The following are excerpts from an interview with Professor Gael McDonald, President of RMIT Vietnam, published in Sinh Vien Viet Nam Newspaper (Vietnam Student Newspaper-SVVN) on 4 December 2017.
This article is the first of a two-part series, and focuses on the University’s achievements in three strategic areas: growth, quality, and differentiation.
SVVN: You were appointed President of RMIT Vietnam in January 2014. Looking back, what are your [major] achievements as compared to your set goals?
GM: When I started with RMIT Vietnam in January 2014, I worked with the senior executive team to develop our strategic goals for the next few years. We wanted to work primarily in three areas.
The first area was growth of student numbers. This has been achieved through the expansion of our academic programs such as the introduction of the Bachelor of Tourism & Hospitality Management, Bachelor of Languages, Bachelor of Design Studies, Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical & Electronics Engineering), Bachelor of Engineering (Robotics & Mechatronics Engineering), and Master of International Business.
We also launched a PhD program with two doctoral scholarships for women.
As a consequence, we have seen growth in year on year student headcount.
The second pillar of our strategic direction is in regard to quality. Quality is always a rather ambiguous term so we further refine this to focus on the quality of our programs, student experience, staffing, and infrastructure.
Some of the key achievements in this area have been the introduction of authentic learning, reduction in examinations, a move away from textbooks to more contemporary materials, professional development for staff, a new academic structure, the launch of the RMIT Asia Graduate Centre in 2015 with the mission to focus on delivering world class internationally recognised postgraduate degrees in Vietnam, and refurbishments for buildings at RMIT Vietnam’s Saigon South and Hanoi campuses which meet our design, technology and sustainability requirements.
We have also introduced a new Financial Markets Trading Lab that replicates a real-world financial stock trading room (opened in 2015) and a Cyber Security Lab which opened in 2016.
The third pillar of our strategic direction was in regard to differentiation. Here the focus has been on enhancing international opportunities for students (both incoming and outgoing students), greater attention to 21st century skills for students, support for students with learning difficulties, a strong digital focus, and further strengthening of our already exemplary relationships with industry.
Some of the key achievements have been that we now have more than 200 students each year studying at RMIT Melbourne and even more students studying with any one of our 200 overseas partners around the world. We also launched our Personal Edge program, which is a series of modules aimed at helping students develop a wide range of knowledge and skills alongside their formal academic study and preparing them for success in an increasingly competitive jobs market, both in Vietnam and overseas.
To support students with learning difficulties, we launched RMIT Access in 2016. This is an institution-wide initiative which enables students with a broad range of learning difficulties – such as dyslexia – to have greater access to education. Most institutions take students with learning difficulties out of the classrooms and provide them with additional support, whereas RMIT Vietnam is the first university in the world to default all of our learning materials to being access compliant. What this essentially means is that we assume everyone has a learning disability and all of our teaching materials and technology is aligned to this level of support.
RMIT Access enables students with a broad range of learning difficulties to have greater access to education.
The digital focus has been further developed with the launch of the Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE), a leading initiative to build educational capacity in Vietnam and share the University’s expertise in digital learning & teaching.
We have been pleased at not only the increase in the growth of student numbers, but also the quality of the students who are studying with us. Our contribution has been recognised and we have been winning major local awards thanks to significant efforts and contributions to Vietnam’s development. We have won the Golden Dragon Awards and Top Trade Services Awards (2016), Chu Van An Award for contributing to the development of Vietnam, culture and education (2014).
Ultimately however, it’s all about the students, and we are seeing RMIT Vietnam students win local and international awards. Two students took the top two places in the "Young Marketers" local competition, another the first prize at the HSBC Business Plan Competition (National Round), and two professional communication students were among 300 youth from ASEAN and Japan who participated in the SSEAYP exchange program sponsored by the Japanese and many more.
Part two of this series will be published next week. The full interview is published in Vietnamese at Sinh Vien Viet Nam newspaper.
Story: Howie Phung