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University assists creation of public policy program in Vietnam

The University is furthering its global expansion in Vietnam and this time in the realm of environmental policy.

Duke University is assisting the Vietnamese National University in Ho Chi Minh City with the development of a new master’s degree program in public policy for environmental protection, which is set to begin Fall 2012.

Francis Lethem, the director of the Duke Center for International Development and associate dean for executive education programs at the Sanford School of Public Policy, said Sanford and the Nicholas School of the Environment are collaborating to act as advisors to the nascent program in Vietnam.

“Part of the marvelous spirit of Duke is that collaboration occurs across the academic environment,” Lethem said. “This partnership with [VNU-HCM] would not have been conceivable had we gone about this alone.”

Vietnam is currently facing a number of environmental challenges, most importantly those posed by climate change, said Erika Weinthal, associate professor of environmental policy and coordinator of the Nicholas School’s involvement in the program.

“[The Vietnamese] are fully cognizant that climate change will have tremendous impacts on their environment, economy and social well-being of their population,” she said.

Nicholas School faculty were initially asked through the General Electric Foundation to visit VNU-HCM, Weinthal said. The foundation is interested in helping the university create an environmental policy program.

“We were asked to go [to Vietnam] to meet with the faculty and administration and talk to them about what would be feasible in terms of getting a good grasp of what a potential [VNU master] program might look like,” Weinthal said.

A team from Sanford and the Nicholas School initially visited in January 2010, Lethem noted, adding that the team reflected on the goals of the master’s program—including the implementation of appropriate Vietnamese faculty.

Select Vietnamese faculty have visited the University for a period of six months, each with an academic advisor from Duke, Lethem said. She added they have taken advantage of classes at both Sanford and the Nicholas School.

Lori Bennear, assistant professor of environmental economics and policy at the Nicholas School, noted that preliminary conversations influenced the development of the program.

“There were discussions about how [those at the Nicholas School] might best help the [scholars] figure out how to educate the next generation of environmental policy folks in Vietnam,” she said.

The partnership between Sanford, the Nicholas School and VNU-HCM presents potential long-term research opportunities for Duke students and faculty, Weinthal said.

“If you think about global environmental problems—such as climate change or water quality—many of the solutions involve the developing world,” she said. “Part of the our responsibility as global citizens and global scholars is to try and train that next generation, wherever they are.”

Weinthal said she believes this project fits into what Duke should be doing as a global university.

“We should be putting knowledge into the service of society, which means engaging in global opportunities,” she said.

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