HIGHER EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND UNIVERSITIES IN VIETNAM

HIGHER EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND UNIVERSITIES IN VIETNAM

Quoc Tu Giam, Vietnam’s first university, was built 1076. In 2004 there were 1,032400 undergraduate students, 33,000 post graduate students, 39,985 teachers and 214 universities and other institutions in the Vietnamese higher education system. [Source: SRV MOET, 2004]

Under the French, the old examination system was abolished in 1915, and schools for training administrative officers in the French style were officially launched in 1917. The University of Hanoi, founded in 1907 to provide an alternative for Vietnamese students beginning to flock to Japan, was closed for a decade the following year because of fear of student involvement in a 1908 uprising in Hanoi. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The first university that applied the western educational system was built in Northern Viet Nam, Hanoi, in 1919 (medicine school) and 1933 (law school). Toward 1975, the estimated population in Southern Viet Nam was 25 million people, but there were 3 state universities built in cities of Hue, Saigon, Can Tho. In parallel with the state universities, four private universities were also built: Three in Saigon were Van Hanh, Minh Duc, Tri Hanh Universities. One in Dalat was named after the city. They all offered various choices in curriculum similar to most modern universities around the world. In addition, each year thousands of Vietnamese students studied abroad in countries such as the United States, France, Germany and Australia. [Source: Vietnam-culture.com vietnam-culture.com ]

The number of students in institutions of higher learning increased rapidly from about 50,000 (29,000 in the North and 20,834 in the South) in 1964 to 150,000 in 1980. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City served as the two major centers for universities and colleges; major provincial capitals were the sites of regional colleges; and the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Interior sponsored an unspecified number of colleges. Of the 150,000 college students in 1980, approximately 23 percent were female. During bombing raids in 1969, Hanoi university moved its classes to the forest outside the capital. *

In the mid-1980s, some Vietnamese observers believed that the college system needed reform to make it more diverse and flexible. They promoted change in order to accommodate more secondary school applicants and to improve the quality of college education. Students were perceived as spending too much time trying to earn diplomas and not enough time "in practical, creative activities." *

University- Level Education Crisis in Vietnam

In 2009, John Ruwitch of Reuters wrote: “About a year ago, 2,000 of the best and brightest from five of Vietnam's top universities were invited to take a lengthy multiple-choice exam for a shot at a job at Intel Corp. The giant computer chip maker had broken ground on its biggest factory ever in Vietnam's commercial hub, Ho Chi Minh City, and the $1 billion assembly and test facility needed good engineers. It was more than just another big project. The Intel investment would put Vietnam on the global tech map and help a rising star in the manufacturing world move closer to its dream of advancing up the value chain. But the results from Intel's test cast a spotlight on one of Vietnam's biggest barriers to achieving that dream: its inadequate and inflexible higher education system. A fraction of the students passed the written exam, covering physics, electrical engineering, maths and other topics. They were given an English test and just 40 made the final cut. [Source: John Ruwitch, Reuters, May 13, 2009 <~>]

“Than Trong Phuc, Intel's country manager for Vietnam, said he was not surprised by the results. "Is Vietnam a literate society with good people with fundamental skills? Yes," he said. "But do these people already have knowledge about chip-making in place? No. So we have to start from the ground." Company spokesman Nick Jacobs said the test was not designed for hiring but rather to "evaluate the competencies" of students and to be a starting point for dialogue with the authorities. Vietnamese newspapers and websites reported on the result, though, and word quickly spread. The Intel tale soon became a go-to anecdote in the foreign business community to highlight the education system's failings and one of the big problems when investing in the Southeast Asian country, a lack of skilled professionals. <~>

“Among Vietnamese, public debate has blossomed about what many are calling an education crisis, especially at a time when some argue education reform should be a top priority as the government tries to right an economy buffeted by the global recession. The higher education system remains a throwback to Vietnam's pre-reform days when the economy was small and centralised, ill equipped for the country's new realities. "The demand for education at the post-secondary level is enormous. Demand way outstrips supply," said Jeffrey Waite, who follows education in Vietnam for the World Bank. "The system is under enormous pressure to respond by expanding access, and there's always the risk of expanding access at the cost of quality ... Quality is of real concern." <~>

