Remarks by Mission Director Joakim Parker at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Conference ‘20 years of U.S.-Vietnam Relations: Business and Education Opportunities in Light of the TPP’

Thursday, January 14, 2016

HO CHI MINH CITY, January 14, 2016 -- Thank you Madame Ninh. I am humbled by being here with individuals whose leadership and personal participation has been so essential to the success of our people-to-people ties. The United States Government invests assistance broadly in cooperation in all of the areas highlighted in the prior panels, including the reforms needed for TPP. But I’ve been asked to focus on education.

At an event organized by USAID last August, Secretary of State John Kerry cited the education and exchange statistics mentioned already today. And he said: “These aren’t just statistics. They are a measure of one of the most remarkable transformations in history.”

The numbers have already grown since Kerry spoke. A 2015 USAID survey indicated that 88% of Vietnamese see the U.S. as a partner, and more than 70% of them identify education as an area benefitting from U.S. engagement. The appetite for connectivity is strong and growing – this is a transformation driven by its participants.

So it would be most appropriate to consider how the USG facilitates and invests in this transformation. Last summer’s Joint Vision Statement stated said that the two countries: “expect to accelerate education cooperation, including through institutions like Fulbright University Vietnam and other university partnerships and in the areas of English language collaboration. Both countries expect to consider visa facilitation measures to encourage greater numbers of tourists, students, and business visitors to both countries, and call for relevant U.S. and Vietnamese agencies to conclude as soon as possible a bilateral agreement on the construction of new compounds of their representative missions, including their embassies.” I would add that direct flights between the two countries represent a further ambition for people-to-people ties.

Before exploring our cooperation in education, I would like to expand on the TPP theme of today’s event. It isn’t often highlighted in discussion of the TPP, but the agreement could make important contributions to education cooperation and related types of connectivity. It is of course expected to result in significant increases in foreign investment in Vietnam, which will drive various forms of people-to-people ties in the private sector. The foreign investment Vietnam wants most is likely to come with demands for more highly skilled Vietnamese workers, which should push reform in higher education, including vocational education. More on that and how we hope to facilitate it in a minute.

The TPP offers a platform for expanding education and training services trade among TPP countries, particularly Vietnam. This could include online courses delivered by U.S. universities, exchange of education professionals, and U.S. and Vietnamese students studying at institutions in each other’s countries. That’s certainly how some TPP parties characterize the trade in services and cooperation chapters. The TPP could provide improved access for teachers and academics – particularly if we get visa facilitation right. We know U.S. and Vietnamese demand is high, so a commitment to education in the TPP framework should grow and serve that demand. I hope that Vietnam narrowly applies the restrictions on academic subjects it included in its TPP annex on non-conforming measures.

The TPP’s Development chapter identifies education as one of three specific areas to be considered for cooperation once TPP enters into force. Education cooperation is already high on our bilateral agenda, of course, and this TPP chapter reinforces it. The TPP’s Labor chapter is also relevant, and includes opportunities to ensure that people already in the labor market are not neglected as we embrace higher education and future graduates. The Labor chapter encourages government to promote employer CSR programs to advance the development of labor, including in collaboration with educational institutions. At the U.S. Embassy we are actively exploring how to be helpful in this regard. The Labor chapter also encourages continuing education and engagement with labor associations as means to develop human resources and increase productivity.

The U.S. Government already invests in cooperation with Vietnam that addresses these and other points important to connectivity and Vietnam’s development. The Fulbright program and progress towards a Fulbright University of Vietnam are tremendous examples that Ambassador Osius identified as a top priority and which and my co-panelists will discuss. There are others, including the Vietnam Education Foundation, the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research program. I hope the Peace Corps will be added to this list soon, given the importance of English language education to our shared agenda.

USAID’s programs focus on higher education in Vietnam, including vocational education, and leverage the best of people-to-people ties through partnerships with U.S. universities and corporate actors, some of which include commitments that will expand connectivity through social media and MOOCs. These programs are centered on the principle that improving the relevance and marketability of the skills of Vietnamese workers and future graduates is essential to a modern economy, including the innovation ecosystem. An entirely private set of engagements is also occurring as a result of the great appetite for exchange and cooperation. It is no secret that many U.S. and Vietnamese universities have established or are exploring relations without any government involvement at all. U.S. universities are eager for Vietnamese students and the Education USA program facilitates it. Ambassador Osius and our Consul General are passionate supporters of this exchange.

But please allow me a minute to emphasize several exciting public-private partnership for education, all of which are relevant to TPP and our broader shared agenda. For years we have been supporting engineering and social work reform efforts at Vietnam’s universities and vocational schools. Leading U.S. innovators such as Arizona State University and Intel have been involved, along with a number of Vietnamese universities including HCM University of Technology and Education, HCM Vocational College of Technology and Can Tho University. Engineering has a key role to play in Vietnam’s expanding economy, and our partnership in that area has received a number of awards.

We are broadening the scope of our higher education assistance to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in a big way given all the opportunities for growth and engagement. A new program will invest in applied curricular innovations, national quality assessment, student learning platforms, maker innovation spaces, faculty instructional innovation and institutional policy reform and leadership. It has a similarly impressive list of corporate actors, adding the likes of Oracle, Microsoft, and AutoDesk. Collectively these programs are leveraging huge investments in higher education.

Private sector partners give Vietnamese universities the latest perspective from breakneck developments in technology sectors, including market trends and trajectories, as well as much-needed equipment and an eye into how factories operate and what it would be like for young women in particular to work there. For example, having education advisers present in Intel’s impressive plant nearby has brought the exchange of information into a new way of working together.

We are collaborating with similarly impressive companies in developing another new higher education program in the area of medicine. It will align with the very large U.S. assistance investment in health in Vietnam and with the great opportunities for investment in that sector going forward. In addition, we continue to fund the Lower Mekong Public Policy Initiative with Harvard as a way to deepen ties among academics and policy makers under the United States’ Lower Mekong Initiative.

Secretary Kerry and others rightly laud the transformation in education and people-to-people ties over the past 20 years. But to borrow an American idiom, you ain’t seen nothing yet. With the TPP’s openings and the incredible appetite for exchange between our countries, particularly in education, the years to come will be even more amazing. Our two governments are committed to this acceleration – I hope everyone will join the ride.

Thank you.

Issuing Country