Growing Highly Skilled Engineers for a High-Tech Workforce

Authored by By Richard Nyberg

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam—Just as Vietnam eyes prospects for high-tech economic growth, USAID has launched a partnership between U.S. academia and industry and Vietnam’s technical schools to enhance the quality of engineering education at the latter.

For the three-year, publicprivate Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program, Arizona State University (ASU), Portland State University, and U.S. IT giant Intel will serve as trainers and mentors for Vietnam’s top technical universities and its education ministry in the areas of electrical and mechanical engineering curricula and instruction.

Playing a key coordination role, USAID is also providing $850,000 to leverage $1.5 million from Intel and $175,000 from ASU.

“This program will result in a more highly educated and motivated faculty using cutting edge curricula,” said U.S. Ambassador Michael W. Michalak. “They will train bright and successful engineers who will help Vietnam reach its rightful place in the global economy.”

According to Rick Howarth, general manager of Intel Products Vietnam, countries that lead in innovation have excellent higher education systems and strong alliances between academia and industry. He said the program seeks to “develop a new generation of graduates who are intellectually curious enough to ask questions that no one else has thought to ask, creative enough to attempt new ways of doing existing work, and who are bold enough to challenge the status quo.”

Electronics manufacturing represents about 5 percent of Vietnamese exports, which have traditionally been dominated by rice, coffee, fish, clothing, and petroleum. The Ministry of Education and Training, however, has placed a higher priority on technical education, seeking to boost enrollment of engineering students from 21 percent to 35 percent by 2020. Responding to these plans for better science and technology graduates, university partners, guided by USAID and Intel, recruit and train engineering professors from Vietnamese universities, develop curricula, and increase collaboration between universities and industry.

The first group of 25 Vietnamese faculty members, coming from an array of technical schools, returned in August after a six-week training program at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. One recently returned professor is Pham Bach Duong, deputy dean of the faculty of mechanical engineering at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technical Education.

“I observed the ways of organizing, using, and maintaining lab equipment effectively. I also learned about the methods to promote innovative, creative, and critical thinking as well as intellectual abilities such as business communication skills and leadership,” he said. “We really want such kind of programs for our next generation in Vietnam to help the universities to grow and to contribute to the development of the country.”

At ASU, the faculty focused on skills ranging from designing hands-on experiments for engineering labs, problem solving, and data analysis to English, communications, and teamwork. At the Aug. 24 ceremony to formalize the agreement between USAID, ASU and Intel, Vu Dinh Thanh, rector of Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, said it was “truly the honor of our university to be a partner in the project.” He said his institution places “top priority on expanding its relationship with industry and community.”

Since returning to Vietnam, faculty participants began working on proposals to implement internationally accredited engineering curriculum at each of their universities—the second phase of the program. Intel is providing innovation grants to develop and expand instructional improvement projects and funding to enhance engineering laboratories in Vietnam. In addition, the company will lead a private sector coalition to help Vietnamese universities better engage with the private sector.

Vietnamese faculty will be mentored by faculty from ASU and Portland State University as they develop their projects. In each of the three years after completing the technical training and mentoring, they will launch instructional projects that will be monitored and evaluated for faculty and student performance.

ASU will also work to expand the current alliance to include more private sector partners and deeper government participation; and if the alliance proves successful, more Vietnamese universities will become partners.

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