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Passion & perspective

Released at: 02:29, 22/07/2014

Passion & perspective

As the Independent Director on the Board of Directors at Vietnam Australia International School, Mr Marcel Van Miert is committed to contributing to the development of the company as well as Vietnamese children.

by Ngoc Anh

    Having visited Vietnam for the first time in 2004, again in 2009 and last year and now regularly, all for education related work, “I can see immense changes and progress in Vietnam. Something that gives me particular pleasure is to see the huge progress Vietnamese have made economically. This is one reason why I was very attracted to Vietnam Australia International School (VAS), to educate Vietnamese children and provide them with the potential to be successful.” All of this lies behind Mr Marcel Van Miert taking up the part-time position of Independent Director of VAS, where he provides consultancy and shares best practice.

Solid background

    Before working for VAS he held important positions at organisations and enterprises in the education field, which gave him invaluable experience for his current position at VAS. From 1995 until 2002 he was Director of The European Business School in London and Regent’s College, where he significantly developed the business through a series of new courses, schools and partnerships and maintained his substantial involvement with overseas schools and academic institutions. He then went on to Nord Anglia Education Plc, where he was the Managing Director in charge of all its schools in UK and internationally, with particular focus on K-12in Eastern Europe, Russia and China.

    Following this he becameCEO of the World Class Learning Group (WCL), which owns the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and has spread to well over 1,000 schools worldwide. This focus on curricula and implementation will certainly assist him in guiding VAS, he believes. Now, as Director/Owner of Europreneur Consultants he uses the experience gained to advise owners and operators of schools and higher education institutions as well as vendors and buyers of such businesses (particularly Private Equity houses) on strategy, operations and implementation. “I have seen many different educational institutions in many different countries and from a number of perspectives, and this helps me to identify with people who are passionately working to overcome common issues in providing a great education in a profitable way,” he said.

“What makes doing business in the education field different from doing business in other sectors is that it has a very strong ethos, where teachers are almost entirely focused on the child’s development. Furthermore, in a private setting, we have parents who are customers but not learners, requiring clear communication and objectives, as well as investors and owners who need to balance financial and educational needs.”

    In talking more about the factors that inspired him to make the decision to engage with VAS in Vietnam, Mr Van Miert said he was approached by some supporters and backers of VAS to look at its plans and performance and provide a considered outside view. During that process he felt that he should try to provide longer-term support and advice to ensure that VAS keeps improving while at the same time ensuring it stays true to its pioneering educational offering in Vietnam. “It is also true to say that the people both at VAS in particular and in Vietnam in general made it a very attractive idea to come here more regularly,” he said. He especially wants to help drive improvements in the English skills of Vietnamese children.

    From his resume it may be surmised that Mr Van Miert had always planned on working in the education field. But he actually became involved in education by accident. Once engaged, though, “I found my passion for improving management and infrastructure in educational organisations in order to provide the best education and opportunities possible to students, both in higher education and K-12,” he said.

Distinctive education

    Established in 2004, VAS is a private school group within the national education system, offering a K-12 education programme. At present it offers educational services to some 4,500 students from Kindergarten through to Year 12 at six campuses in Ho Chi Minh City.

    Different to other bilingual schools in Vietnam, VAS has been a pioneer in offering the Cambridge International Curriculum for Primary and Secondary in an integrated bilingual curriculum from Year 1 to Year 12 via clear academic pathways that enable graduates to receive world-accredited certificates such as Cambridge Checkpoint 1&2, IGCSE, and A-Level, in addition to certificates from Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training. The current fees set by VAS for the Cambridge A-level Program are around 50-60 per cent of the average fees of other international schools providing similar offerings in Vietnam. This may be the most attractive feature of VAS (among many other attractions, such as life skills, campus facilities, extracurricular activities, etc.) among parents seeking a good education environment for their children.

    Ms Pham Vu Thanh Giang, Director of Mekong Capital and Deal Leader of VAS, in which Mekong Capital has invested, said proudly that “we are happy with all the investments VAS has made to offer a quality education to Vietnam’s young generation, which responds well to the needs of parents and students.” The company started with a firm determination back in 2011 to roll-out mega-campuses with best-in-class facilities, including huge playgrounds, a swimming pool, modern labs and fully-invested libraries. And since 2013 the school has been consistently implementing the Cambridge International Curriculum for Primary and Secondary, which enables graduates to receive world-accredited certificates. “We are convinced that VAS is well-positioned to deliver its mission of ‘Educating an Elite Generation’ and satisfying parents and students,” she said.

    According to Mr Van Miert, when it comes to offering a good quality education it all comes down to the team working together in coordinating and implementing the teaching and learning objectives set out in the school’s strategic plans. “It needs to be supported by a strong administrative team that understands what goes on in the classroom and ensures the provision of the facilities to deliver that,” he explained. “This combination should ensure we produce well-rounded students with a love for learning and a desire for knowledge with international options.” In respect of bilingual and mixed curriculum education in Vietnam, this requires close cooperation among Vietnamese and foreign staff, which in turn requires them using a common language to communicate and combining different curricular requirements.

    Contributing to the success of VAS is its committed and well-trained team of 400 experienced teachers teaching the national programme of the Ministry of Education and Training and about 200 teachers trained and certified to teach the Cambridge International Program, who share a mission of educating an elite generation for Vietnam.

    Joining the Board of Directors of VAS as an Independent Director, Mr Van Miert advises VAS on implementing and managing international best practice in K-12 education. It has only been a few months since he began the task, so he believes it is too soon to note the effectiveness of his recommendations in VAS’s development. “It is early days and education businesses need to be careful about being too quick when implementing change,” he said, adding that there are definitely clear signs that VAS is implementing best practice in the areas of HR, management, admissions and curriculum.

    With Mr Van Miert’s appointment at VAS and the appointment of experts from Mekong Capital, Ms Thanh Giang believes that the effective operation of the Board of Directors will add huge value to the business, and “we have seen the businesses benefit from the international best practice these experts bring,” she said.

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