This article examines the policy cycle and vernacular globalization in the context of higher education reform in vietnam. Through an analysis of the development of the vietnam national university – hochiminh city as part of the post-1986 reconstruction of vietnamese higher education, the article considers the complex interrelationship between globalized policy discourses, national interests and history in vietnam, and the specific politics of policy implementation within one institution. Vietnam national university – hochiminh city was created through an amalgamation of a number of smaller universities, and against the backdrop of social and economic restructuring aimed at promoting industrialization and a market orientation within socialist governance. The article reveals the dynamic tension between these local and global influences on higher education policy and practice, and more specifically, the dilemmas associated with top-down policy implementation when a new organization consists of older organizations with powerful provenance and reputations. In so doing the article demonstrates the necessity to globalize policy theory. 2006 Taylor & francis.