The Need To Venture Beyond Academic Merits

March 22, 2021

VinUniversity Provost, Professor Rohit Verma had a thoughtful conversation with Tuoi Tre Newspaper just before the year 2020 ended, when the first cohort of VinUniversity was about to complete their first semester. This was also the 4th year that he has accompanied Vingroup to implement a special project – playing the key role in the establishment and operation of VinUniversity, which he considers a “rare opportunity” in the life of a scholar like him. In the strategic cooperation agreement between Vingroup and Cornell University (USA), Prof. Rohit Verma was appointed as the founding Provost of VinUniversity. In the interview, Prof. Rohit shared his thoughts and opinions on the mission of VinUniversity, how we evaluate the applicants as well as the challenges and difficulties that his colleagues and him have been facing in the process of building VinUniversity.

“A safe, peaceful and beautiful country; friendly and hardworking people; rapid improvements in infrastructure; robust economic growth; booming foreign investment, etc. Vietnam is proving to be an ideal place to live and work. Along with the development of tertiary education in the country, the presence of world-class universities, especially the emergence of VinUniversity, Vietnam is becoming a quintessential destination for education”, said the Prof. Rohit Verma.

* Many people think that VinUniversity’s tuition fees are quite high, what makes VinUniversity so confident to require such high tuition fees? What special academic programs will students get with that tuition? And do talented but underprivileged students have the opportunity to join VinUniversity?

PROF. ROHIT VERMA: Tuition fees at VinUniversity are calculated based on the cost of education and are benchmarked to equivalent universities. It is costly to provide high-quality tertiary education, and students will be offered learning experience which matches the tuition fees. With the mission of developing talents for the future, we receive strong support from Vingroup. If the applicants are outstanding and aspire to contribute to the country, VinUniversity will do everything so that tuition is not a barrier for them.

VinUniversity’s learning environment is completely equivalent to that of international universities. The medium of instruction is English, and our faculty come from many countries around the world. All first-year students who come from all regions, all majors co-live, co-study and co-work in the dormitory.

Therefore, students will be exposed to diversity in lifestyle, cultures and way of thinking. VinUniversity provides opportunities for all students to exchange overseas, and intern at local as well as global enterprises. There are abundant opportunities for students to study off-campus and beyond Vietnam.

Talented students will be awarded Talent Scholarship (merit based) at 90% and 100% of tuition fee. Exceptionally Talented students are considered for Full scholarship, including 100% of tuition fee and some living expenses. Besides, VinUniversity provides financial support (need based) at 50%, 70% và 80% of tuition fee for students with financial difficulty to attract talented students whom have met the school’s criteria. Especially, with the strong and long-term commitment from Vingroup, consecutively in the first 5 years, all students will be subsidized 35% of tuition fee for their entire duration of studies at VinUniversity.

* Looking at the quality of the first students enrolled in VinUniversity, it is apparent that these are desirable students of many universities. How did VinUniversity manage to attract so many excellent students in the first admission term? What criteria did the school prioritize over others for selection?

PROF. ROHIT VERMA: We are very proud of our students. 230 students of the first batch are the most outstanding individuals out of 4,500 applicants nationwide, with average high school grade equivalent to the top 2.5% nationally; Average IELTS score of 7.15; Average SAT score of 1,411, within top 5% globally. Nearly 20% of the students have achieved Olympic awards in nationally, internationally prestigious exams; 100% of students actively participate in both extracurricular activities and community projects, etc.

Like other leading universities in the world, not only assessing students’ academic results, VinUniversity evaluates the applicants holistically. It is not sufficient to only have good academic results, candidates will have the advantage if they participate in extracurricular activities, community projects, or have talents in arts and sports, etc. It is compulsory that students must have the ability to communicate in English as English is the medium of instruction.

The very first differentiation point of VinUniversity is the creation of an admission formula based on our signature AACC criteria (Outstanding Academic Ability, Strong Aspiration, Creative Thinking, and Commitment). Generally, all global prestigious universities will prioritize recruiting candidates who excel academically, possess strong aspirations, and dare to dream.

