A new partnership: Lao university delegation visits University of Education Karlsruhe – the German perspective

All Posts, Partnership, Savannakhet University (SKU)

First contact between University of Education Karlsruhe and Savannakhet University

My “Fact-Finding Mission: Laos” (“FFM”) from 18 March to 6 April 2017 was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, “DAAD”).1 Mr Somlith Virivong, then Director of the Lao-German Technical College, was appointed by the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) to officially drive and accompany me and my research assistant Ms Heike Müller on our fascinating journey through the mid- and southern parts of the country. We had 26 appointments in total, at universities, colleges (Teacher Training Colleges, Technical Colleges), and also the Vocational Education Development Institute (VEDI) in Vientiane.
One of the last places we visited was Savannakhet, where we visited the SKU, the Teacher Training College (TTC), and the Technical College (TC) on 28 March 2017.
Dr Sitha, the Vice-President of SKU, promptly invited us to come back the next day to continue our discovery and discussion of possible joint interests and a potential for joint projects and research in the subjects of English and Food Science. Little did we know at the time that this was the beginning of a most interesting new cooperation – but exactly half a year later, the visit was returned. The leaders of SKU also ended up staying one day longer than planned to have more time to talk and develop plans together.
Lao university delegation visits University of Education Karlsruhe

On 28-29 September 2017, a Lao university delegation from the University of Savannakhet and the National University of Laos visited Germany (cf. Dr Sitha’s account with photos). They were travelling as members of the Lao Vice-President’s three delegations (economic, political, academic).2 The academic delegation’s first stops were the TU Aachen, the University of Göttingen, and the PHYWE company. They had had previous contact with the latter.

Some of the delegation members then travelled on to Karlsruhe to inform themselves about teacher education at our University of Education (“PH Karlsruhe“): Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bounpong Keorodom (President University of Savannakhet), Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sitha Khemmarath (Vice-President University of Savannakhet), Assoc. Prof. Vixay Vankham (Head of Academic Affairs, Division Faculty of Engineering, National University of Laos), Mr Khansem Sisavon (Vocational Training Centre Vientiane), and as advisor from Thailand, Mr Woropanya (NEO Didac).3 They were accompanied by Mr Mark Metzbaur (PHYWE).

They received a warm reception in the Senate Room by the hosts Prof. Dr. Annette Worth and Ass. iur. Ursula Wöll (Rectorate), Ms Julia Friedl and Ms Franziska Teckentrup (International Office), Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin and Prof. Dr. Götz Schwab (Department of English), Mr Ralph Hansmann (Department of Sciences/ Technics), Ms Heike Müller (Department of Daily Culture and Health/ Nutrition), and Ms Rebecca Dengler and Ms Lena Wink (returnee volunteers of the project „Teaching English in Laos“).

For Laos’ integration into the ASEAN, its younger generation needs good schooling, vocational training, or a university education – and sufficient English skills. Technical and economic advancement cannot be achieved without skilled workers, and these will need to be able to communicate in the international language English to cooperate with their new foreign partners in the Western world. „In order to educate young people well, we need highly qualified teachers“, said Assoc. Prof. Vixay Vankham.

Apart from the questions of quality in teacher education, which are also very frankly addressed in the governmental analysis of 2018, The Lao PDR Voluntary National Review on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (p. 26), the more urgent educational problem in Laos seems to be the lack of teachers. As the average age of the population is 23, this means overcrowded classrooms with 40, 50, or 60 children. In rural areas, it is therefore not unusual for one teacher to teach all grades (1 to 5) together in one class, as in this example from a school outside of Savannakhet:

I had prepared the following two-day programme and thankfully was supported by many colleagues from other subjects,4 which meant that our visitors were able to see a wide range of facilities of education at our “PH” within a very short time:

Thursday, 29 September 2017

14:00   Reception

  • Welcome, short addresses, snacks
  • Lao delegation, German visitors and German hosts introduce themselves
  • International Office presents profile of PH Karlsruhe

15:00   Guided tour around the PH campus:

15:00   Building 2
15:00-15:15 Sports hall
15:20-15:30 IT/Media production-room

15:35-15:45 Minima – Maths lab for children

15:50:-16:00 physiK2A – Science lab for children

16:00   Building 3
16:05-16:15 Sewing and ironing room
16:15-16:30 Technics room: metal, wood, children’s workroom

16:30-16:40 Research studio
16:45-16:55 Lending Library Primary English (editor’s note: I share my office library with my students)

17:00-17:15 University Library

17:30   Introduction and reports about Lao-German co-operations

17:30   Prof. Martin reports about the developments of the “Teaching English in Laos project” (with the Angels-for-Children Foundation), her “Fact-Finding Mission” in Laos (spring 2017), and application options for research and teaching/ development funds (Erasmus+, DAAD).

17:45   Returnee volunteers (Ban Phang Heng Secondary School, Lao-German Technical College) report about their experiences in the “Teaching English in Laos” project and the challenges to ICL (Intercultural Learning) and cross-cultural understanding.

A very busy day ended with a relaxing dinner at “Yangda”, a renowned Cantonese Restaurant in Karlsruhe. Our visitors were sceptical about trying “Asian food” produced in Europe, but were pleasantly surprised.

Friday, 29 September: Continuation of guided tour and conference

9:30    Teaching kitchen

9:45     Language & self-directed learning lab
10:00   Cafeteria

10:30   Lao delegation and the representatives of the subjects English, Sciences/Technology, and Culture of Daily Life and Health/Nutrition exchange ideas about possible future co-operations.

