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Cablegate: Can Tho and an Giang Universities - Seeking

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 000604

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV AND EAP/PD
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR ECA/A (DAS Farrell)
BANGKOK FOR PAS/RLO BOYUM

E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SOCI EAGR ECON OEXC VM
SUBJECT: CAN THO AND AN GIANG UNIVERSITIES - SEEKING
RESOURCES TO MODERNIZE

1. (SBU) Summary. During a recent trip to the Mekong
Delta region, DCM met with the Vice-Rector of Can Tho
University and the Rector of An Giang University. Both
expressed disappointment at the slow start to the Vietnam
Education Foundation (VEF) scholarship program and expressed
hope that its web site would be updated soon. They noted
that more and more students were expressing interest in
studying English and IT, and indicated they would like to
see more students studying agricultural development. They
also said they would welcome volunteers with professional
experience from the U.S. to help modernize teaching methods
and curriculum, and improve English skills. Mission
believes this may be a good opening for bringing Peace Corps
to Vietnam. End summary.

Can Tho University
------------------

2. (U) During a recent visit, DCM, Embassy Poloff, ConGen
EconOff, and ConGen Pol/Econ assistant met with Dr. Nguyen
Anh Tuan, Vice Rector in Charge of International Relations,
and Dr. Ha Thanh Toan, Director of the Biotechnology
Research and Development Institute at Can Tho University
(CTU). Dr. Tuan, who completed graduate studies at Auburn
University (Alabama), described CTU as a public university.
The administration is elected by the faculty and then
formally appointed by the Ministry of Education and Training
(MOET), in consultation with the People's Committee of Can
Tho Province. The curriculum is set by the professors and
approved by MOET. Tuition to attend CTU is $100 a year, and
the VND 100 billion annual budget (approximately USD 6.5
million) is funded by a combination of tuition, central
government funding, international aid, and research
sponsorships. Approximately five percent of the students
are eligible to receive merit-based scholarships. Students
in CTU's Education College -- like all students who study
the profession of teaching in Vietnam -- do not pay tuition,
provided they work as teachers after graduation.

3. (U) According to Dr. Tuan, CTU has roughly 34,000
students enrolled at its main campus and satellite colleges
throughout the Mekong Delta, making it one of the five
largest universities in Vietnam. Its staff numbers about
1600, of whom six are currently studying in the U.S. About
22 percent of Vietnam's population lives in the Delta
provinces. Until An Giang University (AGU) was established
in December 1999, CTU was the only university in the Mekong
Delta region. While 17,000 students attend classes at the
main CTU campus, only 6000 students live there. CTU has
some private, commercially-funded research programs as well
as regular course study. Competition for fellowships to
conduct graduate and undergraduate research is fierce: CTU
admitted only 4400 (six percent) of 74,000 applicants to do
research in 2003.

4. (U) Dr. Tuan inquired about the progress of the VEF, as
its website had not posted any new information recently.
DCM informed him that the VEF recently selected 22
Vietnamese students already enrolled in advanced degree
programs in the U.S., mostly in hard sciences and
information technology (IT), for the first round of
scholarships. Dr. Tuan and Dr. Toan (who completed his PhD
in food science at the University of Illinois at Champaign-
Urbana) agreed that CTU should put forward agriculture
students as candidates for VEF scholarships in the future.
Both academics noted that it was unfortunate that more
bright students were not studying agriculture, as Vietnam is
an agricultural economy and needs good leaders, in order to
become more productive and efficient in that sector. They
described the Faculty of Agriculture as the strongest school
at CTU.

5. (U) Dr. Tuan added that increasing numbers of students
had changed their major field of study to English. Many of
them were now shifting to IT. He noted that there are
currently volunteers at CTU from Australia, Canada, Japan
and the U.K. teaching courses ranging from IT to medicine to
English. He said the highest priority of employers in
Vietnam today is to hire graduates who can speak English.
Technical skills and high marks are a distant second and
third.

6. (U) Regarding special treatment for ethnic minority
students, Dr. Tuan said that while each Mekong Delta
province has built a dormitory at CTU for its students, the
GVN built one to house minorities, mostly Khmer and Cham.
The GVN dormitory holds 400 beds, and occupancy has
generally run at 70-80 percent, with a small number of
minority students living off-campus. Ethnic minority
students also take part in the numerous student groups on
campus.

7. (SBU) Dr. Tuan also discussed the status of a number of
universities which have recently opened or will be opening
in the Delta, and their varying degrees of freedom to
determine their own curriculum and sources of funding. They
are:

-- An Giang University. (see para. 8) Opened end of 1999.

-- University of Medicine and Dentistry in Can Tho. Opened
in April 2003, funded by the Ministry of Health (MOH),
curriculum approved by both MOH and MOET. Founded upon the
School of Medicine that was formerly part of CTU.