“One huge problem is staff. Political credentials remain at least as important in the selection of professors as educational bona fides, despite a clear need for better qualified teachers. Less than 15 percent of teaching staff at higher education institutes have a doctorate, and that percentage has not changed in the past 10 years, Waite said. Schools have little autonomy to tailor curricula and students are rewarded for memorisation skills, not critical thinking. "I bet very few graduates could give a correct answer if they were asked 'what is a market economy?'," said one recent graduate who declined to be identified. "But you know what? They made us memorise the Investment Law which took effect in 1987." The school system, like other facets of life in Vietnam, is also plagued with corruption. Plagiarism is reportedly rife. <~>

“Not surprisingly, the products of such a system are weak. Only 30 percent of university and college graduates met requirements for their jobs, state-run VietnamNet quoted the Ministry of Education and Training as saying. Between 2009 and 2015, the two biggest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, will need some 4 million "high-quality" workers in fields such as information technology, tourism, shipbuilding and finance. Based on the current level and quality of training, at best 40-60 percent of demand could be met, it said. In IT, Vietnam's universities and junior colleges mint 110,000 new engineers a year but only 10 percent become "effective employees", it reported. <~>

“The government has been drafting and re-drafting an education strategy to take it through to 2020, but it has faced criticism. One former senior education official was quoted as calling a late draft "unbelievably romantic". The start year keeps getting pushed back and it is unclear when the plan will be implemented. One critically needed change, some say, is the role of the central government, which must shift to one of broad oversight rather than micromanaging matters such as tenure appointments. "It's like they want to have their cake and eat it. They know what they want. They want to have one or two of their universities to be top ranked in the world. But they don't want to give away what they have," the World Bank's Waite said. <~>

Vietnam’s Marxist-Leninist University Curriculum

In his paper “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system,” Dung Hue Doan of Nong Lam University wrote: In higher education, the ideas of inculcating socialist thoughts and socialist principles among students are as important as building intellectual ability. The objectives of higher education are defined by the Education Law as ‘to equip learners with political, moral qualities and willingness to serve people; with knowledge and professional ability consistent with the level of education received, with good health essential to meet the demand of building and protecting the nation’ (SRV MOET, 2004c, Chapter 2, Article 35, p. 38). Therefore, political thoughts are enforced by compulsory taught courses and through activities and movements led by the Communist Youth Union throughout student life. [Source: “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system” by Dung Hue Doan, Nong Lam University, Linh Trung, Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Email: doanhuedung@hcm.vnn.vn, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

In the undergraduate curriculum, political subjects make up 23 credit hours, accounting for 12 percent of total study hours, including Marxist-Leninist Philosophy, Marxist political economics, scientific Socialism, Ho Chi Minh thought, and history of the Vietnamese Communist Party. The role of political subjects has been reinforced by Decree 6134 dated 15th July 2004 by the Ministry of Education and Training, according to which all undergraduate students have to sit for Marxist sciences and Ho Chi Minh thought as required examinations before graduation (SRV MOET, 2004f). |^|

In addition, the Office for Political Affairs, a special office found in every university, also frequently organizes various extra activities to ensure that the Communist mentality is upheld in the life of the university. Common activities include regular talks, seminars and contests to educate the revolutionary tradition of the Communists. Other common objectives of these seminars and talks are also to interpret Ho Chi Minh’s ideology, and to update students about current political issues in the world. The biggest activity in student life is the so-called Green Summer Campaign, which motivates students from all universities to go to remote and disadvantaged areas of the country to assist the communities in agricultural work and to teach the illiterate basic language lessons. The overall purpose is to upgrade the standard of living of the poor and the needy. Another significant meaning of the campaign is to nourish revolutionary spirit among students, the spirit that encourages young people to go and do voluntary work in poor and war- destroyed regions. This campaign, though voluntary, involves thousands of students every year and has made a great impact on the life of the community.

Vietnam to Develop Tertiary Education

In 2007, Xinhua reported: “Vietnam has planned to have, by 2010, 20 students per 1,000 residents, and 10 universities which have at least one faculty whose training quality is equal to that of the world's renowned universities, according to local newspaper Pioneer on Tuesday. Under a plan on developing universities and colleges in the 2006-2020 period recently approved by the Vietnamese government, the country will strive to have, by 2015, 20 universities which have at least one faculty whose training quality is equal to that of the world's renowned universities, and one university which is among top 200 universities in the world. [Source: Xinhua, July 31, 2007 *-*]

