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VinUniversity's official student blog, for students, by students.

VINUNI AS A VISION: The man who sets out the path to excellence

5 years ago, Mr. Le Dinh Hieu got a special call from Ms. Le Mai Lan asking him to join her in building the first international-standard, not-for-profit university in Vietnam.

Many of us might have known how it feels like to be in charge. The pressure and the expectations. One man felt it more strongly than any other. 5 years ago, Mr. Le Dinh Hieu got a special call from Ms. Le Mai Lan asking him to join her in building the first international-standard, not-for-profit university in Vietnam. 5 years later, the seemingly impossible vision has successfully come to life as VinUniversity welcomed its third cohorts full of excellent and ambitious students.

A founding member

Born in 1988, Mr. Le Dinh Hieu was only 30 years old when he got invited by Ms. Le Mai Lan to join the VinUni project, the youngest director of the team. Having graduated with a Master’s degree in Education Entrepreneurship from University of Pennsylvania, he was active in establishing the relationship between two universities.

In his early days at VinUni, Mr. Hieu worked as the Director of Marketing, helping to build everything from scratch, from the school’s logos, colors, typography to the website and Facebook page. Before long, he went on to assume the second role of Director of Admissions, responsible for attracting the most talented students across Vietnam to a university that is still on blueprint. To accomplish that, within his first year, he made an effort to travel to 29 provinces, where he visited hundreds of high schools, both public or private, even the ones located in far-reaching, mountainous areas.

Once the mission was accomplished, he was put in charge of VinUniversity’s pre-university program, during which time he realized a significant gap between high schoolers and university students, in terms of skills, mindset, and English competency. The question was: How could we equip students in their grade 10 or 11 with the necessary skills required to excel in an international learning environment?

Fast forward to 2023, although Mr. Le Dinh Hieu has returned to Ho Chi Minh City, where he spearheaded his educational start-up called G.A.P Institute, he is still highly committed to VinUni’s different initiatives, including talent development and mentorship programs.

A visionary

It is often said that “With great power comes great responsibility.” Apart from his heavy responsibility at VinUni, Mr. Hieu set out two major missions for him and his team.

First, he took it upon himself to recruit the most talented and excellent students that truly deserve a place at VinUni.

There is nothing to attract 300 students. I can even do 3000. The real challenge is making sure that those 300 students would become future leaders and changemakers in their fields after four years at VinUni.

Second, he felt a sense of responsibility for future generations of Vietnamese students. According to Mr. Hieu, Vietnamese students are often caught up in a conundrum, in which many of them would like to study overseas but only few have the financial capability, language proficiency, and information exposure required to fund their study or seek for scholarships.

Whenever I talk to students, teachers, and parents, it’s always the first on my agenda to persuade them that Vietnam, too, can build an international-standard university.

The two missions were not forced upon him by any other but by himself, stemming from his philosophy in education.

An educator

To me, nobody is born equal. Some of us are rich, while others are poor. Some get to go to school, while others stay illiterate. The single equalizer that society can create is to provide people with opportunities to grow on an equal footing.

That was what Ms. Hieu learned for himself when he was studying in the U.S., a culturally-diverse nation, where regardless of your background and social status, as long as you are hard-working, you will be given the chance to maximize your potential.

The same philosophy works for Vietnam as merit-based scholarships provided by Mr. Hieu had opened up the amazing opportunities for students coming from all walks of life. It is no longer uncommon to see students from developing Vietnamese provinces getting a scholarship to pursue Master’s degree at Cornell or a chance to attend an exchange program in Australia.

Up till now, many of my students from the 1st cohort still reached out and invited me over for a cup of coffee. And to hear them saying that I had helped to change their life was the most rewarding moment of my entire educational career!

An initiator

Despite the efforts and investments, VinUni, though, is not perfect. Mr. Hieu knows that more than anyone. To him, the path to excellence does not only require VinUni to be the best university for its students but also the best for high schoolers across Vietnam.

Don't wait until pigs may fly! Universities should not passively wait and see which high schools produce the most coveted talents. Instead, we have to support high schools in developing talents for the future!

With that spirit in mind, during his last days at school, Mr. Hieu had pulled all his weight to get his initiatives underway, some of which had, unfortunately, ceased to operate after he left VinUni.

First, he would like to see VinUni to get more involved in training activities for high school teachers. To him, good students require good teachers, who know how to engage their students through active learning, who do the tricks with technology, and who know advanced teaching tactics like the back of their hands. However, the outdated pedagogical system in Vietnam has somehow inhibited teachers from staying creative and inspiring their students to look at things from diverse perspectives.

Second, he envisioned VinUni to be an active agent in career orientation for high schoolers. This means that we start exposing 10 and 11 graders to all the information needed to make informed career choices, such as taking standardized tests, applying for scholarships, and knowing their preferred majors. To realize this, he and Professor Pham Ngoc Nam from College of Engineering and Computer Sciences have hosted various STEM-related activities for students as small as 14 and 15 in Ha Tinh and Nghe An. Sadly, the project was also discontinued due to lack of resources.

VinUni as a University

We don’t know what the future holds for VinUni as it celebrates its 5th birthday. With the heightened competition from emerging international universities, the pressure to rank high in international rankings, and the growing demand of students and parents, we, once again, turn to Mr. Hieu for advice. And Mr. Hieu extends his answer to address the sustainability dilemma faced by every organization, both in Vietnam and around the world.

Sustainability lies in determining your targeted customers, their pain points and constantly adapting to serve their needs.

With that in mind, it is hoped that VinUniversity will one day reach the level of excellence it has been aspiring to.




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