Cornell Collaboration with VinUniversity Expands Land Grant Mission to Southeast Asia

By: Mary Lorson
a group of 21 men and women standing in front of many flags from different nations and large windows with a large building behind them.

Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice Provost Wendy Wolford meet with VinUniversity leaders at their Hanoi, Vietnam campus, February 2023

Since 2017, the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business has been a consultant to Vietnamese corporation VinGroup on the creation of VinUniversity, the first private, nonprofit Vietnamese university established on international standards. Public engagement is central to Cornell University’s land-grant mission, and this unique collaboration extends that mission internationally.

To celebrate the Cornell-VinUniversity Project’s many accomplishments and its plans for the future, Cornell leadership and faculty are visiting VinUniversity’s Hanoi campus in early 2023.

On his February visit, along with Global Cornell team members, Cornell University provost Michael Kotlikoff marveled at VinUniversity’s facilities and enthusiasm. “The most successful institutions in the future will be those who learn how to work together with other institutions, with governments, and with industrial partners,” said Kotlikoff. “With Vingroup, we have begun one of those collaborations.”

In April, Andrew Karolyi, Charles Field Knight Dean of the SC Johnson College, will spend a week at VinUniversity along with SC Johnson College faculty mentors and VinUniversity faculty mentees who have participated in the Cornell-VinUniversity Early Faculty Development Program for Visiting Fellows.

This will be Karolyi’s first visit to VinUniversity, as a trip planned for April 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic. “I’m thrilled to be finally able to spend time on the beautiful VinUniversity campus together with our faculty as they join their new colleagues in-country,” he said. “We have accomplished history-making work together on our shared commitment to responsible global business education.”

A win-win for Cornell and VinUniversity students, faculty, and staff

Cornell students and faculty who are engaged with VinUniversity counterparts feel the energy. Veronica Zeller ’24, a student in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, worked with VinUniversity students, faculty, and community partner SCDI on the 2022 Vietnam Adverse Childhood Experience Pathfinders (VACEP) team. “Speaking with community-based organizations and affected families was eye-opening,” said Zeller. “VinUniversity students have made us feel so welcome, and I am grateful for the way that they have let us into their lives there.” Nolan School student team member Karl Lam ’24 appreciated the cultural exchange and the chance to fortify his analytical and research skills. Kotlikoff hailed meaningful research collaborations like these “that markedly improve the lives of Vietnamese citizens.”

Helen Chun, associate professor in the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration in the SC Johnson College, served as a faculty mentor for VinUniversity professor and visiting fellow Jenny Le. “Everyone benefits from learning about different academic institutions and cultures, engaging in intellectual conversations, and bonding on a personal level,” said Chun.

“When we started, there was no VinUniversity—no campus, no faculty,” recalls William W. Huling, inaugural executive director of the Cornell-VinUniversity Project, “There was only a founder’s dream and two dedicated teams working together to develop a strategy and an implementation plan to create a world-class university. It is amazing seeing what both teams have accomplished together in such a short period of time.”

VinUniversity opened its gleaming new campus in 2020, establishing four colleges and enrolling roughly 800 students over three academic years. The SC Johnson College’s role has been to steer collaborations across Cornell University to develop VinUniversity’s colleges of business, computer science, engineering, and arts and sciences, while the University of Pennsylvania has established the VinUniversity medical school. Today, VinUniversity is the youngest university in the Asia-Pacific region to receive 5-Star QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) ratings in seven categories after only two years in operation. VinUniversity is on the path to AACSB accreditation for its College of Business Management and ABET accreditation for its College of Engineering and College of Computer Science.

Building a long-lasting friendship

Cornell is engaged in every aspect of VinUniversity’s development, including infrastructure, governance, faculty hiring, staff training, curriculum development, and more. Rohit Verma, former dean of external relations for the SC Johnson College, serves as VinUni’s founding provost. So far, more than 250 Cornell faculty and staff have participated in faculty research collaborations, student experiential learning possibilities, academic lectures, research seminars, and public talks. Cornell Daily Sun staffers offer insights to VinUniversity student journalists.

“We are not only working on a 6.5-year collaboration; we are building a long-lasting friendship between Cornell and VinUniversity,” declared Thao Ly Bui Tran, MMH ’12, director of the Cornell-VinUniversity Project and Nolan School graduate. Future collaboration could include a joint research center between Cornell and VinUniversity, plus further student exchanges for course work, research, internships, and community-engaged projects. Partnerships with other Vingroup companies, such as Vinfast, VinES Energy Solutions, VinBrain, and VinAI are possible as well.

Max Pfeffer, professor emeritus of global development in the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and executive director of the Cornell-VinUniversity Project, hopes that the relationship expands these ties “and sets the stage for more meaningful Cornell involvement in Vietnam.” This is precisely the focus of the team, says Bui Tran. “Our goal is to establish strong connections and signature programs that will benefit faculty, staff, and students of the two universities beyond the project’s life.”

Karolyi will also visit China and South Korea on this trip, building on Cornell’s longstanding scholarship in the region. “As we continue to build a community for our ongoing engagements,” Karolyi says, “we find ever-more opportunities to work together.”