(lunch in university dining-hall)

14:30  Ideas and plans are discussed in more detail in smaller groups according to the needs/interests, a “Memorandum of Discussion” (MoD) is drafted.

15:30   MoD is discussed with the Chancellor of the PH in preparation of a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MoU).

16:00   Final summary, outlook: An MoU will be the formal basis of our first cooperation.

It took two more 1-week visits at SKU in 2017 (spring and autumn) for getting to know one another’s structures, goals, and restrictions in order to arrive at a more elaborate and concrete definition of the character of our cooperation.

Our MoU was then signed by both Presidents and took effect on 13 March 2018:

  • SKU (Savannakhet University) and KUE (Karlsruhe University of Education) agree to cooperate as partner universities
  • staff and student exchange
  • joint research on teaching and learning English in Lao PDR
  • writing joint grant proposals
  • strengthening the subject English at SKU by tandem-work with English staff in English language and didactics and methodology, tandem-teaching, co-teaching, coaching
  • extension of cooperation to other Faculties (Natural Sciences, Nutrition)


Cooperation begins

Our first two cooperation projects were then prepared in detail over the spring and summer 2018 and started in September 2018. These are the “Volunteer Programme” (2018ff.) and the “Erasmus+ Mobility Programme” (2018-2020).

1. Volunteer programme
This programme has three goals and is piloted in the academic year 2018/19:
  • It provides the linguistic and organisational basis of our joint grant applications and research projects in English, natural sciences, and food science;
  • it gives the German returnee-volunteers the opportunity to go back to Laos when they are fully qualified teachers5 to tandem-work at a higher level and for longer together with Lao SKU staff;
  • it supports Lao SKU staff in teaching methodology and general professionalisation and thus helps to improve the quality of education in Laos.

1-2 volunteers are invited by SKU to spend an academic year at the university, receive a Lao intensive language course, and are also subsequently supported. In return, the volunteer(s) teach 20 hours in English (5 English, 2×5 tandem, 5 for students or special purposes).

2. Erasmus+ KA107 Mobility Programme

Our first joint mobility grant application for the exchange of students, doctoral candidates and staff was submitted to Erasmus+ KA107 on 1 February 2018. We scored 82 points out of 100, which meant the application was granted. Excerpt from the report: The relevance of the strategy “is of fairly good quality, not only because the mobility is comprehensibly embedded here, but also because the relevance for both institutions is shown very conclusively on the content level. Also, [the quality of the cooperation agreement] is worked very convincingly. [The c]riterion [effect and dissemination] sets out in greater detail the methods and instruments for the dissemination of mobility projects. The impact of the planned collaborations on the internationalization of the participating institution is largely convincing. Responsibilities are named. Dissemination of results and information concerning the action are given sufficiently detailed.” The weak point we need to work on more next time: “Monitoring and evaluation are not sufficiently presented.”

The programme runs from July 2018 to 2020. Our first German volunteer at SKU, Mr David Schrep, was instrumental in translating forms for the outgoing staff and in coordinating the necessary organisational steps of the first exchanges, as the “responsibilities named” had already changed and mail was not yet a routine or reliable medium of international communication at SKU at the time.

In this way, we achieved our five cooperation goals already in the first months of the pilot-phase of the volunteer-programme. This, in turn, means that the volunteer-programme is to continue in the next academic year – and this means that we can prepare a second application for a continuation of the Erasmus+ programme next year. “Fact-Finding Mission” accomplished!

Our first exchange visits began in February 2019 with two German (English and biology) and two Lao (English and animal husbandry/biology) staff, with a third Lao staff to follow in May (micro-biology), and we will publish our first reports on our mutual visits at SKU and KUE here shortly.

It has been a most interesting and memorable journey to get this far together, and we are already developing new plans as I write this, i.e. two new volunteers getting ready for the next academic year at SKU, the first German doctoral candidate getting ready for research at SKU later this year, and our first International Symposium on “Sustainable development and higher education” on 12 October 2019, in honour of the the official festivities planned on 13 October for the 10th anniversary of SKU.

Chapeau to our partners for achieving so much for their country in only one decade!


Text by I. Martin
Photos by V. Botthoulath, S. Keobonalapeth, P. Khattiyavong, H. Müller & K. Buttgereit



1 An article on the “Fact-Finding Mission” will follow.

2 The Vice-Minister had to cancel at the last minute, as did the Vice-Minister of Education, but their delegations visited as planned. Now the Prime Minister of Lao PDR, Mr PM Thongloun Sisoulith, was invited by our Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel to visit Berlin on 12-13 March 2019 (cf. press conference). The Lao-German Friendship Society was also invited. It was the first time that a Lao Head of State visited Germany.

3 Our talks were conducted in English, German, and sometimes also French, as all of our guests can communicate in at least one of those languages. They studied in East Germany, France, Belgium, or Hungary in the 1970s or 80s.

4 My thanks go to the following colleagues who showed us their rooms and demonstrated some of their equipment: Ms Schnaible, Mr Stephan Weber, Ms Schöner, Mr Ralph Hansmann, Prof. Dr. Waltraud Rusch, Mr Franz-Martin Walser, Ms Helen Schneider, Ms Heike Müller.

5 It takes around 6 years to qualify as a full teacher in Germany. In our federal state Baden-Wuerttemberg, after the Master’s degree in two school subjects, with pedagogy and psychology as minor subjects, graduates are required to take an 18-month-traineeship in a school. This also involves further theoretical education at the regional “Seminary” and finishes with another thesis and the assessment of several lessons held in both subjects. The topics for those “visited lessons” are announced two weeks prior to the exam.

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