Vietnam's economic future lies in STEM careers, online learning and public-private partnerships

   Academic, industry and government leaders gathered in Hanoi in March to promote STEM careers during the 2017 STEM Conference hosted by Arizona State University’s Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program and the Building University-Industry Learning and Development through Innovation and Technology Program known as BUILD-IT.

Advancing the Future of Vietnam: Inspiring Students, Makers, Educators and Entrepreneurs to Innovate was the theme of the two-day event that featured interactive plenary and technical sessions, panel discussions and seminars.


ASU staff with USAID Vietnam Social Development Unit Chief Ezra Simon at STEMCON. From Left: Huong Nguyen, Thanh Ta, Marcus Ingle, Thao Tran, David Benson, Phuong Nguyen, Scott Danielson, Kyle Squires, Ezra Simon (USAID), Sasha Stinchfield, Phuong Anh Tran, Octavio Heredia, Cristal Ngo, Jose Quiroga. Photo courtesy of HEEAP.

Since its inception in 2010, HEEAP’s mission has expanded beyond Vietnam and evolved to encompass science, math, engineering and technology. Accordingly, the fifth annual conference, originally named the Vietnam Engineering Education Conference, has been renamed STEMCON.

Kyle Squires, dean of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, stressed the importance of this expansion during his opening remarks. “I believe engaging globally is critical to create bi-lateral research and teaching partnerships to solve problems, create innovators, and to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers,” he said

The panel discussions included high-profile government, industry and education global leaders. The interactive sessions included conversations with audience members and emphasized the importance of private and public sectors working together to implement lasting, effective change.

“University and industry are like darlings — always praising each other,” said Nguyen Thanh Nam, former CEO of FPT and founder of online university FUNIX. “But we need to get married already, and be fully committed to helping each other, compensating for each other’s weaknesses.”

Jeffrey Avina, director of government affairs for Microsoft Asia Pacific, echoed the sentiment in a subsequent discussion. “Public-Private Partnerships that involve universities do things where government and industry fall behind. ASU has been out there creating these partnerships.”

Speakers and presenters reiterated the critical need for innovative changes in STEM education in Vietnam throughout the conference“Competitive advantages based on natural resources or labor cannot be sustained for long in the current world; the country can only hope to develop by competitive advantages based on STEM, raising intellectual content in national products,” said Tran Van Tung, deputy minister of science and technology. “Only in this way can Vietnam achieve sustainable economic development, bridging the development gaps with other countries.”

Following a presentation about Vietnam 2035: The Sustainable Development of a STEM Value Proposition, Le Dang Doanh, senior appointed member of the United Nations Committee for Policy Development, said that in order for Vietnam to reach the level of an advanced economy with a per capita gross domestic product of $10,000, “Vietnam needs to conduct fundamental reforms in its institutions, apply meritocracy, restructure its economy and enhance science and technology education.”

One of the Southeast Asian higher education reforms highlighted at the conference was the introduction and adaptation of online and non-conventional learning. Learning how to learn online is a growing requirement for the STEM-focused workers of the future.

Robert Connolly, director of Crossroads Management Consulting, addressed challenges at Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, where he teaches business and finance classes. “Although several Vietnamese universities are using some degree of online learning in their programs,” he explained, “strong resistance to greater use of online courses persists. Increasing the adoption of online learning will require a change of perception by faculty, administrators, students and the community at large.”

While illustrating the imperative to prepare the workforce of the future, Samuel Harris of Amazon Web Services noted the growing need for cloud computing professionals. Harris presented Amazon’s Global Education Program, AWS Educate, and demonstrated a new tool that provides educators with the resources to accelerate cloud-related learning. “With the increasing demand for cloud employees, AWS Educate provides an academic gateway for the next generation of IT and cloud professionals,” he said.

The new BUILD-IT Higher Education Learning and Innovation Exchange online educational tool also debuted at the conference. HELIX is an innovative, online community through which educators can connect with colleagues to share educational resources and ideas for transforming STEM education — “perhaps paving the way for broader acceptance of online collaboration and learning,” explained Octavio Heredia, ASU’s director of Outreach and Extended Education, who demonstrated the platform and fielded questions from participants.

A key moment in the conference — a video message from Nobel Laureate and Fulton Schools Professor Leland Hartwell, was particularly relevant to the continuing education process.

“What we’re faced with now is the fact that things are changing so fast that an education today won’t be relevant 10 years from now. So how do we train students not in what’s useful today, but what’s useful in the future? We need to train students to be learners. They need to be able to learn throughout their careers,” emphasized Hartwell. “It’s not about what they learn – it’s more about learning how to learn.”

Topica Edtech Group, an online education leader in Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines, presented tangible examples of how access to continuing online education contributes not only to the success of students, but also to professionals, professors, universities, and corporations.

STEMCON also honored the winners of two industry-sponsored competitions that took place earlier this year.

The 2017 National Instruments Innovation Design Competition for Young Entrepreneurs in Vietnam began with 29 teams who submitted abstracts. Only 10 teams were chosen to advance to the final round and submit a prototype using the NI-provided software and hardware in the development of their final projects. CASSANDRA, an internet-of-things system for at-home cardiac surveillance, took first place in the NI Innovation Design Competition, winning $600, a myRIO embedded hardware device that supports designing complex engineering systems, and a trip to Austin, Texas, to present the winning paper at NI Week. Second place, along with $300 and a myRIO, went home with Glasses for the Blind.

“I was inspired to see innovative ideas with positive social and economic impact,” said Jimmy Hwang, senior marketing manager, Alliance Partner Network, National Instruments, while congratulating all competitors for their efforts.

Intel also sponsored a Robotics Competition for faculty members from HEEAP partner universities.  Competitors submitted proposals on how they would use programmable robots to teach engineering. Three faculty members from the Danang University of Science and Technology, the Hanoi University of Science and Technology and the HCMC University of Technology and Education were selected as award recipients, each lecturer receiving an innovation certificate and a set of 20 programmable robots to be used for instruction in their introduction to engineering courses.



Winners of the 2017 National Instruments Innovation Design Competition for Young Entrepreneurs showcase their winning internet of things home cardiac surveillance system “CASSANDRA.”

HEEAP’s Expansion beyond Vietnam

In addition to a wide range of Vietnamese educators and industry representatives, this year’s conference had attendees from Laos, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia.

“In concert with BUILD-IT, STEMCON represents the next phase of the HEEAP program — expanding the pipeline between qualified students with needed technical skills and industry in Southeast Asia,” said Jeffrey Goss, associate vice provost of Southeast Asia Programs. careers-      online-  learning-and-public-private-partnerships/