A Rare Opportunity

Fulbright University Vietnam represents a rare opportunity to reimagine the university—to design a new academic institution from scratch. We’re rethinking the relationship between a university and society. We’re reassessing how a university defines and values the impact of its students and faculty in the real world. Internally, we’re rethinking the roles of our students, faculty, and staff in ways that promote collaboration and teamwork over competition and the pursuit of individual goals. We’re also exploring how advances in teaching, learning, and technology can enhance the educational experience.

Even as we seek to innovate, not imitate, we also recognize that great insight and valuable practices can be drawn from the experience of high performing organizations that share our values, inside and outside higher education. We’re building a founding team and a larger network of collaborators—innovators from education, technology, and other sectors—who are helping us take fullest advantage of what, for most of us, is a once in a lifetime chance.

Fulbright University Vietnam is a work in progress. Here are some the primary areas where we’re challenging paradigms and rethinking the status quo:

 

The Educational Experience

We believe that an education cannot be reduced to course sequences, credit hours, and exams. We’re focused on creating a holistic, 24/7 learning experience. Distinguishing features of this experience will include an emphasis on design, experimentation, and a commitment to continuous improvement. It also entails a focus on collaboration and teamwork, which we believe are critical skills in today’s world.

At the graduate level, we’re building on the nucleus of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program to reinvent the public policy school for a developing society in the 21st century. The programs we’re designing will equip professionals with the toolkits they need to be problem-solvers and change agents in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

At the undergraduate level, we’re connecting engineering, the liberal arts and sciences, and the visual and performing arts in new ways to reimagine residential liberal education for the 21st century. We’re creating an educational experience that will prepare students for lives of meaning and achievement. We will send our students into the world, and bring real world issues into our classrooms, labs, and studios. Even as we embrace advancements in teaching, learning, and curriculum design, we also believe in the traditional objectives of a liberal education including the value of broad knowledge of the world and the scientific, cultural, and historic dynamics that shape the human experience.

The Role of the Student

We believe students learn best when they are active participants in their educational experience, rather than passive consumers of an educational “product.” As a startup, we enjoy a unique opportunity to involve our students as co-designers of their educational experience. They will help create a community that is not walled off from the wider world but deeply embedded in it. Whether they aspire to be engineers, entrepreneurs, or artists, FUV students will be challenged to make a difference in the world.

We’ve been engaging with high school students from around Vietnam to better understand their aspirations. We’re finding that many feel stifled by an educational culture that treats them like empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. Many feel a profound distance between themselves and their teachers, and long for more meaningful relationships with them. Enthusiasm for the “startup culture” makes them excited for the opportunity to help create a new institution. Many Vietnamese students long for the freedom to pursue intellectual interests and passions—art, music, public service, entrepreneurship—beyond their narrow, highly structured course of study.

The Role of the Faculty

Working with these young people will be a core faculty who share their enthusiasm for a new university experience. At FUV, faculty members will be designers, coaches, and entrepreneurs who will work across disciplinary boundaries, to develop students, to develop themselves, and to make a difference to Vietnam and the world. We believe FUV’s ability to offer a transformative educational experience is contingent on faculty who are both confident self-starters and collaborative team players. Because traditional academic incentive systems often stifle, rather than encourage, innovation and collaboration, it is imperative that we create systems that promote this mindset. Our faculty will pursue, and be excited by, impact in many forms — not only academic publication, but also action in the world like collaborating with a start-up, advising a local government, or contributing to an informed public discourse about public problems.

We’re reaching out to young scientists and scholars at leading universities around the United States and in Vietnam. We’re hearing that for some, a conventional university career is unappealing. Many wish to develop as teachers and curriculum designers and aspire to join a community that can help them achieve those goals. Some seek an environment that values collaboration over competition. Others see opportunities to engage in research in ways that focus on issues that really matter.

The University as a Community

At the core of FUV’s identity is a commitment to diversity and accessibility. We’re a university in a developing country where socioeconomic inequality produces sharp disparities—between rich and poor, between urban rural, among genders and ethnic groups. We will recruit and support a student body that is representative of Vietnamese society as a whole and we will find creative ways to integrate students from diverse backgrounds into a shared journey of educational and personal growth.

The University and the World

What does it mean to be a Vietnamese university in a globalized world? For FUV, it includes seeking meaningful connections to the communities around us and encouraging every member of the university community to engage in activities that positively impact people’s lives. It means being a driver of change in an education system where reform is an urgent priority. As a Vietnamese university, we bear special responsibility to help confront the “grand challenges” facing Vietnamese society, today and in the future. We also are committed to preserving, studying, and promoting Vietnam’s unique cultural heritage.

Ultimately, FUV may point the way toward new approaches to creating high quality higher education institutions in other developing countries. If we’re successful, others may find in the FUV experience approaches that are relevant and replicable.

The University as a (Nonprofit) Enterprise

Many high-profile international university projects enjoy virtually unlimited funding (oftentimes from a sovereign backer). For a private, nonprofit startup like FUV, ensuring that there isn’t a trade-off between access and outcomes will require that we operate as a sophisticated enterprise that stewards and invests its resources with utmost care. We’ve partnered with the Boston Consulting Group to develop a robust financial model that can help FUV’s leadership chart a course to financial sustainability. Ensuring that FUV can offer ample need-based financial assistance to students means that we must eschew flashy, “gold plated” hardware in favor of a development strategy that seeks every opportunity to leapfrog conventional approaches through transformational innovation. Technology presents many exciting opportunities to enrich the learning experience while keeping costs at a level appropriate for a developing country. Operationally, achieving financial stability will require FUV to scale up rapidly; our initial business models suggest that FUV will admit between 2,000 and 3,000 undergraduate students to achieve sustainability.

© 2017. Trust for University Innovation in Vietnam.