Next, VinUniversity does not only evaluate applicants based on submitted documents but also interviews them. The VinUniversity Provost will personally be responsible for overseeing the admission process. Due to the selective admission with the size of 300 students per year, we can interview and thoughtfully understand each student. This is a feat too difficult for even well-known international universities to achieve, due to their large class size.

* A prestigious university is considered to have a long and respected history, with recorded achievements in training, research, lectures, etc. However, it seems like VinUniversity is taking a much shorter time and even a different route to build up its brand and reputation. Could you share your thoughts on this? How will you and your colleagues establish a sounding position for VinUniversity, if not by time?

PROF. ROHIT VERMA: Developing a “conventional” world-class university with academic reputation is a long process, which requires considerable resources and expertise. As a latecomer and newly built university, we are committed to capitalize on our creative thinking and entrepreneurial mindset for immediate impacts. Rarely does a newly established university is rated 5 stars by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) in three important areas: academic development, facilities and inclusiveness. I think some of the unique aspects of VinUniversity include: Firstly, innovative curricula and pedagogical methodology. We build our program based on Cornell and UPenn’s best practices, adding the Vietnam elements.

Secondly, we do not only recruit lecturers from the best universities in the world, we also invest substantial resources to develop their teaching and research capability. For example, VinUniversity offers the unique “Future Lecturer”, allowing young lecturers to receive guidance from experienced scholars at leading universities, helping them to obtain research and teaching achievements faster than at other universities.

Thirdly, VinUniversity is actively working with other companies in the Vingroup ecosystem to enhance the university’ teaching and research activities. For example, colleagues with advanced degrees from Vinmec, VinAI, Vinbrain, Vinfast, Vinsmart, etc. are current associate lecturers at VinUniversity. They guide students and actively participate in research projects. In addition, companies in the Vingroup ecosystem offer internships, invite guests, conduct case studies, and provide other resources to VinUniversity students. There has been no new university which has this close relationships with as many companies like VinUniversity and Vingroup, and this will motivate us to grow rapidly.

Fourthly, VinUniversity campus is designed to optimize students’ learning efficiency, maximize interdisciplinary cooperation and holistic development of individual. It is very rare for a new university to begin admitting the first batch of students with a completely built campus and the best facility according to QS 5-stars ranking.

Finally, I am most proud of the quality of VinUniversity students. They do not only have academic results in the top 2.5% nationally, but also have great virtues such as caring, focus, sportsmanship, and integrity, etc. A good student community will help all of them develop, become responsible citizens, talented people to live a meaningful life that contributes to the country and the world. In the future, alumni networks will become an invaluable asset of VinUniversity.

*Could you share with us the challenges that you and your colleagues had been facing in the process of building VinUniversity?

PROF. ROHIT VERMA: Let me tell the story of a special person, businessman Ezra Cornell. 150 years ago, in a small town called Ithaca, New York (USA), a businessman came up with a very bold idea. It was the partnership between the government, industry leaders and intellectuals to build a university, different from any other universities, where everyone can learn whatever they want. Nowadays, Cornell University has become an academic center, a leading university in the world and still maintain the vision of its founder.

The story is even more distinctive when lecturers from Cornell University and our “sister” University of Pennsylvania are now joining forces with another businessman, Mr Pham Nhat Vuong, President of Vingroup to realize his bold vision. The mission is to build VinUniversity, an excellent university to train future talents.

4 years ago, when Vingroup first approached Cornell University, I realized this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. If done right, VinUniversity can have a profound impact on the future of higher education in Vietnam, Southeast Asia and the world. Obviously, such important project poses many challenges. Yet to me, that difficulty can be seen as a golden chance for creativity and innovation. In Hindi, there is the word “jugaad”, which means unconventional innovation, purely to solve complex problems. VinUniversity is the perfect example of “jugaad”, as we are totally a new university, which is not influenced by the consequences of the past.

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