Globalization and internationalization forces have placed vietnam higher education (vhe) under the pressure of change. Reforming vhe has therefore become imperative for institutions at this crossroad of change forces. However, reform efforts have been ad-hoc, fragmented and unstable. Reform outcomes have remained fairly limited and fall under scrutiny. Drawing on a case study of the advanced program, we argue that importing the curriculum from a western country without thoughtful consideration of the local culture, history and dynamics would result in low cost efficiency and cost ineffectiveness, leading further to a huge waste of resources. We emphasize the importance of an inward-looking approach to higher education reforms because it brings the centuries-long vietnamese cultural values into play. At the same time, policy borrowing must be accompanied with a culturally responsive curriculum and pedagogy, and it recognizes the role of vietnamese teaching and learning culture. This inward-looking approach is complementary to an outward perspective, allowing for a comprehensive and solid understanding of the globalization forces and the global power structure within which vhe system is located. 2017 Informa uk limited, trading as taylor & francis group.