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Recruiting Intelligence

Welcome to Vietnam: A Look at Student Mobility


During the 2017-2018 academic year, the enrollments of new international students in U.S. higher education fell for the second year in a row, dropping by 6.6 percent.

There’s definitely one country that hasn’t received the memo: Vietnam.

The number of Vietnamese students in U.S. colleges and universities has steadily increased over the last decade.

What is next in terms of student mobility from Vietnam? Let’s explore what has influenced this student mobility as well as glance at what the education system is like for those at home and what changes may lay in store.

And if you want to know more about student mobility and other global market trends, we have an entire resource library to offer. Check out all of the material you could have access to with Intead Plus and our new, more affordable Bookshelf Membership.

We use the data and perspective shared in this blog to support our thinking about which degree programs have the most value to this set of prospective students and how best to position our clients to leverage the opportunities out there.

Our mantra: each global market needs its own targeted marketing plan and approach.

(Read on)

First, let’s understand the scope.

With a population of roughly 95.54 million in Vietnam, 37 percent of the population is under the age of 25. That gives us an initial target audience of 35 million prospective students to segment for long-term recruitment efforts. Segmenting is important; clearly we are not ready to target those under 12 years of age. But with English language camps and summer programs for teens, private high school partners and other initiatives, building brand awareness starts early and pays off. 

For perspective on strategic growth plans far into the future, see last week's post here.

The U.S. is the primary recipient of Vietnam’s international students, followed by Australia and China. In 2016, there were 21,402 students from Vietnam enrolled in U.S. higher ed—67 percent of them in undergraduate programs and 15 percent in graduate programs. IIE's 2018 Fast Facts confirms the country is the 6th largest exporter of students to the U.S.

So, what brings so many of these students from Vietnam to the U.S.?

  1. A modernizing economy in Vietnam that needs international expertise
  2. A growing middle class that can afford foreign education
  3. A lack of capacity in Vietnamese education institutions
  4. A lack of instructor education in Vietnam

To help you fine-tune your recruiting efforts and messaging in this country, let’s take a deeper look at these factors.

Degrees of import here are those you would expect: Business with specialties in manufacturing operations, supply chain, computer science, finance, etc. Also growing needs and interests in Vietnam: architecture and healthcare-related fields.

Let’s take a look at the larger growth factors, starting with…

The economy

Higher education enrollment has seen a dramatic increase in Vietnam during the last decade, with now 25 percent of their college-age population enrolled, according to UNESCO Institute of Statistics.

Vietnam is shifting from an economy grounded in agriculture and low-wage manufacturing to that of modern industry and innovation. This is a trend reflected in the fact that almost half of Vietnamese students in the U.S. are studying business or engineering.

Show me the money

While not at their highest economic peak, the economy of Vietnam is on the rise, something in the past that has triggered increased international enrollment. Statistics from the World Bank show that between 1990 and 2016, the country’s GDP increased by a phenomenal 3,303 percent. That made it second only to China in terms of worldwide economic growth.

At a recent presentation at Northeastern University’s Center for Emerging Markets, Spencer Fung, Group CEO, Li & Fung, Hong Kong, a global supply chain leader, noted how well Vietnam has absorbed China’s overflow of apparel and product manufacturing over the past decade. This diversification of manufacturing sourcing will continue, especially with the recent US global trade tariffs being imposed or threatened.

The recent tariff and trade challenges between the US and China have pushed some US-based and global manufacturer's to seek additional and alternative production sites outside of China. While other European-based manufactures are finding more opportunity in China due to the US/China riff. 

Regardless of the near-term turmoil, global business are seeing ever more clearly that a diversified supply chain is critical to their long-term success and their ability to ride out the sometimes whimsical political headwinds. Vietnam's manufacturing sector has seen a stead increase in demand over the past 2 decades and the pressure to build more capacity there is only intensifying. However, the capacity is not there now and will take time to develop.

Side Note: A few other smaller countries (education) markets to watch where supply chain sourcing is big: Malaysia, Taiwan, Guatemala. Have lunch with any faculty with academic connections in these countries and brainstorm ideas for recruitment opportunities.

A tight fit - Vietnam's capacity to educate its own

World Education News + Reviews reported that the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training released statistics that 1.8 million students registered for the centralized university entrance exam, while the colleges and universities in Vietnam only have the capacity for fewer than 600,000 students.

There is more of a demand for education than Vietnam can meet with their own institutions, pushing students toward international study.

A dearth of degrees and educators

Vietnam has made major moves to prioritize their higher education, such as dedicating 20 percent of their national budget to education. But one of the major limiting factors to higher education growth within their own country is the lack of staffing. In the last three decades, student enrollment has doubled in Vietnam, though the number of instructors has remained nearly the same. Of those who exist, the ministry called their fitness into question.

One of the first steps in improving Vietnamese higher education was assuring the quality of their institutions and determining the quality of their instructors. In 2014, the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training went so far as to cancel enrollment in more than 200 undergraduate programs in 71 universities and colleges. Their new policies stated that bachelor programs must have at least one lecturer with a PhD and three with master’s degrees—qualifications that these institutions lacked.

With the writing of the New Model University Project—a list of goals for the government to accomplish in higher education by 2020—the Ministry hopes to see the vast majority of instructors with these degrees.

What other solutions are there for Vietnamese students outside of international study?

As we mentioned above, there’s been remarkable GDP growth for Vietnam, but that growth has not changed the fact that Vietnam is still a poor country. With World Bank showing their per capita GDP as $2,342 in 2017, compare to that the U.S. of $59,927.

What this means to high-cost U.S. institutions is that Vietnamese students considering your degree options must see the economic benefit. The career you are going to help them achieve has to be lucrative enough to pay off their tuition costs. From teachers to manufacturing managers to pharmacists, the compensation potential has to be in line with the cost to get there. Critical considerations to how you position your offerings in this country.

It certainly isn’t all doom and gloom from an economic standpoint. While their recent graduates may not be ordering regular plates of avocado toast at brunch, Pricewaterhouse Coopers forecasts that Vietnam’s growth will rapidly continue, until they are the world’s 20th largest economy by 2050.

So, how does a poor but swiftly rising country meet the educational needs of its shifting economic base and growing middle class without sending its students abroad?

To try to answer this, the government turned to their New Model University Project (referenced above). In addition to more students traveling outside of Vietnam for their collegiate experiences and the country improving their existing programs, one solution being entertained by the government is foreign investment in their private higher ed. Another possibility is opening new foreign-owned institutions.

The New Model University Project, among others, has received significant World Bank financial support for the past decade.

Currently, there is a lack of these colleges and universities that would help to meet the New Model University Project goal of establishing international research universities ranked in the top 200 by 2020. However, the first foreign-owned institution was RMIT University Vietnam (Australian), opened in 2000. According to global lawfirm Hogan Lovells, it was later joined by

  • The British University Vietnam,
  • Kent International College,
  • Cetana PSB Intellis International College,
  • American University in Vietnam,
  • Tokyo Human Health Sciences University Vietnam, and
  • Fulbright University Vietnam.

Vietnam is also attempting to bolster their own international student numbers by expanding English-language programs. Currently, over 1,000 American students study abroad in Vietnam, and with the New Model University Project, the government would like to see that number continue to grow until perhaps they are saying to arriving students, “Chào mừng bạn đến viet nam!” just as often as we say, “Welcome to America!”

Next up: a 3-part series on recruiting from African countries. Must read stuff on this region that is becoming increasingly important in diversifying your overall student recruiting program. Intead will be producing more research on best practices and partners in the African continent in the coming year. One more reason our Intead Plus Subscription will be valuable to your institution.

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