SPEECH BY Valérie Pécresse

Saturday - 03/07/2010 22:24

Honourable Deputy Prime Minister,

Honourable President,

Distinguished Professors, 

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a joy and honour for me to be with you today here in Hanoi National University, one of the most prestigious in Asia!

The university’s 29 colleges, faculties and research institutes dispersed throughout the city, with a student cohort numbering in the tens of thousands, make Hanoi National University a world of its own, a metropolis within a metropolis, totally devoted to information and knowledge.
As I visited around, I knew that I would never find a finer testimony of what Vietnam is all about: a future-looking nation determined to build itself on the finest of assets—intelligence.
So it is a joy and privilege to speak to you this morning. Truly, that was my great desire for, as you perhaps know, academic and scientific cooperation between our two countries is central to Prime Minister François Fillon’s visit to Vietnam.
This is a historical visit for more than one reason. To start with, this is the first time a French prime minister has visited Vietnam. Although many of our respective ministers regularly get together in France or Vietnam, no French government leader in office has ever come to Vietnam.
So for that reason alone, this visit gives evidence that the close ties between our two peoples are not only strong, but are getting stronger. I see that as wonderful news: each of the visits that we pay to one another shows we have so much in common. And so much to share!
This visit is also exceptional in that it will mark a turning point in our bilateral cooperation, especially in the academic and scientific fields, with the intergovernmental agreement that we signed yesterday afternoon.
There is perhaps no better place that this amphitheatre to reaffirm France’s commitment to make our academic and scientific cooperation one of the paramount fields in our bilateral cooperation.
Because this amphitheatre of the former University of Indochina, decorated with this very beautiful fresco by the founder of the Indochina School of Fine Arts, artist Victor Tardieu, reminds us more powerfully than a wordy speech of the common past that forever binds our two countries and that is now embodied in a “partnership that is both historic and exemplary.”

Intense academic and scientific cooperation

Our record of academic and scientific cooperation is impressive in many respects.
It is noted for a very strong mutual presence in our national academic communities.
With over 6,000 Vietnamese students in France, of which nearly 700 are doing doctoral graduate work, Vietnam is the second largest Asian community represented in French universities.

And in Vietnam, numerous partnerships between French and Vietnamese institutions of higher learning are being fleshed out by high-profile excellence training sessions. I am thinking of the Engineers of Excellence Training Programme (Programme de formation d’ingénieurs d’excellence) in Vietnam that has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. With over 1,000 engineers trained in Vietnam holding a French engineering degree, the programme is proving to be a mechanism of cooperation unique in the world as far as French higher education is concerned.
I am also thinking of the France-Vietnam Management Training Centre (Centre franco-vietnamien de formation à la gestion) that opened in 1992 in Hanoi and in 1993 in Ho Chi Minh City and, of course, the French University Poles (Pôles universitaires français) that were launched in 2006 at the 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of the University of Indochina, from which the Hanoi National University has descended.

Honourable Deputy Prime Minister:

The visit by Prime Minister François Fillon marks our fourth get-together in just two years, two of which took place in France and now two in Vietnam. Each of these meetings has enabled us to see that, as far as our ministerial responsibilities are concerned, we are confronted by the same challenges as our respective countries prepare for the knowledge economy. 

Vietnam can be proud of its youth, which represents a formidable source of energy and an extraordinary potential. A country that is home to a blossoming youth is a country that has an outstanding asset at its disposal—provided, of course, that the challenge is met: give these young ones the training they need to bring out their full talent!

Honourable Deputy Minister, each time we met, I could see that we share the same conviction: the passion for information and knowledge has been the driver behind all of the progress that has marked mankind’s history.
This conviction is now spreading worldwide, at a time when all agree that our future depends first and foremost on building a global information society.

France shares this conviction as does Vietnam, for a very simple reason: it owes its very existence thereto.
Because when the French people decided to overcome their social, regional and even cultural differences, to become reborn in the form of one country, it simultaneously made the choice to build a republican school, capable of making the many communities within our country into just one people.

As every French citizen sees it, school and progress go hand in hand. Personal progress, yes, as well as collective progress, because by offering each member of society the opportunity to develop his or her skills and talents, the republican school has enabled all of France to move ahead, to modernise and, in a word, improve the quality of life.
This republican school produced Louis Pasteur who, through his discovery of the existence of germs, developed the vaccine to fight rabies, which was a great leap forward for mankind. His scientific approach has been an inspiration for generations of researchers world over, notably in the Institut Pasteur network, present in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang.
This school also turned out Gustave Eiffel, giving him the means to put up monuments that have put the world in awe, including Long Bien Bridge here in Hanoi, an outstanding illustration of the practical application of knowledge.
A final example is that of Professor Françoise Barre-Sinoussi, a more recent graduate of this school, who was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine. She is well known in Vietnam and your government conferred upon her the People’s Health Medal last spring.