“By 2015, over 70 percent of university lecturers and more than 50 percent of college lecturers will hold master or doctorate degrees. By 2020, 70-80 percent of local students will undergo training according to profession and application programs, and 20-30 percent according to research programs. By the year, 30-40 percent of students will study at private universities. More major universities and colleges will be established in Hanoi capital, central Da Nang city, central Hue city, southern Ho Chi Minh City and southern Can Tho city. By 2020, the Northwestern region is expected to have 10 universities and colleges, the Northeastern region 37, the Red River Delta 125, the northern part of the central region 45, the southern coastal part of the central region 60, the Central Highlands region 15, the Southeastern region 105, and the southern Mekong Delta 70. *-*

“By mid-2005, Vietnam, with a population of some 82 million at that time, had 22.5 million students from pre-school to higher education, or over 27 percent of its population, who attended 214 universities and colleges, 546 vocational training establishments, 26,359 grade schools, and 10,104 kindergartens, according to the country's Ministry of Education and Training. Vietnam had literacy rate of 95.4 percent and 13 university students per 1,000 residents by mid-2005. *-*

“Vietnam has planned to have, by 2010, 20 students per 1,000 residents, and 10 universities which have at least one faculty whose training quality is equal to that of the world's renowned universities, according to local newspaper Pioneer on Tuesday. Under a plan on developing universities and colleges in the 2006-2020 period recently approved by the Vietnamese government, the country will strive to have, by 2015, 20 universities which have at least one faculty whose training quality is equal to that of the world's renowned universities, and one university which is among top 200 universities in the world. *-*

“By 2015, over 70 percent of university lecturers and more than 50 percent of college lecturers will hold master or doctorate degrees. By 2020, 70-80 percent of local students will undergo training according to profession and application programs, and 20-30 percent according to research programs. By the year, 30-40 percent of students will study at private universities. More major universities and colleges will be established in Hanoi capital, central Da Nang city, central Hue city, southern Ho Chi Minh City and southern Can Tho city. By 2020, the Northwestern region is expected to have 10 universities and colleges, the Northeastern region 37, the Red River Delta 125, the northern part of the central region 45, the southern coastal part of the central region 60, the Central Highlands region 15, the Southeastern region 105, and the southern Mekong Delta 70. *-*

“By mid-2005, Vietnam, with a population of some 82 million at that time, had 22.5 million students from pre-school to higher education, or over 27 percent of its population, who attended 214 universities and colleges, 546 vocational training establishments, 26,359 grade schools, and 10,104 kindergartens, according to the country's Ministry of Education and Training. Vietnam had literacy rate of 95.4 percent and 13 university students per 1,000 residents by mid-2005. *-*

Vietnamese Universities Attracting More Foreign Students

Phuong Anh wrote in Thanh Nien, “An increasing number of foreign students, primarily from other Asian countries, are now choosing to study in Vietnam. "At first, foreign students came here out of curiosity about post-war Vietnam," said Dr. Nguyen Van Hue, head of the department of Vietnamese studies at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities. "In recent years though, as our economy has developed, they have been coming to study the Vietnamese language and culture to pave the way for their future investment in the country." [Source: Phuong Anh, Thanh Nien, December 4, 2007 |+|]

“Of all the subjects available to international students, Vietnamese studies are among the most popular, attracting a considerable number of foreign students worldwide, especially from the Republic of Korea. Park Won Oh, 26, has been studying Vietnamese at the HCMC University of Education for four years. Oh said he chose to study in Vietnam rather than China, which is generally considered to be more developed in terms of its higher education system and economy. "Many Korean businessmen are already working and investing in China which would mean fierce competition for me if I wanted to do business there," Oh said. "On the other hand, the presence of Korean people in Vietnam is yet to be marked." |+|

“Oh's brother also studied Vietnamese at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities and Oh says his decision to study internationally had a lot to do with his brother's experience in the country. Dr. Hue says that most foreign students like Oh decide to work in Vietnam permanently after their studies end. "I will work for a Vietnamese-Korean joint venture in HCMC after graduating," says Oh. |+|

"Many international students struggle with mandatory courses like Marxist-Leninist philosophy and political science which can be hard nuts to crack – even for Vietnamese students," said Dr. Du Ngoc Ngan, head of the linguistics department at the HCMC University of Education. Dr. Ngan says that Vietnamese instructors, however, try their best to help international students overcome any difficulties they encounter along the way. Vietnamese professors, she says, take great pains to adapt their teaching methods and utilize modern equipment to make their lessons vivid and interesting to international students. |+|

