese universities have entered the world education market. IFI is one of the best examples. Established by the merger of Institut de la Francophonie pour l’informatique, Vietnam’s pioneer in information technology, founded in 1993, and the Center for French Universities, founded in 2004, IFI has recently opted for an ambitious global strategy and is recognized as an exceptional internationalized higher education institution in Vietnam. IFI is an academic home for hundreds of international students from two dozen countries who are studying in advanced fields, such as information technology, digital communication, and financial technology. According to Dr. ĐàoTùng, the institute is completing the final steps to open its first Masters of Science program in information technology at the University of Kinshasa, Congo.
Aolama Mallé is a Masters’ degree student in Digital Information and Communication. His elder brother, Zoumana Mallé, now living in Paris, is an IFI alumnus.
“When my brother announced, five years ago, to go to study information technology, nobody in my family opposed his decision.” Said Aolama. “My parents are intellectuals. They had had some information about Vietnam and knew that the country had made some progress. But when my brother sent home his Vietnam photos, we were all surprised at what the country has become. It is my brother who advised me to come to Vietnam.”