Research

Drawing on the Fulbright School’s many linkages with national and local government, think tanks, and universities, Harvard Kennedy School and Fulbright School economists and policy analysts engage in innovative research on the political and economic challenges facing Vietnam.

Collectively, researchers bring comparative perspectives to bear on analysis of Vietnamese policy problems. In particular, the development experience of other countries in the region help clarify the strategic options confronting Vietnam. This research is used to engage in policy dialogue with the government and donor community, and infuses the Fulbright School’s teaching programs with real-world insights and an intellectual vibrancy that allows it to target international programs for comparison, something that sets the teaching apart from other Vietnamese higher education programs.

Vietnam's Political and Economic Development

Vietnam is now facing a number of challenges. Multinational conflicts are playing out in the East Sea, affecting Vietnamese fishermen and broader regional relations. Economic growth has slowed and, in spite of high levels of foreign direct investment, is not showing nearly as much dynamism as it once did. A weak financial system and real estate bubbles complicate efforts to rekindle rapid and healthy growth. Additionally, the country struggles with political repercussions from the economic and social development of the past quarter century. Vietnam’s traditional forms of governance are not responsive enough to the country’s advancement

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, Fulbright School faculty members pursue research on a range of topics from urbanization, to foreign direct investment, various economic sectors, and the legal system. 

Greater Mekong Basin

Few of the world’s transboundary river systems are managed well, or sustainably, and the Greater Mekong Basin (GMB) is an example. Cooperation among the six countries that are home to the Mekong River—China (Yunnan province), Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam—is dampened by long histories of colonialism, conquest and distrust, structural upstream-downstream effects, and nonoverlapping development trajectories resulting from wide differences in national policies and per capita incomes. 

A new project, supported by the Harvard Global Institute, and formally titled, "China’s Role in Promoting Transboundary Resource Management in the Greater Mekong Basin," seeks to understand how China can work collaboratively with its neighbors in the GMB to manage the basin’s natural resources efficiently and sustainably. Organizations designed to identify relevant activities in the region have been created, but the mechanisms that will foster the necessary cooperation have yet to be developed. This project’s research focuses on the public policy dimensions of the gains and losses from collaborating, the concessions and other adjustments required, and the processes and procedures that will ensure the inter-country cooperation needed to maintain the environment throughout the Greater Mekong Basin.

Recent Research

Malcolm McPherson, March 2020 

This paper examines how China can improve transboundary resource management within the Greater Mekong Basin (GMB) through its participation in the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC). Such improvement would ensure the efficient management and equitable development of the basin’s natural resources and ecosystems.

David Dapice, November 2017

How rapidly will or could demand for power grow in Vietnam? What will interest rates be? Will the cost of generating plants go up or down, and by how much? What will the cost of each fuel be? Will the cost of carbon or other pollution begin to enter into investment decisions?

This paper will examine these questions. It will begin by looking at demand projections and investments in efficiency – getting more output per kilowatt hour used. It will then try to estimate the costs of building and running various types of generating plants in Vietnam over time. It will also use various costs of carbon to see if including these both as a source of global warming and as an indicator of local pollution changes the calculation. Changes in the domestic supply of gas will also influence the set of potential solutions, as will the declining costs of solar electricity and battery storage. In all of this it is the system or mix of investments that need to work, not any single investment.

Anh, Vu Thanh Tu, Laura Chirot, David Dapice, Huynh The Du, Pham Duy Nghia, Dwight Perkins, and Nguyen Xuan Thanh. 2015. “Institutional Reform: From Vision to Reality”. Read full paper Abstract
This paper is intended to provide context for the policy discussions that will take place during the fifth Vietnam Executive Leadership Program (VELP). Over the course of the week-long VELP 2015, it is hoped that the arguments and ideas presented in this paper will be discussed, debated, and challenged, and that the paper will contribute constructively to the debate around critical questions facing the Vietnamese leadership and Vietnamese society more broadly today.
Anh, Vu Thanh Tu, Laura Chirot, David Dapice, Huynh The Du, Pham Duy Nghia, Dwight Perkins, and Nguyen Xuan Thanh. 2015. “Institutional Reform: From Vision to Reality”. Read full paper Abstract
This paper is intended to provide context for the policy discussions that will take place during the fifth Vietnam Executive Leadership Program (VELP). Over the course of the week-long VELP 2015, it is hoped that the arguments and ideas presented in this paper will be discussed, debated, and challenged, and that the paper will contribute constructively to the debate around critical questions facing the Vietnamese leadership and Vietnamese society more broadly today.
Nghia, Pham Duy, Nguyen Xuan Thanh, Huynh The Du, Do Thien Anh Tuan, Ben Wilkinson, Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dwight Perkins, and David Da. 2013. “Unplugging Institutional Bottlenecks to Restore Growth: A Policy Discussion Paper Prepared for the 2013 Vietnam Executive Leadership Program (VELP)”. Read Full Paper Abstract

Pham Duy Nghia, Nguyen Xuan Thanh, Huynh The Du, Do Thien Anh Tuan, Ben Wilkinson, Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dwight Perkins, and David Dapice, August 2013

This paper was prepared for the fourth annual Vietnam Executive Leadership Program (VELP), held at the Harvard Kennedy School from August 26 to 30, 2013. The paper aimed to provide participants, including Vietnamese government officials, scholars, and corporate executives, with a concise assessment of some of the key public policy challenges confronting Vietnam today. This paper is by no means comprehensive; it is not possible to offer an exhaustive analysis of every policy area in a brief study. In selecting which issues to address, the authors were guided by the priorities articulated by the Vietnamese government in policy statements promulgated over the past year. By design, the paper was delivered as a work in progress, which the authors encouraged the participants to challenge and strengthen through rigorous debate over the five days of VELP. It is hoped that the paper also will serve as a catalyst for informed discussion and debate among the larger policy community in Vietnam.

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