It is hard to tell the difference between Britain and the British Council in this story, given the deep-seated affection Tran Ba Viet Dung, former head of the International Cooperation Department, Ministry of Education and Training and executive member of the Vietnam–UK Friendship Association has for this foggy country. This is a country he dearly loves – the culture, people, knowledge and educational partnerships. This love comes from his early days as a young guest student until he was appointed to management positions at the ministry, all the way to present when he retired. Everybody in his family (himself, his wife and two sons) studied in Britain. Viet Anh (which stands for Vietnam and UK) is even his second son’s name.
Where the love started
In 1978, Tran Ba Viet Dung – a young English teacher of the Foreign Trade University – won a British Government’s scholarship to attend a graduate advanced English teaching class at Ealing College of Higher Education, London. The course took place in Scotland and then London. What was special about the class was Dung and his friends lived with a British family, spoke the ‘real’ English, ate the meals cooked by the homeowner and played with their two young girls. In 1992, Dung had an opportunity to return to Britain in another graduate scholarship programme on Developmental Economics (sponsored by British Petroleum and the British Government) at Manchester University. He and a friend who studied with him in Britain were determined to find the family who took them in. After so many failed attempts they almost gave up, they found the family’s new address. The two men travelled from Manchester to a place near London to see the British family that now moved to Warrick and spent a whole day with them. Fifteen years had passed and the two daughters, now grown young women, still remembered their Vietnamese friends, opened their arms like flying planes and hollered: “Let me fly to Vietnam so I can see your parents!” The memories of the two study tours grew into their love for the country and everything that belongs to it.
Knowledge, opportunity and cooperation
In addition to getting in contact with the British people and culture, in his first tour Dung also got to know world-famous language teachers, had his teaching methodology honed for listening, speaking, reading and writing skills and learning in teams. Young guest students back in these years gave Vietnam a springboard for teaching and learning foreign languages in such colleges as the Foreign Trade University, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, University of Languages and International Studies and others. “Many of my friends and students are very successful now,” Dung said proudly.
In his second study tour, the developmental economics class helped Dung update his specialist English in foreign trade, import and export, customs, finance and banking, which in turn helped him put together dynamic and engaging lessons. “All those who went over there to study that year have been very successful in work and life, and hold important positions in the National Assembly, Office of Government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, universities and ministerial leadership,” he said.
In 2001, Tran Ba Viet Dung was appointed the Director of the International Cooperation Department (ICD), Ministry of Education and Training. “I was in charge of the international cooperation business, which saw a lot of cooperation with the UK.”
In his new capacity, Dung worked closely with the British Council as a focal agency of the UK in education. Both sides made making significant progress in rolling out a comprehensive agreement on education, one of the key sectors in the strategic relationship between the UK and Vietnam.
Dung’s relationship with the British Council became even more rooted when the latter intensified and expanded educational partnerships at ministry, provincial department, college and school, teacher and student levels, through close coordination with ICD and other relevant departments of the ministry.
One of the many British Council activities he highly valued was the annual Going Global1 educational convention, where people interested in education gather. “I still remember the conference in Florida in 2014 under the theme of “Innovation, Implications and Opportunities for All”, a massive gathering that rallied many educators from all over the world to share education trends and current issues. This was a useful event to learn international experiences and apply them to Vietnam,” Dung recalled.
Tran Ba Viet Dung was also passionate about the inception of Vietnam–UK University, through his engagement in the preparation for the UK visit of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Thien Nhan in 2010, where the two parties inked the joint statement on the formation of the world-class Vietnam–UK University.
In addition to his role as Director General of the Ministry of Education and Training, Dung was also a standing member of the National Vietnam UK Friendship Association and its Hanoi chapter over three tenures. To him, this is a place where “close friends gather and stories are told”.
Above all, Tran Ba Viet Dung sees himself as a language teacher and his bond with Britain opened up to him a whole culture, people and bilateral educational cooperation opportunities that he and his family hold dear and cherish. “Britain is my second home,” Dung said.
* Since 2004, the Going Global educational convention hosted by the British Council has been the world’s most important annual open forum for world educational lead¬ers to debate global opportunities and challenges for higher education and post-secondary education, and to explore partnership solutions.
“Britain is my second home.”