Mr Nguyen Xuan Vang has a certain kind of ‘chemistry’ with the British Council. He has collaborated with the organisation throughout his career, in multiple roles and at different points in time. The connection has been there from the time he was an English teacher craving innovative teaching materials through to when he was promoted to the role of Rector at Hanoi University of Foreign Studies and tasked with tendering for a major English teaching project. The relationship continued as Vang became Head of the Ministry of Education and Training’s International Education Cooperation Department, a role that saw him well positioned to pursue collaborative partnerships across a wide range of fields of education. While the impacts of Vang’s partnerships with the British Council have been felt here in Vietnam, the origins of this long term relationship began well before the British Council had a presence here.
Mr Nguyen Xuan Vang first crossed paths with the British Council not in Vietnam but rather in London, back in 1984. At that time, he was taking a UNESCO-funded teacher training course, and recalled the British Council’s generous in-kind support in the form of English teaching materials. “The college I was studying at had a visit to the British Council. I went too and was very impressed by how the organisation carried out research as well as by the teaching they delivered. They had a series of English teaching manuals and I asked them if I could take or purchase some of them to use in Vietnam. I gave them my address back home and they sent us the entire set of printed manuals, tapes and CDs, all free of charge.”
Back in those days, pursuing further study in English was particularly uncommon as according to Vang, “Russian and Chinese still had the upper hand.” Vietnam was hungry for resources given the US economic sanctions, and Vang was actively on the lookout for materials to bring home and share with colleagues and friends. By 1991, although studying English had become more ‘trendy,’ the thirst for high quality contemporary English language material was still there. Vang decided to set up the Centre for English Teaching Materials, a facility that also taught advanced English with the goal of providing more opportunities for everyone to access English, and those valued materials offered by the British Council were there among the resources available for use. Many English ‘fanatics’ may still remember this center, with some of its former students now government ministers and vice ministers.
The next milestone he remembers in his relationship with the British Council was their partnership in English teaching in 1998 during Vang’s tenure as Rector of Hanoi University of Foreign Studies. “Back then, there was an international open tender financed by the Danish International Development Agency (Danida) through the UNDP. The specifications related to developing the English proficiency of members of 3 key governing bodies in Vietnam – the National Assembly, the People’s Supreme Procuracy and the People’s Supreme Court. Hanoi University of Foreign Studies and the British Council submitted a joint bid and won the almost USD1 million training contract.” Following a successful phase one, the contract was extended with additional funding of close to USD500,000 pouring in. Vang shared that he felt the project was his greatest success amongst all his partnerships with the British Council.
Between 2008 and 2017, when Vang was working as Head of the Ministry of Education and Training’s Department of International Cooperation Training, the predecessor of the International Education Cooperation Department, his relationship with the British Council became ‘very close knit.’ Highlights of this period as he recalled it include a 2008 Memorandum of Understanding between the British Council and Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training, former Vice Prime Minister and Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan’s visit to the UK, the annual Going Global international higher education conference (*), as well as assistance provided by the British Council in establishing connections between Vietnamese and British universities.
“Helpful and supportive” are the terms former Department head Nguyen Xuan Vang used to describe how the British Council operated. “They were very helpful and supportive, always ready to share information, explore ideas and identify resources available to promote international cooperation with Vietnam in relation to education. The British Council has been there for education in Vietnam through projects like the English 2020 project*, the Newton Fund**, the creation of the Da Nang University Vietnam–UK Institute for Research & Executive Education, various projects in education quality assurance and the development of the National Qualifications Framework among others.
Speaking about the impact of the 2008 educational Memorandum of Understanding, under which the British Council has been tasked with acting on behalf of the British government as a focal agency, Mr Nguyen Xuan Vang believes that, “performance has generally been good with benefits for both countries. The two sides have worked diligently to find the best collaborative solutions possible.” More recently in July 2018, the Memorandum of Understanding was extended by the International Cooperation Department and the British Council, integrating updated components in order to further advance internationalisation in Vietnam through improving educational quality and associated competencies, enhancing English proficiency, and sharing experiences in education management for international integration.
Looking forward, Mr Nguyen Xuan Vang anticipates that, “Vietnam wants the quality of English education offered to be providing Vietnamese graduates with a clear competitive edge by 2020. My own success I think has certainly been supported by the fact that I speak English. The British Council can build on its most valued asset to continue assisting Vietnam with the teaching of English through the provision of training for English teachers. Practical support such as providing teaching manuals, support with assessment and the dissemination of new approaches to language teaching and learning have an important role to play in achieving the goal of increased communicative competency in English for all Vietnamese students.”
* The Foreign Languages 2020 initiative is a Ministry of Education and Training project with the objective of embedding the teaching and learning of foreign languages in the national educational system over the period 2008-2020.
** The Newton Fund: Initiated in 2014, the Newton Fund is a UK official development assistance programme focused on promoting research and innovation. In Vietnam, the British Council is collaborating with Vietnamese government departments and financing agencies to advance international cooperation and to provide professional development for individuals and organisations carrying out research in areas of priority for Vietnam such as health and life sciences, agriculture, environmental resource management, sustainable cities, innovation and digital technology.
"The British Council is helpful and supportive, always ready to share information, explore ideas and identify resources available to promote international cooperation with Vietnam in the field of education."