“Universities also organize field trips and cultural activities for foreign students, allowing them to practice their language skills and explore Vietnamese culture outside the classroom. "Vietnamese teachers and students have been very friendly to foreign students like myself," said Oh. "They've taken me many places and always answer any questions I have." Dr. Ngan says foreign students are eligible for the same opportunities as Vietnamese students. They are eligible to apply for dormitory rooms, for instance, though most prefer to live off campus. They can also apply for scholarships if their records are strong enough, she said. |+|

"We also help foreign students with the necessary paper work during their studies and provide academic advising, housing and career services. If they have any legal problems, we can also help," said Dr. Ngan. The HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities has recently established a service center exclusively for international students, also directed by Dr. Hue. "The center is developing a web-site to give foreign students access to employment opportunities in Vietnam and ‘a Vietnamese as a Second Language' training program for those interested in teaching Vietnamese to foreigners," said Dr. Hue. Vietnamese instructors have a high regard for foreign students' learning attitudes. "They come to class on time and easily integrate with Vietnamese students," says Dr. Ngan. |+|

David Lamb wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Among the 54 universities in Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's first foreign-run educational facility, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Its 1,400 students come from 20 countries, including the United States, and earn degrees in software engineering, commerce and marketing on a modern campus. When the institute's president, Michael Mann, visited Vietnam in 1984 as a young diplomat from Australia, the country was so poor and famished that he brought rice to ensure he would have something to eat. [Source: David Lamb, Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2005]

Problems with Vietnam’s University System

Kay Johnson wrote in Time magazine: “Vietnam's higher education system hasn't grown fast enough to meet demand from students eager to get ahead in Asia's second-fastest-growing economy. Relatively few Vietnamese can fulfill the dream of a higher education, which is bad news for its economy. Vietnam currently attracts foreign investment at a rate of nearly $1 billion per month, with investors looking to take advantage both of its low-wage levels and its young and highly literate population. But only 10 percent of Vietnamese college-aged youths are enrolled in higher education, lagging behind India and China, and less than a quarter of the figure for Thailand. Those numbers don't bode well for Vietnam's ambitions to move into higher-end electronics and outsourcing. [Source: Kay Johnson, Time magazine, July 12, 2007 ==]

“Tom Vallely, director of the Vietnam program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, says the country's universities aren't churning out enough qualified engineers, IT workers and managers. "You are already seeing a skilled-worker shortage," he says. Even the elite who make it into university find that the centrally controlled curriculum is steeped in "Ho Chi Minh Thought," and lags far behind other schools in Asia. The reforms that have seen a mushrooming of private enterprise in the communist-controlled society have yet to reach its more than 300 universities. Professors' pay and promotion is based on seniority, not merit, and they rarely publish in international journals. "Vietnam drastically needs education reform," says Adam Sitkoff, director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam. "If you want to compete in the IT sector and you want to attract high-wage, high-growth jobs, you need to have a smart, well-educated workforce." ==

“Vallely, who was part of a delegation of U.S. educators that met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Trietalong to promote reform, says Vietnam needs a world-class flagship school — the equivalent of India's Institutes of Technology or Tsinghua University in China. Existing schools, he says, need autonomy to build their own curriculum and compete for students. "These kids who do make the cut and go to school are very smart," Vallely says. "They're just not getting much of an education when they get there." And if that doesn't change, Vietnam may only be cheating itself. ==

Vietnam Higher Education Fails Because of Half-copied Models

Many experts are blaming the education sector in Vietnam for half-copying the education models of other countries, which makes it unstable and inadequate in turning out highly-qualified graduates for the country. Vietnamese students are said to be interior to their overseas peers in terms of language skills, work and lifestyles, self confidence, and in adopting methods to approach and deal with a particular situation. This experience is repeated in almost all Southeast Asian countries despite having a tradition of eagerness in learning and an admiration for highly-educated individuals. [Source: Financial Times Information, October 11, 2002 +++]

“Vietnam began to build its own tertiary education system after the liberation of the North. Up until the late 1980s it had copied the exact model of the former Soviet Union, in which the Ministry of Education and Training wholly managed the operation of each tertiary institution. It decided on student intake quotas and staff recruitment, compiled textbooks and wrote the syllabi, and provided and inspected the spending of state budget for all universities and colleges. This mechanism created inertia among higher education bases, while decisions on the structure of the training level and the monitoring of training quality were beyond the capacity of the small, unqualified staff at the MoET. In the end, Vietnam could only train their younger generation in poorly equipped campuses, using outdated knowledge and methods that stifled creative thinking. +++