-- University of Education and Pedagogy in Dong Thap.
Opened April 2003, centrally funded. Established to train
teachers, curriculum must be approved by MOET.

-- Fisheries University of Kien Giang. Unsure when it will
open, but will be central government funded. May have been
created for political reasons, since Mr. Nguyen Tan Dung,
the First Deputy Prime Minister, is from Kien Giang. The
GVN has requested that the satellite branch of Nha Trang
University of Fisheries located in Saigon move to Rach Gia
to support the creation of this new university.

-- Mekong University in Vinh Long. Opened in 2000, private,
curriculum established by professors but must be approved by
MOET. Some retired government officials own shares in this
university.

An Giang University
-------------------

8. (U) DCM and party met separately with the Harvard-
educated Dr. Vo Tong Xuan, Rector of AGU. AGU was formally
opened by decree in December 1999, and receives funding from
the GVN and An Giang province. MOET approves the
curriculum. Dr. Xuan took over as Rector of the University
in February 2000, and during these first few years he said
his top priority has been trying to attract and retain new
faculty. His second priority has been to upgrade the skills
of the existing faculty.

9. (U) Regarding recruitment, Dr. Xuan said he has been
seeking out and hiring the rare Vietnamese professors who
understand the "Western" way of teaching, where students are
expected to come to class having already read the material,
prepared to participate in a class discussion. He said
around 50 percent of the teaching faculty are new,
relatively young, and try to use the "Western" model. The
exchange program which An Giang University has developed
with Bluffton College in Ohio has also helped faculty learn
new pedagogical styles from visiting American professors, he
remarked.

10. (SBU) Regarding development of the current faculty,
Dr. Xuan said he has had some difficulty getting the older
faculty from the former An Giang Teachers' Training College
-- many of whom have been teaching for decades and are
"really set in their ways" -- to adapt and develop new
methods of teaching. Before the next school year starts,
Dr. Xuan plans to host a seminar to train faculty to use the
computer program "WebCities" to make their syllabi and
electronic reading material available to students on-line.

11. (U) AGU boasts the largest computer library in
Vietnam, with 100 computers donated from the Ford
Foundation, but Dr. Xuan said the number of visitors to the
library fell from 800 to 40 per week, as students tried to
get course materials on-line and found the materials had not
been uploaded by all of the professors. He expressed
optimism that AGU students will soon be able to access the
Bluffton College "Ohio Link" electronic library, but
lamented that because of slow on-line data transmission
rates in Vietnam, students may not gain as much benefit as
he hoped. High-speed Internet connection via satellite link
has recently been approved for use in two software parks in
Vietnam. When ConGen EconOff raised this with Dr. Xuan, he
said AGU might need a connection like this to remain
effective.

12. (U) Dr. Xuan said he would like see a migration of
redundant labor in the agricultural sector to the industrial
or service sectors, and has set up a curriculum to support
this. In 2000-2001, AGU admitted students for programs
focusing on math, literature, English, business finance, and
business accounting. Starting in 2002, students were also
admitted to programs focusing on agricultural products
processing and preservation, rural development, agricultural
engineering, information technology, and environmental
management. Dr. Xuan also suggested that Vietnamese rice
farmers need to consoidate and rights in order to bring
rice production to its most efficient level, but there is a
lack of direction at the highest levels of government that
could bring about this change. Only if leadership
establishes firm policies and offers incentives for farmers
to be more efficient in the agricultural sector will the
economy of Vietnam fundamentally change, he said.

13. (U) Note: Dr. Xuan's strong background in agricultural
development and wet rice cultivation is attracting students
to AGU. He is widely credited with being the man who saved
Vietnam from famine in the early 1980s by improving methods
of rice cultivation, and bears the nickname "Dr. Rice". He
is a member of the board of the Rockefeller Foundation.

14. (U) Comment: Both Dr. Tuan and Dr. Xuan expressed
concern that Vietnam's agricultural economy is inefficient,
and that there is a lack of leadership in the GVN in rural
and agricultural development. This lack of leadership has
contributed to students choosing other areas of study, and
to farmers using unproductive or counterproductive farming
methods. They were both disappointed by the relatively slow
start to the VEF program and under-representation of the
agricultural field. They will seek to identify good
candidates, and hope the VEF Board of Directors will address
the need for agricultural development in Vietnam when
considering applications next year.

15. (SBU) Comment continued: Both Dr. Tuan and Dr. Xuan
said the professional experience and functional abilities of
visiting faculty from the U.S. and other countries were
sought-after commodities in Vietnam. Dr. Tuan asked
outright if the USG would be willing to start up an official
"volunteers" program to send professors to CTU to teach.
Many universities have approached ConGen seeking additional
resources to improve teaching methodology and curriculum, as
well as English language training. Mission believes this
may be the right time to begin negotiations on an MOU to
bring Peace Corps Volunteers to Vietnam to address this
need. End comment.
YAMAUCHI

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