The history of contemporary France is thus bound up with that of its school, and is yet has a long way to go. France is still taking up this wager of youth, which is also a wager of knowledge and information, and will keep on doing so. And it is delighted to see Vietnam taking it on as well—and most successfully at that!
For in just 15 years, you have upped tenfold the student headcount in your universities. You have done a great job, worthy of acclaim. And I am sure that this tidal wave will keep on rolling in. And this is prompting you to make an even greater investment in higher education and research.

The USTH project

Honourable Prime Minister, this gives true meaning to the proposal that you put before me last year, when you expressed the wish that France become Vietnam’s partner for the creation of a new science and technology university in Hoa Lac.
I felt that this proposal was a powerful expression of confidence, the type of confidence that one puts in a partner with whom a long shared history gives every reason to believe in a fine future together. Thus, France accepted your proposal to work arm in arm for the establishment of a new world-class university right here in your national capital.

This appeal from the government of Vietnam was met by a massive response from the universities and grandes écoles of France. Over thirty of them have gotten together to form a consortium in order to put France’s contribution to your project into concrete form.

As evidence of the French government’s interest in this project, the prime minister invited two representatives of the consortium—Professors Louis Castex, president of PRES, University of Toulouse, and Guy Couarraze, president of the Paris-Sud University, here present—to accompany him on this trip to Vietnam.
French institutions are contributing to the USTH in its three dimensions.

The first of these is training. As you know, France has a long tradition of training Vietnamese doctoral candidates. The USTH will position us to enhance this cooperation since no less than 400 PhD candidates will be trained in France over the next ten years to gradually build the future teaching staff of the university. The consortium will also make its expertise available to set up the university’s streams of excellence.

The second dimension is research. Six strategic fields have been identified, each of which will lead to the establishment of a joint international research unit. These joint units will gradually become the core of our bilateral scientific cooperation for the very basic reason that they feature multi-disciplinary fields of research in fundamental issues for our societies: environment, energy, biotechnology and pharmacology, aeronautics and space, information and communications technology, along with materials science and nanotechnology. Such themes are among the priorities that France has just included in its National Research and Innovation Strategy.
The third and final dimension of concern to the USTH is innovation. This is really the focal point of the project and explains the choice of setting up the future USTH right in Hoa Lac High-Tech Park. Articulating training and research with the world of industry will be one of the keys to the success of the USTH. French companies present in Vietnam will also be invited to share in the Foundation of Partners in support of the USTH.

University of the 21st century 

Ladies and Gentlemen:
France’s enthusiastic response to the proposal from the Vietnamese government, its unhesitating involvement in this most interesting project—creation of the USTH—is because, in many respects, it is in keeping with the university of the 21st century that France is building at the same time on its own soil.
France, as you know, has put its universities back on the list of national priorities. First of all by investing in its institutions of higher learning and giving them the means necessary to have all students succeed.
And subsequently by giving them the freedom to operate in a fully independent manner so that they can respond most appropriately to the unique needs of their students.

Finally, by a remake of curricula, notably that of the Bachelor Degree, so that it is not just a token of success, but something that ensures a successful school-to-work transition.

France is determined to invest in higher education and research, as shown by the fact that it has increased these budget headings by 50 percent in five years, with the express purpose of offering a future to each of our young people. A further driver is its realisation that knowledge and innovation are the key to our common future.
By disseminating information throughout society, cultivating the spirit of creativity and innovation latent in each student, we will show ourselves up to the tough challenge of building a society and an economy of knowledge.
We need to put greater effort into speeding up this dissemination of knowledge and information. But it would be absurd for this to stop at the borders that separate countries. Obviously, a society of knowledge and information is not a society that turns in on itself, far from that.

Going beyond borders is the strength of the 21st-century university.
Going beyond the borders of knowledge and solving technological problems, yes, but also going beyond the borders between scientific disciplines.
And, of course, going beyond geographical borders. This dissemination of knowledge and information is on a roll now in Europe and must not be limited to that continent. Our institutions of higher learning and research must also be encouraged to develop their international partnerships world over.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
What is being born today is a new form of international community, a meeting of minds, full of the finest promises that mankind has ever known.
Seeing you here today, with our two countries just making the commitment to build a new science and technology university, I realise that this hope will not be in vain, that France and Vietnam will together build the first bridges in this meeting of minds.

Thank you.
Valérie Pécresse