“Moreover, teachers often paid too much attention to theoretical knowledge while neglecting practical application. Research institutes within universities and colleges were viewed as ivory towers that were isolated from both training activities and the real demand of the country's social and economic development. Graduates were scholastic but unable to perform well in the workplace. The ratio of graduates in different training fields is also disproportionate to demand in society, with too many graduates in law, business management, medicine, natural and social sciences, and humanities, and too few in industrial and agricultural engineering. The Russian-styled higher education system was also spoiled by the "achievement craving mentality" of Vietnamese people, which leads to teachers being accommodating in assessing students' results and pushes poor students to be dishonest in their schooling. Almost no students would be expelled during their studies for low marks and all would receive a university degree to secure a good job in a state office or state-run enterprise, no matter how poorly qualified they were. The situation still lingers today, as higher education becomes easier to access. Postgraduate training is even easier than undergraduate training provided you have enough money to pay for the course and other unofficial expenses for teachers. +++

“Since the early 1990s, the education sector has been trying to find a way out by applying the US education model. The Ministry of Education and Training allowed the opening up of private higher education institutions and set up two national and several regional universities that have several colleges providing training in specific fields and research institutes. But it has failed to create fair competition among state-run and private bases nor worked out smooth management between the ministry and the parent universities and between the parent universities and their colleges, faculties and institutes. The education level has become chaotic and the ministry's intervention in the institutions' activities hinders them from upgrading and improving training quality. +++

“This year's entrance exams held by the ministry are an example of the intervention, which delayed recruitment processes by at least a month. The higher education level is still struggling with various pilot reforms but has yet to adopt a stable model. Evidence of the failure of the higher education system in Vietnam lies in the high rate of unemployed new graduates, which reached nearly 90 percent last year. Among those who found a job, only a third worked in the field in which they were trained. The Ho Chi Minh City government is now seeking more autonomy in higher education. It wants to decide the intake quotas for each training field at its universities and colleges based on surveys of local labor demand. Many educationalists are also calling on the government to open up the education level to create a market-led training model, which they say will turn out good "products" that suit the country's development and integration process. +++

Brain Drain and Overseas Vietnamese Students

Many doctors, scientists and engineers fled after the fall of Saigon in 1975. In the 1990s, many professionals left their state jobs to make more money with private practices. Physicists taught English, doctors washed cars, generals sold cigarettes, schoolteachers worked as doormen.

Top 10 sources of foreign students at U.S. universities and colleges in 2011-2012: 1) China (194,029); 2) India (100,270); 3) South Korea (72,295); 4) Saudi Arabia (34,139); 5) Canada (26,821); 6) Taiwan (23,250); 7) Japan (19,996); 8) Vietnam (15,572); 9) Mexico (13,393); and 10) Turkey (11, 973).

Margot Cohen wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review: “In the old days, the Vietnamese government had no ideological qualms about sending students abroad. The system was simple. The state held a nationwide competition and dispatched winners, on full scholarships, to the Soviet Union, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Cuba, and Romania. Less-fortunate scholars made do with Mongolia. [Source: Margot Cohen, Far Eastern Economic Review, March 1, 2001 *+*]

“The Eastern bloc's collapse and Vietnam's resurgent interest in the West paved the way for a new generation. Beginning in 1992, the government allowed "self-funded students" the freedom to find their own slots in universities abroad. At present, an estimated 10,000 Vietnamese students are ensconced in Australia, the United States, France, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. Many overseas universities pay a commission to consultants who supply successful applicants, sweetening the pot provided by parents. The old guard remains troubled by the new system. "The students who are sent by their rich parents don't study hard. They build a bad reputation," says Tran Chi Thanh, the Russian-trained head of the academic affairs department at the National Economics University in Hanoi. *+*

Unscrupulous Brokers for Overseas Vietnamese Students

Margot Cohen wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review: “Call it a simple lesson in supply and demand. As Vietnamese universities churn out thousands of graduates with dim job prospects and poor English skills, overseas education has become an obsession for many parents with extra savings. Quick to see a growing market, roughly 90 local companies—many of them still unlicensed—have sprung up as "international education consultants," charging $200-$1,500 per student applicant. [Source: Margot Cohen, Far Eastern Economic Review, March 1, 2001 *+*]

