When Corbett Grainger wanted to teach Vietnamese students the basics of environmental economics, he had no problem getting them motivated. He just talked about the motor scooters jamming the roads of Hanoi.
The bikes make for great local color, he says—it’s not unusual to see one carrying an entire family or livestock or large pieces of furniture. But it’s also not unusual to see people wearing masks to filter out the fumes from tens of thousands of scooters.
So students were very curious about potential market-based solutions to road congestion, such as taxes and tolls, says Grainger, a CALS assistant professor of agricultural and applied economics.
“The environment in Vietnam is kind of in a state of disrepair, particularly in terms of air and water quality,” he says. “Their economy is booming but it comes at a cost, and the younger people realize that.”
Grainger is one of a number of CALS and other UW–Madison faculty members who recently made the 8,000-mile trip to help the Hanoi University of Agriculture (HUA) set up an undergraduate program in agricultural business management.
Not all are ag economists. Al Gunther of life sciences communication went to teach business communication. Randy Dunham of the UW School of Business taught a course in management. Other offerings have included accounting, international trade, co-ops and contracts.
The plan is for the Wisconsin professors to teach the first class of students enrolled in the program. Hanoi faculty sit in on the lectures so that they can teach subsequent classes on their own.
While course content is much the same as in Madison, some adaptations are needed. For one thing, the class is condensed into three or four weeks. And even though the courses are taught in English—constituting the first English-language classes held at HUA—not everything “translates” perfectly because Vietnamese students bring a different set of skills and knowledge to the classroom.
They’re ahead of their U.S. counterparts in math but behind in computers, says CALS ag economist Paul Mitchell. Most of them didn’t know how to use a spreadsheet, he says. And when Mitchell talked about his research on markets for certified organic potatoes, first he had to explain organic certification.
But the CALS team found the Vietnamese students to be unsurpassed in one respect—they were intensely eager to learn. “After class, they all lined up with questions,” says Grainger. “When I held office hours in the afternoon, the whole class would show up.”