Phan Thuy Chi has created Vietnam's first MBA programme after being inspired by her studies in the US, giving thousands of Vietnamese students access to the quality modern business management needed to meet the country's increasing demands.

After graduating from an MBA programme in the US, Chi wondered why the National Economics University (NEU) did not have a similar programme for business management.

When Professor Jim McCullough from Washington State University (WSU) suggested that the two universities co-operate on such a programme, it was too good an opportunity to pass up, Chi said.

"At that time it was very difficult to bring such a pilot programme to Vietnam," recalled Chi, deputy director of NEU's International School of Management and Economics (ISME).

"Administrative procedures in Vietnam were very cumbersome. In addition, Vietnam-US relations was just nomalised, so our programme was still considered sensitive because we were co-operating with a 'sensitive' US partner.

"I had to spend more than one year visiting relevant agencies and ministries to ask for their agreement. But we still received unclear answers. I never lost hope, though. I thought if the programme was approved by the Government, Vietnam would enter a new era and we would have future leaders to build the country."

Chi's efforts finally paid off. Her plan received approval from the Prime Minister and in 2000, she was able to start Vietnam's first MBA programme at the Faculty of International Education now the International School of Management and Economics (ISME). Since then, hundreds of students have graduated from the programme.

"These graduates have helped Vietnam address its need for qualified economic managers," said deputy minister of Education and Training Banh Tien Long.

Chi's students say her influence cannot be overstated. Vu Tung, director of the Creative Nature Group, recalled that when he joined the programme, Chi was the first teacher to approach him. She spoke to him about his programme of study and activities as well as what he wanted to do after graduation.

"My life has completely changed since I entered the programme for MBA degrees. She changed my outlook on life," Tung said.

"I consider Chi my sister and my parent because apart from teaching us new knowledge and taking care of us with love, she cares about our future, encouraging us to study well and sign contracts with quality companies - including foreign-invested ones - after graduation."

What most impressed him about Chi, he said, was her respect for student ideas. When Tung shared ideas with her, she made him "feel very confident".

And just as Chi welcomed him, she ensured that he did the same for others. When the school created a new project or programme, Tung said, she invited him to help support and encourage new students by saying: "This is very important for a student to learn well and to live well."

Chi and her former colleague Associate Prof Dr Bui Anh Tuan (who is now head of the Ministry of Education and Training's University Education Department) also established the Vietnam-Belgium Masters Programme, a co-operation between NEU and Universite Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Thousands of government employees and businessmen attended the programme, hoping to improve their knowledge so they could achieve the country's goals of industrialisation and modernisation.

"I'm very happy I got the chance to study in the programme, which is very helpful for my outlook and my business," said Vu Hoang Lien, head of Vietnam Post and Telecommunication's 4G Project, who will join thousands of alumni to celebrate the school's 10th anniversary on December 3.

He also expressed thanks to Chi, saying she influenced him not only when it came to research, but also in terms of life skills.

"I really admire Dr Chi for her open-mindedness and the ways she helps and supports her students," Lien said.

Tran Thi Ha, director of the MoET's Department of University, appreciated Chi's efforts in bringing such programmes to the country to meet increasing demand.

Chi also initiated the International Bachelor's Degree (IBD@NEU) programme, which aims to create an international learning environment where students can experiment with new ideas and explore new knowledge with caring support.

The programme is designed to meet international academic requirements and also teach information applicable to the business environment both in Vietnam and the world, according to Chi.

Nguyen Thai Son from Hanoi said that thanks to the programme, his son could access international classes and modern education facilities without wasting time and money studying abroad.

Chi's young staff, Ho Hoang Lan, said Chi has created very good environment for young and qualified staff to work.

"Although having to work very hard to meet requirement of modern education, we still feel very happy and be rewarded of both spiritual and materials as we do not have to do an extra job to earn our living as others," Lan said.

The university system in Vietnam has changed significantly since the programme was first introduced in 2000. As of this year, Vietnam has 476 State-and-private-owned university education units including 207 universities, 214 colleges and 55 with PhD programmes.

There has been 480 such international co-operation programmes on university education, Master and PhD with foreign countries todate, said Dr Tuan, director of MoET's University Department.

A lot more is at stake than simply lessons. By providing international-level educations, these institutions aim to enhance Vietnam's competitiveness as a nation.

"Creating a studying society and conditions for all people to study is very important for our country's integration," Minister of Education and Training Pham Vu Luan said.-VNA