“But the free market doesn't hold much appeal for Vietnam's Ministry of Education and Training. Citing complaints of fraud, the ministry is preparing tighter controls on study abroad. If draft measures are approved by the prime minister in June, as expected, each overseas student would require a special recommendation from the Education Ministry, and unlicensed consultancies would be shuttered. Judging by the proposal, the move is partly political. "At present, to serve a political purpose, many countries are encouraging our students to study in some social-science fields which are politically sensitive," the document warns. Consultants maintain, however, that most students prefer more practical courses, in business or computer science. *+*

“While some education experts welcome a crackdown on unscrupulous consultants, the proposed measures have also stirred dismay. "This is just a move to suffocate people," complains a Hanoi businessman, who has already sponsored one employee to study overseas. "It's a way for the Communist Party to extend more control over society." Education Ministry officials supporting the new measures profess alarm at their inability to keep tabs on students. Under the current system, students simply submit their university acceptance letter to the Ministry of Public Security, which issues them a passport. With a visa from the relevant embassy, they are free to go--without registering at the Education Ministry. "When [overseas students] violate the law, or get into fights, we have no idea who they are," frets one ministry official. "There are some students who study a short time, then they escape and never come back." Some consultants suspect that the ministry's efforts to assert control derive mainly from a desire to cash in. "They just want to impose another layer of bureaucracy on the Vietnamese student, forcing him to pay more," grumbles a Hanoi-based consultant on overseas education.

Under the proposed system, the Education Ministry would aim to curtail fraud by authenticating acceptance letters. Having a central clearing house would also make it easier for the Communist Party to track which officials are sending their children overseas and demand a financial accounting. To be sure, the Education Ministry is already overwhelmed with the job of authenticating degrees obtained at home. The Nhan Dan party newspaper has reported that the ministry had investigated more than half a million cases by December 2000, turning up 3,500 fake degrees. As the paper noted, Vietnamese citizens are becoming more bold in fingering cadres who obtain fake degrees in order to win promotions. Such scandals only boost business for the international education consultants, who pitch an overseas degree as a mark of credibility for future employers. And for anxious Vietnamese parents, that's all that counts. *+*

Science, Technology and Vietnam’s Great Mathematician

Professor Frank Proschan, an expert on Vietnamese culture at the Folklore Institute at Indiana University (Bloomington) said in the early 2000s the Vietnamese have just started walking the path of independent science after many years of Confucian and communist censorship. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology

Le Doc Tho and Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

Ngô Bado Châu (1972- ) is a Vietnamese and French mathematician at the University of Chicago, best known for proving the fundamental lemma for automorphic forms proposed by Robert Langlands and Diana Shelstad. He is the first Vietnamese to receive the Fields Medal. Chau first came to prominence by proving, in joint work with Gérard Laumon, the fundamental lemma for unitary groups. Their general strategy was to understand the local orbital integrals appearing in the fundamental lemma in terms of affine Springer fibers arising in the Hitchin fibration. This allowed them to employ the tools of geometric representation theory, namely the theory of perverse sheaves, to study what was initially a combinatorial problem of a number-theoretic nature. Chau eventually succeeded in formulating the proof for the fundamental lemma for Lie algebras in 2008. Together with results from Jean-Loup Waldspurger, who had earlier deduced stronger forms of the fundamental lemma from this result, this completed the proof of the fundamental lemma in all cases. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Chau was born in 1972, the only son of an intellectual family in Hanoi, North Vietnam. His father, professor Ngô Huy Can (vi), is full professor of physics at the Vietnam National Institute of Mechanics. His mother, Tra`n Luu Vân Hien, is a physician and associate professor at an herbal medicine hospital in Hanoi. At age 15, he entered the mathematics specialization class at Vietnam National University, Hanoi High School (Khoi chuyên Tong Ho.p – ?a.i hoc Khoa Hoc Tu. Nhiên Hà Noi), formerly known as A0-class. In grades 11 and 12, Chau participated in the 29th and 30th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) and became the first Vietnamese student to win two IMO gold medals, of which the first one was won with a perfect score (42/42). +

