Professor Pham Minh Hac was a trailblazer, representing the Vietnamese Government in work with the British Council, when it first opened to Vietnam in 1993, as the first Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET). He was delighted to share that his two grandchildren were studying in the UK, one pursuing a Master’s degree, and the other studying A-levels with plans to attend university.
Professor Pham Minh Hac (*) played an important role in paving the way for the inception of the British Council in Vietnam.
He described the context of Vietnam at that time: “When I was assigned by the government to work with the British Council, I knew that Vietnam was lagging behind other countries, having just emerged from the longest period of war in the 20th century (30 years) and very much at the beginning of its economic transition from a small-scale production economy to a modern industrialised one. My thinking as a public official helping the government and MOET with this transition, was that international exchanges were vital. I spent two years studying at Lenin University of Education and four years in Lomonosov University, majoring in psychology. That’s how I learnt about the history of education worldwide, with a focus on countries such as the UK, Russia the USA, and Germany. The UK has long education history in comparison with other countries. Top UK universities are also world leading ones with hundreds of years of history.”
He continued: “Looking back at the British Council’s entry into Vietnam, the period 1975-1995 was no time for an open-door policy, as it was a time of American sanctions against Vietnam. The Soviet Union had collapsed in 1991, with regimes falling earlier in 1989 for other Eastern European countries. At that time, Vietnam had no relationships with the USA or other Western countries. In education, having Vietnamese nationals travel abroad or foreigners coming here to explore local opportunities was very difficult. However as I was an expert in my line of work, I was invited to the USA in 1992 to talk. Nearly a year later, the UK’s Ministry of Education reached out and invited me over there to discuss education policy. After that, the British Embassy proposed opening a British Council office in Hanoi. I was its primary contact and I supported the idea.”
When Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher and Secondary Technical Education were merging at that time, I was appointed by the government as the new ministry’s first Deputy Minister. On the political side, I was still serving as a Central Communist Party Committee member. When news came from the British Embassy that the UK wanted a British Council office opened in Hanoi, I was sent by the government to establish contacts with the embassy. We were tasked by the government to pave the way for the British Council to officially open in Vietnam.
Professor Pham Minh Hac was invited by the UK ambassador at that time to a networking event with the first public officers to study in the UK under short-term and long-term scholarship programmes, many of whom have subsequently taken in charge of important leadership positions. He recalled the UK ambassador had visited his house and had a warm meal with his family. He still remembered the farewell party of the British Council’s Country Director in 1996, when Ms Muriel Kirton had to finish her term early because of health issues. Those warm memories created deep impressions on him of the close cooperation with the UK and British Council.
He is delighted that cooperation with the British Council has brought great results to date. Education cooperation between the British Council and Vietnam in all fields initiated by the British Council has developed with remarkable progress in the past few years. “Even though there were only few Vietnamese students studying in the UK back then, there are thousands every year now,” he said.
* Professor Pham Minh Hac holds a doctorate in psychology from Russia’s Lomonosov University, is a professor, People’s Educator, former Vice Minister of Education and Training (1990-1996), and former head of the Education Science Institute (1981-1987).
“I am delighted that cooperation with the British Council has developed to the level we find it today.”