Professor Gael McDonald: Impact through Education

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Professor Gael McDonald is the President and General Director of RMIT Vietnam, a part of the Melbourne-based university RMIT – Australia’s biggest tertiary institution. 

Prior to joining RMIT Vietnam in 2014, Prof McDonald served as Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University and Secretary of the Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC), as well as other academic roles in various institutions in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Macau, United States and Canada. 

With a career spanning over 35 years, Prof McDonald is now focused in driving the future of Vietnam through the delivery of a quality education for students in the developing country. She shares with Advance on how her experience in the Australian education system helps students to pursue a brighter future in Vietnam.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications Officer, Advance

Why did you choose to work in HCMC?

Actually it feels like HCMC chose me. I have previously worked in Hong Kong and Macau for 12 years and always had a hankering to get back to Asia when this role came up. The opportunity of working in Higher Education but still within the Australian system and being located in Asia was pretty irresistible.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your role?

Undoubtedly the most rewarding aspect of my role as President of RMIT Vietnam is witnessing first-hand the transformative power of education. To see the impact of education not only on individuals but also families and a developing country at large is extremely satisfying. So being part of the process of facilitating these outcomes is a real pleasure and especially when you become very aware of the potential positive impact both in the short term and in the long term.

What are your top priorities and goals for RMIT Vietnam?

As part of the larger RMIT group, our priorities and goals are very much aligned to RMIT University and around an inclusive approach to quality education. Specifically in relation to RMIT Vietnam, we are taking on a broader role in the region as we pursue significant growth opportunities in Asia.. We are also conscious of our differentiation in the market in that we are very closely aligned to industry, have students with high levels of employability and who have often engaged in some form of international mobility.

What’s the major difference between Vietnamese and Australian tertiary education system? In what ways do you think they can complement each other?

The main difference between Vietnamese and Australian tertiary education system, is that in the Australian system there is a greater focus on critical thinking skills as well as the soft skills that accompany a discipline perspective. Essentially, this means that in addition to being technically competent at the completion of their undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, graduates also have the transferable skills that they can take into their new job. Australian universities also tend to focus a lot more on work integrated learning opportunities. 

Given that we are now living in a globalised world, how important do you think tertiary education will help students to get prepared for the future?

As we embrace a more digital future, tertiary education plays a very important role in preparing for graduates for both work and life in rapidly changing environments. Consequently, curriculum needs to be constantly updated and revised and a wide range of experiences to be provided to students in order to ensure that graduates are adequately prepared for a digital and culturally diverse work place.

What do you miss most about home?

Naturally I miss family and friends.