Trends in Vietnamese Academic Mobility

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Vietnam’s higher education sector faces significant challenges. These are related to quality standards, a low post-graduation employment rate, and widespread corruption.  Between 1999/2000 and 2012, the number of higher education institutions (HEIs) in Vietnam grew from 153 to 419; however, the increase in volume has not come with an improvement in quality.

Last month’s WENR feature article, Higher Education in Vietnam, described how the low quality of Vietnamese higher education combined with increasing disposable income has led to an increasing number of Vietnamese seeking educational opportunities abroad.  However, the challenges for Vietnamese are formidable, as per capita GDP was only US$1,755 in 2012, less than one-third that of China. Despite this, the number of Vietnamese students studying abroad at the tertiary level has increased significantly to 53,802 in 2012*, up from 23,334 in 2006 according to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics.

Top 4 Destination Countries for Vietnamese Students at the Tertiary Level

A 2012 WES report identified Vietnam as one of the top four emerging countries from which to recruit international students.  Since that report was published, Vietnamese enrollment in U.S. HEIs has increased by 8%, and there is reason to believe that this growth trajectory will continue. In the 2012 report, we point out that 45% of the country’s population is under the age of 25, which combined with a booming economy promises a stable flow of overseas Vietnamese students for the near future.

Additionally, there is little evidence that the Vietnamese government is likely to resolve the structural issues facing its higher education sector anytime soon. A recent survey by Transparency International revealed that almost half of Vietnamese respondents consider their education sector to be corrupt.  What’s more, a November 2013 resolution on reforming the higher education sector characterized the state of education in dire terms, demonstrating that the country has a long way to go if it wants to align its education system with contemporary quality standards.

Because of the low incomes in Vietnam, recruitment of Vietnamese students is not ideal for every institution. Vietnamese students are the third largest group of international students at U.S. community colleges, constituting 7.9% of the total in 2012/13, likely due to their relative affordability and perceived quality. Vietnamese students also disproportionately study business, with 38% choosing a business major for the 2012/13 academic year, the largest proportion of international students enrolled in U.S. business majors, according to the Institute of International Education.

As WES described in its 2012 report, institutions need to understand which segments of Vietnamese students are financially and academically viable to recruit.  Institutions that wish to enroll more Vietnamese students of limited means should look to promote scholarship opportunities, or highlight other cost-saving benefits related to the institution or locale.  Lastly, institutions that can offer a good value proposition for business degrees are particularly well-situated to recruit Vietnamese students. In sum Vietnamese students continue to seek education abroad, which presents opportunities for HEIs looking to diversify and internationalize their campuses.

* 2012 numbers are an estimate by UNESCO Institute for Statistics

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