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Cablegate: Ambassador's Meeting with Minister of Education On U.S.

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E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Ambassador Marine had his first official meeting
with Minister of Education and Training Dr. Nguyen Thien Nhan on
November 30. The meeting took place days before Dr. Nhan's first
visit as Minister to the United States on what his staff is calling
a "study tour." Minster Nhan expressed interest in examining
various aspects of the U.S. higher education system for possible
implementation in Vietnam. He has a number of innovative ideas for
dramatically updating and upgrading the Vietnamese educational
system, including increased competition and introduction of
education management protocols. In response to the Ambassador's
push for the conclusion of a Peace Corps country agreement, Minister
Nhan stated that his Ministry is not the agency making the key
decisions on the program but that he would report the Ambassador's
views and work with other agencies to respond. End Summary.

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2. (SBU) Dr. Nguyen Thien Nhan, who assumed the position of Minister
of Education and Training in July 2006, has a strong U.S. academic
background. In 1995, he received a Masters of Public Administration
from the University of Oregon, which he attended on a Fulbright
scholarship, and since has participated in three academic programs
at Harvard. A southerner, Nhan was chosen for his new position with
a mandate to clean up the Ministry in the wake of the firing of his
predecessor. Minister Nhan is known as dynamic and interested in
reform, and outlined to the Ambassador fairly robust ideas for
upgrading the moribund Vietnamese educational system at all levels.
He is going to the United States as the head of an inter-agency GVN
commission to study the establishment of a "world-class university"
in Vietnam and will visit several top-tier universities. He
indicated to the Ambassador that he also wants to develop strategies
for improving the quality of all universities in Vietnam. The
Minister cited excellent cooperation with the Embassy and with the
Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF), which is the primary organizer
of his trip to the United States.

3. (SBU) Nhan suggested that Vietnam needed 20,000 more PhDs than it
currently has in order to support the educational system it needs.
His approach to creating this new cadre of educators includes
sending more candidates to study in the United States, working with
academic organizations (including VEF) to create a "Pre-Doctoral
Center" where Vietnamese candidates might prepare themselves more
adequately for doctoral programs in the United States, and creating
U.S.-Vietnamese university partnerships where Vietnamese scholars
can receive the kind of innovative training and education they would
need to transform Vietnam's academic institutions. He hopes to send
50 to 60 PhD candidates to the United States each year for the next
ten years as the foundation for this new group of educators.

4. (SBU) The Ambassador stressed that, to attract talent back to
Vietnam, Vietnamese institutions will need to be flexible enough to
allow returning scholars to enact real change. He also noted that
there are not enough universities currently operating in Vietnam to
accommodate this new corps of scholars and meet the growing demand
for higher education, and that private academic investment and open
competition will be critical to creating new schools and improving
existing ones. He noted that he recently visited the northeastern
city of Haiphong and saw a private university which appeared to be
providing good education at reasonably low prices, a potential model
for private education.

5. (SBU) The Minister agreed that a fundamental change of philosophy
was necessary to revamp the country's universities. Included in
this change would be a new approach to private and public
institutions. Fifteen percent of Vietnamese students already attend
private universities, a number the Minister expects to rise to 40
percent by 2015. The current government policies, however, require
that students at private universities pay for 100 percent of their
education, while students at public schools pay for 50 percent or
less. Under his revamped program, the Minister anticipates that
"the funding will follow the student by 2015, rather than the
institution," thereby automatically requiring universities to
compete for enrollment. His goal, he said, was to make private and
public institutions equally strong. He also cited low pay for
teachers and said that the Ministry goal was to raise teachers' pay
by 80 percent in the next five to ten years, making this important
career a more desirable and competitive one.

6. (U) The Ambassador mentioned the need to enhance English language
training at all levels of schooling, and the Minister agreed that
this was critical. English training already begins in grade three
in most elementary schools, the Minister said, with some pilot
programs introducing the language in the first grade. He
acknowledged that these programs are hampered by a lack of teachers
with English language skills.

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7. (SBU) The Minister noted several areas of particular interest
which he plans to investigate during his U.S. visit. The first is
developing the ability to adequately assess the quality of
Vietnamese universities. He hopes to discuss quality criteria with
his U.S. interlocutors, and to find a way to develop usable criteria
for Vietnam. He is also extremely interested in the U.S. university
and college ranking system and is keen to develop a similar system
in Vietnam. The Ambassador explained that, in the United States,
these rankings are developed by academic or private organizations,
not the government, and that they were also specific to different
types of academic institutions. Finally, the Minister noted that
there is no tradition in Vietnam of "educational management," and he
hopes to discuss possibilities for partnerships in the United States
to train candidates for masters or doctorates in education.


8. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that this week he participated in
events leading up to World AIDS Day on December 1. He reminded the
Minister of the myriad efforts of PEPFAR in Vietnam and stressed
that education in schools at all levels is critical to stemming the
rise in AIDS, as well as the importance of addressing issues of
stigmatization and discrimination in schools. The Minister
responded very positively that there was an urgent need for AIDS
education. He welcomed the Ambassador's offer of cooperation and
suggested setting up a working group to develop supplemental
curriculum modules, tailored to the different grade levels that
could be used by schools throughout Vietnam. The Ambassador
responded that he would be happy to work with the Ministry, perhaps
along with UN staff, to develop this initiative.


9. (SBU) Lastly, the Ambassador raised the issue of the potential
Vietnam Peace Corps program, stating that both governments have
approved of the initiative, and had hoped to be able to announce a
Peace Corps agreement during President George W. Bush's visit.
Unfortunately, the two sides had not been ready to do so because the
details of the program had not been resolved. The Ambassador noted
that he understands that the Prime Minister has designated MOET as
the lead Vietnam government agency for the program. He added that
Peace Corps volunteers traditionally work in other sectors as well
as English-language education, including business, health, and
environment, that the United States would prefer to have volunteers
working in a greater geographic spread than just Hanoi and Ho Chi
Minh City. We would also like to quickly ramp up the program to
approximately 40 volunteers or more on the ground over the initial
years of the program.

10. (SBU) The Ambassador added that both sides now need to put
together a country agreement and thanked the Minister for the draft
agreement that MOET had provided. The Embassy had forwarded this
text to the Peace Corps for review. He stressed that questions
regarding the status and number of program staff are still need to
be resolved. The Ambassador suggested that the two sides sit down
at the working level to talk through the remaining differences soon
so that the program will still have a chance to start at the
beginning of the next academic year. This lead time will be
necessary in order for the Peace Corps to be able to recruit and
train volunteers.

11. (SBU) Minister Nhan agreed that that MOET will be the Vietnam
agency in charge of the program if approval is given. MOET is not
the agency, however, making the key decisions on the program, he
added. Nhan said he would take account of the Ambassador's views
and work with other agencies to respond. While it is true that the
United States and Vietnam do agree in principle on the benefit of
establishing a Peace Corps program, Nhan said, the details must be
worked out to everyone's satisfaction first.

12. (SBU) From this meeting and via other contacts, we understand
that Minister Nhan is uncomfortable with the prospect of directly
engaging with the Peace Corps in Washington on this trip. This does
not mean that it should not be raised by Minister Nhan's
interlocutors during his talks in Washington. In referring to
"other agencies," Nhan is probably making reference to the Office of
Government (aka the Prime Minister's Office) and the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. We will continue to work with all GVN players to
narrow differences and help move this important initiative forward.


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