Rice paddyDrawing on the Fulbright School’s (FETP) many linkages with national and local government, think tanks, and universities, Harvard Kennedy School and FETP economists and policy analysts engage in innovative research on the socioeconomic challenges facing Vietnam. We also bring comparative perspectives to bear on our analysis of Vietnamese policy problems. In particular, the development experience of other countries in the region can help clarify the strategic options confronting Vietnam. This research is used to engage in policy dialogue with the government and donor community, and infuses FETP’s teaching programs with real-world insights and an intellectual vibrancy that sets FETP apart among Vietnam’s institutions of higher education.

Vietnam's Socioeconomic Development
Vietnam is now facing a number of challenges. The news stories emphasize the ongoing confrontation between fishermen and Coast Guard forces of Vietnam in the East Sea facing aggression from Chinese economic interests and paramilitary naval forces. The economic challenge comes from an economy which is growing more slowly than in the past and, in spite of high levels of foreign direct investment, is not showing nearly as much dynamism as in the past. A weak financial system and real estate bubbles complicate efforts to rekindle rapid and healthy growth. The third challenge comes from the need to deal with the political implications of the economic and social development of the past quarter century. Holding onto traditional forms of governance is not an adequate response to this development, as the Prime Minister’s New Year’s Speech suggested. In this context and in response to the need for informed analysis on approaches moving forward, the Vietnam Program’s current research focuses on the limits of Vietnam’s current growth strategy and on the structural changes, especially in the state-owned enterprises and in the financial sector, that will be needed if Vietnam is to sustain growth in the next decade. In addition, FETP faculty members pursue research on a range of topics ranging from urbanization to FDI, to various economic sectors, to the legal system.

Lower Mekong Public Policy Initiative
A partnership with USAID, the Lower Mekong Public Policy Initiative (LMPPI) is designed to strengthen public policy analysis capacity in the countries of the Lower Mekong Region – including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, through policy research, teaching, and policy dialogue on public policies that promote economic development that is ecologically sustainable and improves livelihoods.

Embedded in the Fulbright School in Ho Chi Minh City, LMPPI partners with institutions in each of the Lower Mekong countries to form an institutional network and carry out collaborative research. Research activities focus on some the most vexing dilemmas in the region, including promoting knowledge-intensive economic activity, stewarding natural resources, and forging more effective regional cooperation mechanisms. A special emphasis is placed on protecting the region’s shared water resources, including the Mekong River watershed and diminishing ground water supplies. An upcoming white paper will examine the critical policy challenges facing the Mekong region. The educational components of the project, including executive courses, full length graduate courses, and a number of policy dialogue activities will be introduced in 2015 and 2016.

Higher Education & Institutional Innovation in Vietnam
For more than a decade we have studied the challenges confronting Vietnam in higher education and science. We believe that the Task Force on Higher Education and Society’s study of higher education in developing countries provides a valuable analytical framework for considering both the nature of the problem and potential solutions. Today we are active participants in a dialogue with Vietnamese and international stakeholders regarding strategies for creating new Vietnamese institutions of higher learning.

Institutional innovation – the development of public institutions that are responsive to the heavy demands of modern society – is a necessary component of Vietnam’s continued development. This conviction underscores our commitment to the Fulbright School as an independent, self-sustaining institution of higher learning that enshrines the core principles of excellence including autonomy, merit-based selection systems, and academic space. At the same time, we observe that the established paradigms of academic exchange through which international universities engage with the world are incapable of supporting the creation of new institutions of higher learning that Vietnam requires.

Our experience developing the Fulbright School in an environment without an established tradition of independent institutions has meant that on many occasions we play the role of “systems integrator,” identifying new avenues through which international institutions – especially but not exclusively universities – can engage with Vietnam.

Other regional research: Cambodia, Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia
Although we focus primarily on Vietnam, Vietnam Program personnel occasionally conduct research on other countries in Southeast Asia. This research combines political and economic analysis of public problems. We typically begin by identifying the policy restraints to improved economic and human development outcomes in particular sectors. We augment this analysis with an examination of the political obstacles to policy change. These insights are used to ensure that our policy recommendations are tailored to the political economy of decision making. We combine research with policy dialogue by engaging with political, economic, and civil society leaders. Although we primarily address domestic policy challenges, depending on a country’s specific context we also consider barriers to improved relations with the international community, including the United States.

In recent years we have launched a Myanmar Program and engaged in sustained research on Myanmar on a broad range of challenges facing the country. We have also pursued or are pursuing research projects in Cambodia and Indonesia. Our research in Cambodia examined policy barriers to more inclusive and sustainable development. Our research in Indonesia examined the strengths and weaknesses of the country’s economy and institutions, and provided a framework for designing a strategy aiming at achieving sustained economic development.

The Vietnam Program's research reports can be found below: