Assoc.Prof.Dr. Nguyen Hong Son: University must be knowledge destination

Assoc.Prof.Dr. Nguyen Hong Son, UEB Rector
Over 40 years of tradition and 7 years as a university under Vietnam National University, Hanoi, University of Economics and Business (UEB) is known as a dynamic university with a strategic vision. In spite of getting started with various difficulties, UEB has gradually built up its own reputation and brand thanks to traditional foundation inherited from its previous generation along with the desire to innovate. Assoc.Prof.Dr. Nguyen Hong Son, UEB Rector shared with us the stories about UEB’s development path - namely the movement, how to overcome difficulties and consistency with the settled goal to achieve successes.

Focus on training methods and thinking

- Dear Sir, the UEB has a special development history, formerly known as a traditional training unit with an important position in the higher education system of Vietnam (Faculty of Political Economics, University of Hanoi). Which values have been created from such background for the university development afterwards?

The VNU University of Economics and Business was formerly known as Faculty of Political Economics directly under University of Hanoi, which was established in November, 1974. Prof. Tran Phuong was the first Dean as well as the Founder of the Faculty. The Faculty was responsible for training and providing economists with the basic knowledge; excluding intensive knowledge in every economic sector, so that they can consult policies, build up development strategies at macro-level for the economy and deliver lectures on political economics at high levels. Additionally, students of the first course were strictly and carefully selected from the excellent students who had very good results of entrance exams to University of Hanoi. The Faculty of Political Economics trained various student generations and many of them were successful at variety of positions, both in the state and business sector. Furthermore, solidarity tradition of both officers and students was also a prominent feature of the Faculty.
Prof. Tran Phuong was, at that time, Director of Institute of Economics (currently known as Vietnam Institute of Economics) and Vietnam Committee for Social Sciences (now known as Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences); therefore, he soon created a close relation between teaching and research activities.
The mentioned basic features are known as core elements in the tradition of previous generations through the development stages: Faculty of Political Economics under the University of Hanoi (1974-1994), Faculty of Economics under VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities (1995-1999) and Faculty of Economics under Vietnam National University, Hanoi (1999-2007).
The above features have been preserved, maintained and developed by VNU-UEB until now.

- In 2007, when the Faculty of Economics under Vietnam National University, Hanoi officially became VNU University of Economics and Business, how has the University identified its direction to create differences and competitive advantages compared with other training institutions?

Since the UEB was established, the University has set the following important objectives:
Firstly, the University aims to become a research-oriented university based on research activities which are considered as its foundation and guidance for training activities to improve the training quality.
Secondly, the training activities must gradually reach international standards; training programs and quality have been increasingly close to standards of universities in the world.
Thirdly, UEB’s activities must be associated with the practice of enterprises/businesses, localities and State policies.
With above-mentioned objectives, the University desired to change the society’s thinking about the university: University is not only to teach theories but also to conduct research activities. The University must consider the research activities as the foundation for its performance, policy consultancy and development orientation for enterprises/businesses as well as localities. It can be said that the UEB has been developed based on 3 tripods: High quality training - Scientific research in association with the international publications - Consulting businesses, localities and government.

- What are distinctions in the training activities of the UEB, Sir?

One of the most important things which the UEB has identified in human training is to teach methods of thinking, solving problems and being well-adapted to the currently fluctuated working environment. The world changes constantly and the knowledge changes rapidly as well; if we intentionally provide students with only knowledge and skills, we will make our University become “unfashionable” very quickly.
I do not totally agree with the opinion that university graduates can meet most of requirements from enterprises/business right after graduation. The university only trains and equips learners with the basic knowledge. If the recruiters want university graduates to work well for them, they need to provide them with more appropriate skills to adapt to their working environment. That is not absolutely a waste, because each business has its own secrets to share with its staff and specific requirements for ones who are recruited. More importantly, the professional skills are optimized based on the basic knowledge which is equipped at university.
Therefore, the UEB always makes great efforts to provide students with basic knowledge of methodology and thinking, not mentioning to specific fields. Although the UEB still has special training programs such as Finance and Banking, Accounting and Auditing..., all these programs are taught based on the basic knowledge of thinking and methodology.

Attract the staff by "heart"

- Although the University has just been established and faced with many difficulties, it has settled out orientations and performance principles at such “high level”, so what did the University do to build the initial foundation?

It is true that the UEB faced with variety of difficulties at the early stage. At that time, only 1-2 scientific papers were published internationally and there were not any large-scale international projects or conferences. The UEB had not hosted any state-level projects or projects in collaboration with localities and enterprises/businesses. Additionally, the staff hasn’t been strong yet. If you ask us how to overcome all such difficulties, the answer is: Take step by step and make great efforts for a long time.
For the leader, the most important thing is to develop a qualified and enthusiastic team. In the one hand, when we receive a project, we will develop our staff along with the project implementation in connection with scientists outside the University. On the other hand, we try our best to promote the relationships to provide our staff with opportunities to participate in major research projects. Accordingly, the UEB will extend new relationships with various partners and our staff’s capacity is gradually enhanced.
We are not also afraid of strongly investing in innovative and feasible ideas. Annual report of Vietnam’s economy of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (now Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research) under the UEB is an example. This report was highly appreciated for the idea, strong investment and became a good model of an independent and long-term research which reviewed, evaluated and contributed to consulting policies for the State authorities.

Conference of Annual Report of Vietnam's economy in 2014

The University’s training programs are always designed with reference from international programs. The University attempts to cooperate with foreign partners for the lecturers and students exchange programs; coordinates in research activities and promotes to publish international articles, instead of focusing on the scale, we concentrate on implementing high quality training programs towards international standards, postgraduate training activities and testing training programs according to the standard of ASEAN University Network (AUN)... Those are consistent steps of the UEB in the early stage.
Additionally, thanks to a university member of VNU, the UEB has inherited many favorable conditions, such as: VNU has a strong brand with a large network of international relationships, close relations with ministries, localities...; multidisciplinary and strong connection among units under VNU in supporting the UEB to design interdisciplinary training programs with the other majors.

- As mentioned above, building up a strong staff is the most important thing. To be a leader, how has you attracted the qualified staff and kept them to work at the university for a long time?

Team building is the most important thing because it relates to the sustainable development of the University. We don’t expect people who work at university but their spirit is away. The UEB leaders have a philosophy in “using” staff: Promoting individual strengths, not discriminating personal characteristics. They will be good staff as long as they promote their strengths in organization.
For those who work in the scientific field, their income is not the most decisive factor. Importantly, they have the working motivation and environment to promote their creativity and capability. The UEB does not promise to pay them high salary, but ensure to provide them with a certainincome level as well as opportunities to earn additional income based on their own capacity.
Many UEB officers are sympathetic with the vision, aspiration of the University and admire the working environment that promotes individual innovative capacity, so that they choose UEB for their destination. Individuals and the whole organization have common interests and orientations. Individuals can move to other institutions, but UEB’s core values remain forever. In order to achieve the development goals, UEB must really become a “home” for talents.

- Many UEB staff shared that they have ever tried with more than 100% of their effort for the UEB development in the early stage. The UEB has identified its style to go straight. How have you done to build such working culture? 

When they work with more than 100% of their effort; it is sure that they think they will be compensated for something bigger in the future or they really desire to contribute to the organization development with their strong belief. For the staff working with more than 100% of their effort, they must recognize that their leaders also work with such spirit. The leaders’ image is very important because we work by our heart for common benefits, our staff will follow our strategies. If we work for personal benefits, sooner or later, our staff will no longer respect for their leaders and care about the university development.
In terms of management, the UEB tries to set out incentive measures or encourage the staff to dedicate to the university development, such as: bonus for international publications, exchange programs and scholarships for lecturers, creating income harmony by calculating the additional income based on their capacity, position and performance efficiency. The working mechanism is always smooth and "open" at the highest level to create conditions for the whole staff to work and dedicate.

Culture of solidarity - teammate that UEB’s staff and lecturers are trying to build and promote

- So far, after many attempts, which achievements of the UEB’s staff have made you impressive most?

Until now, the greatest achievement of UEB is that UEB has become a real university. The University has developed comprehensively based on the initial orientations, including: high quality training in association with international standards, scientific research in association with practices of businesses, localities and policies.
The second important achievement is that the UEB has initially built its own scientific staff, including many different research groups. The research groups have started to develop independently by expanding partner networks and finding out research projects, topics... UEB’s lecturers are capable of teaching, conducting research and consulting; which creates differences from other units. Only when does the staff have enough capacities, UEB will become a real university.
The third achievement is that UEB has started to build its own brand. Additionally, many partners have started to choose UEB as their strategic partner for cooperation opportunities.
All of the above mentioned achievements seem to be simple to acquire but, in fact, it is not easy to get at all. I am proud of what UEB’s staff, lecturers, fellows, postgraduates and students have achieved. To gain such achievements, the University is always consistent with the research orientation, high quality goals and international integration in all fields. That is the path for sustainable development because common development trend is based on quality and efficiency. Social development is increasingly complex; the University will not catch up with the social development and be eliminated if the University does not implement research-based training activities.

Dream of building a university brand in Vietnam at international level

- Personally, how have you been accompanied with UEB’s development?

It seems to be a "destiny". When working at the Institute of World Economics and Politics (under Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences), I also ever worked as a lecturer for the Faculty of Economics, VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities in 1997 simultaneously. In addition, the close traditional relationship between the UEB and research institutes helped me understand and be familiar with the environment, teaching and research activities. Perhaps, there was a close relation between my personal desire and UEB’s development objectives. I am fascinated by the vision and desire to build a research-oriented university with high quality and effective training and research activities at international level that the first former Rector, Assoc.Prof.Dr. Phung Xuan Nha (currently known as President of VNU) settled out. I myself am interested in researching, teaching and organizing research groups.
I desire to create the university environment with differences. Perhaps, individuals will be proud of contributing to build a great organization, a pioneer with new values and activities which bring good results and benefits to society and community. That organization makes individuals feel proud of being its members.

- Being a top leader of a young university with great vision and goal, what have you done to overcome pressures?

There were a lot of pressures. I could overcome all pressures because I always think that I am not alone; my colleagues, staff and friends are around and support me.
Personally, I always try to do the right things by my heart although the achievement level is sometimes another story. If we do not achieve the settled goals, the next generation will do it. The values which we are targeting are more important. Each individual and organization need to pursue its own values in order not to feel tired and especially not flinch at overcoming challenges and pressures.
Finally, it is believed that the better things will come to UEB in the future.

- What is your desire about the UEB's future?

The UEB must create a favorable working environment so that everyone can maximize their capability, with a qualified and enthusiastic team specializing in teaching, conducting research and consulting. Furthermore, I personally hope that the UEB has created its own brand, not only domestically but also regionally and internationally. The policy-makers as well as business leaders of Vietnam will choose UEB as an ideal destination to consult on issues regarding economy, management and business administration. The UEB will also become the place where presidents, scientists of the countries are willing to come to deliver the speeches and exchange new ideas. Becoming one of the destinations of knowledge is the real mission and stature of a university in the future.

- Sincerely thank you for your sharing. Wish you and the UEB to achieve the settled goals!

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Minh Phuong - Nguyen Kha (trans)

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