After high school, Chau expected to study in Budapest, but in the aftermath of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, the new Hungarian government halted scholarships to students from Vietnam. After visiting Chau's father, Paul Germain, secretary of the French Academy of Sciences, arranged for Chau to study in France. He was offered a scholarship by the French government for undergraduate study at the Paris VI University but he chose the prestigious École Normale Supérieure. He obtained a PhD in 1997 from the Universite Paris-Sud under the supervision of Gérard Laumon. He became a member of CNRS at Paris 13 University from 1998 to 2005, and defended his habilitation degree there in 2003. +

He became Professor at Paris-Sud 11 University in 2005. In 2005, at age 33, Chau received the title of professor in Vietnam, becoming the country's youngest-ever professor. Since 2007, Chau has worked at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey as well as the Hanoi Institute of Mathematics. He joined the mathematics faculty at the University of Chicago on September 1, 2010. Moreover, since 2011 he is acting as scientific director of the newly founded Vietnam Institute for Advanced Study. +

In 2004, Chau and Laumon were awarded the Clay Research Award for their achievement in solving the fundamental lemma proposed by Robert Langlands for the case of unitary groups. Chau also became the youngest professor in Vietnam in 2005. His proof of the general case was selected by Time as one of the Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of 2009. In 2010, he received the Fields Medal and in 2012, the Legion of Honour. In 2012 he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.

Vietnam's First Satellite Launched After 13-Year Preparation

In April 2008, Xinhua reported: “After 13 years of unceasing efforts, Vietnam's first satellite was successfully launched Saturday, ushering a new era for the local information communication technology industry. The 2.6-ton medium-sized satellite, Vinasat-1, was successfully launched to its geostationary orbit position using rocket Ariane-5in Kourou site in French Guiana. [Source: Xinhua, April 21, 2008 //\\]

“The satellite project was first approved by the Vietnamese government in 1995, with an aim to serve increasing local demand for better communication services with lower costs. After the approval, Vietnam had to negotiate with other countries to determine the satellite's orbital position. And in 2005, the geostationary orbit position of longitude 132 degrees east was finally decided after Vietnam overcame difficulties in negotiations especially with Japan, which uses the same position, and Tonga, which owns longitude 130 and 134 degrees east, and reserved it with the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union (ITU). //\\

“In 2006, the project's investor, the state-owned Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT), inked a contract with Lockheed Martin. Total investment for the production and launch of Vinasat-1 and the construction of related facilities like two ground stations in northern Ha Tay province and southern Binh Duong province stands at nearly 300 million dollars. The VNPT will recoup the investment after nine or ten years. //\\

“Vietnam has attached importance to using the satellite for commercial and non-commercial purposes, serving domestic and foreign enterprises, organizations and residents. So far, as many as 16 Vietnamese organizations and firms have registered to use Vinasat-1-based communication services at costs lower than those provided by foreign satellites, vice president of the VNPT Nguyen Ba Thuoc said at a recent press briefing. At present, Vietnam had to spend some $15 million annually to rent satellites to foreign countries such as Russia, Australia and Thailand. //\\

“With 20 transponders, service coverage in South East Asia, part of China, India, Korea, Japan, Australia and Hawaii, and life-span of between 15 and over 20 years, Vinasat-1 has transmission capacity equivalent to 10,000 voice, Internet and data channels or120 TV channels, helping Vietnam to provide telecommunications, radio, Internet and TV services to all corners of the country regardless of topography and climate. //\\

Japan to Aid Space Projects in Vietnam

In November 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The government has decided to provide yen loans of up to 40 billion yen in official development assistance to Vietnam for its space exploration program, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. It would be the first time Japan’s ODA would be allocated for space development. The loans of between 35 billion yen and 40 billion yen will reportedly be spent on three projects—an Earth-based space center, two observation satellites and the training of engineers. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 2011]

The space center will be built at the currently under-construction Hoa Lac High-Tech Park, which is about 30 kilometers west of Hanoi. The center will house a testing facility for satellite assembly, a satellite operation and data-analysis facility and a large bidirectional antenna 7 meters in diameter. One of the two Earth observation satellites will be manufactured in Japan and loaded onto an H-2A rocket to be launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture in 2017. Japanese private space development firms and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will train Vietnamese technicians on satellite production and operation, as well as data analysis. The other satellite will be made by these Japan-trained engineers, with production expected to start from around 2019. Japan will send components and engineers to Vietnam for the project for a planned launch in 2020.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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