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Vietnamese property developer partners with Cornell on new HEI

Vietnam’s largest property developer has secured Cornell University’s assistance in a plan to build ‘VinUniversity’, which it hopes will be a world-class teaching and research institution, in Hanoi. If all goes according to plan, the new institution could significantly alter Vietnam’s HE landscape.

Moving up in the education stakes: a new university is planned in Vietnam. Photo: Roger Harris Photography

"None of the major universities, honestly, from the West are there"

Vingroup — a Vietnamese conglomerate with interests in property development, health care, education, and retail — and Cornell announced the six-and-a-half year consulting deal earlier this month. The university will include schools of business, hospitality real estate, engineering, and more.

“We didn’t see [global TNE] in Vietnam, so… this is a place where we can take the lead role”

“We see that [Vietnam is] a growing part of the world economy, growing fast, and none of the major universities, honestly, from the West are there,” said Rohit Verma, dean of external relations for Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business.

VinUniversity will be a domestic Vietnamese institution, with Cornell’s role in the project strictly advisory. Cornell will advise on infrastructure development, campus services, curriculum, and faculty hiring, Verma said.

Industry observers have said that Vietnam would continue to send growing numbers of students abroad until a local alternative emerges, but such an alternative would be attractive for Vietnamese parents.

“From the perspective of Vietnamese parents, this will have the win-win benefit of saving money … And keeping their children closer to home during their still-formative undergraduate years,” said Mark A. Ashwill, PhD, managing director of Capstone Vietnam.

VinUniversity seems designed to fill that niche, with intentions to make QS’s Top 50 Under 50 universities list and achieve the company’s highest rating of five stars.

No Vietnamese university has so far penetrated the major international rankings.

“We hope that our graduates will help Vietnam become a stronger competitor in south east Asia and on the global stage,” said Le Mai Lan, vice chairwoman of Vingroup in a statement.

Cornell’s peers such as Harvard, Yale, and Oxford — which have large, established projects in China, Singapore, and other overseas markets — are absent from Vietnam.

“We didn’t see [global TNE] in Vietnam, so that said to us, ‘Okay this is a place where we can take the lead role,'” Verma said.

Foreign university activity in Vietnam remains limited with two exceptions. RMIT University Vietnam currently maintains Vietnam’s only foreign-run campuses, in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. It has operated in the country since 2001.

“We hope that our graduates will help Vietnam become a stronger competitor in south east Asia and on the global stage”

American-Vietnamese hybrid Fulbright University also is building a campus in Ho Chi Minh City and is expected to open in 2020.

Whether or not VinUniversity will compete head-to-head with these institutions remains to be seen, however.

“The devil will be in the details,” said University of Sydney’s Anthony Welch, who has studied higher education systems in the region. “It has the capacity to provide another good option for quality education in Vietnam.”

RMIT University spent years establishing itself Vietnam before building its Saigon campus. Cornell does not have a comparable history, so it’s unclear how consumers will react to its role in VinUniversity, Welch added. Vingroup, however, has an enormous brand power in Vietnam.

“VinUniversity could very well fill that niche [for parents], perhaps even better and faster than Fulbright University Vietnam, especially in view of the partnership with Cornell and the amount of money Vingroup is willing to invest in the short-term,” Ashwill said.

“From what I’ve seen, Vingroup is fully prepared to [put] its money where its vision is.”

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