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Recruiting Intelligence

Yes, You Should be in Vietnam, but here’s the thing…



With the very real concern of declining domestic enrollment numbers, US institutions are right to broaden their recruitment strategies, including their international reach. Thinking beyond traditional student markets, like China and India, is old news by now.  You’ve diversified your draw and Vietnam has been on your list, right?

Don’t get us wrong, China remains an important market and neighboring India is clearly a recruitment stronghold. Learn more about these sending countries in recent posts here (China) and here (India). Today, we focus on Vietnam and why this country offers value to institutions looking at best practices and diversification in their international student draw. 

When we run our global marketing workshops, more than a majority of the institutions attending identify Vietnam as a student market they've targeted as a growth opportunity. The competition for students coming from Vietnam is only growing.

We’ll be at AIEA in DC in about 4 weeks and participating in 3 great presentations: 

  • AI for enrollment management  
  • Entrepreneurial leadership in bureaucratic environments 
  • A discussion around International Student Points of Entry and a new publication to be released later in 2024 

And of course, we will be presenting at NAFSA in New Orleans in late May. If you’d like to schedule time to chat over coffee instead of over Zoom, please be in touch (info@intead.com). 

According to the latest numbers from Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), approximately 190,000 Vietnamese students study abroad, the majority focusing on post-secondary institutions. That was for the 2019-20 academic year, though it appears the numbers are as strong or better today. Globally, Vietnam ranks as a top 10 sender of outbound student mobility per the ICEF Monitor. 

The majority of these students head to South Korea or Japan for university. Depending on who you ask, either 66,000 Vietnamese students studied in South Korea in 2022 per Capstone Education or just over 37,000 according to Korea Educational Development Institute. Less disputed are Japan’s numbers, which Study Japan puts at 49,000 incoming Vietnamese students in 2021. 

The third most popular destination is the US, hosting nearly 22,000 Vietnamese students in 2022-23 per the latest IIE Open Doors data. A distant third, yes, but considering the literal distance (8000+ miles between LA and Ho Chi Minh City as the crow flies), the numbers are encouraging. The reasons for choosing a US education we most often hear when speaking with Vietnamese students: 

  • A US degree is strong 
  • Classroom instruction encourages creativity and develops critical thinking 
  • Soft skills are taught 
  • Access to a multinational job market

That all makes sense from a prospective student perspective. But, why should your institution choose to actively recruit in Vietnam? What might make these students interested in your institution? And will it be a worthwhile effort for your institution’s enrollment growth? 

Below we share 3 big reasons why we find Vietnam a top student source for markets around the world and offer an insider’s take on the Vietnamese student mindset. To shape our thinking, we tapped our long-time colleague Hien Dao, founder and CEO of Golden Path Academics Vietnam, a Hanoi-based program that preps Vietnamese students for global academic and professional environments. She’s a great resource for any Vietnamese student recruitment initiative. Read on for insights. 

3 Reasons Vietnam Represents Enrollment Opportunity Today  

ICEF Monitor reports Vietnam as a top 10 student source market for Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, the US, and Canada. Here’s why competing for these students makes sense now: 

1. Education Culture: Vietnamese students and parents value education 

The prioritization of education traces directly to Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of Vietnam, who strongly believed in its benefits for the people and the country. And the country has been rewarded for it. In fact, according to a recent article in The Economist, Vietnam’s provinces are required to spend a full 20% of their budgets on education. This, among other factors, has made its schooling system world-class with its children outperforming peers in not only Malaysia and Thailand, but children in much wealthier countries like Britain and Canada.  

An area of opportunity: as the economy grows and modernizes, Vietnamese businesses are seeking employees with technological, team management, and other more sophisticated skills required for modern, sometimes ambiguous job assignments. Important to note, the Vietnam education system has not yet caught up. This aligns with what Western employers working in Vietnam tell us as we conduct our own market research. Seems like a place where US institutions could add tangible benefit. Does your recruitment messaging speak to in-country employer challenges and realities? 

2. Economics: An expanding middle class makes affording international education possible 

Vietnam is a lower-middle income country with a GDP per person of only $3,760. Yet, it aspires to become an upper-middle income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2045. As the 7th fastest growing middle class in the world, it seems to be on track.  

With economic growth, so too grows household incomes and the possibility of attaining an international education. English-speaking destinations have historically been the gold standard as English proficiency has given university grads a competitive edge in the job market. While this remains mostly true, a power shift between East and West is underfoot. 

STEM programs take note: Vietnam has set goals to get away from labor- and resource-intensive industries and establish an economy in which intellectual capabilities, innovation, and tech play a central role. And America is seen as an important source of investments. The country is also committed to improving management of its natural capital as it must adapt to the realities of climate change. Prospective Vietnamese students may be more interested now than ever in your degree programs that help them successfully ride the waves of economic and climate change job growth. 

That said, this is a culture that values the arts and creativity more than many other cultures with strong pragmatic influences on decision making (India). So liberal arts, music, architecture, can all play better here than many other cultures -- if messaged well.

Even with the rising middle-class, affordable tuition packages and practical scholarship opportunities will be important to this price sensitive and aspirational audience. 

3. Local Ties: There are well established Vietnamese communities in the US

This is a big point. Vietnam is really family oriented. So, the idea of attending university so far away from home will give many students pause. (Distance, and cost.) But the good news is there is a strong and comforting Vietnamese community waiting for them in the US. 

Over 1.3 million Vietnamese immigrants live in the US as of 2022, per the US Census Bureau American Community Survey. 38% live in California, 14% in Texas, and 5% in the state of Washington. The greater Los Angeles, San Jose, and Houston metropolitan areas are home to 33% of these Vietnamese immigrants. Even more notable, more than 5% of all residents in the San Jose area were born in Vietnam.  

There are communities large and small across the US and if your institution is near one, it will be worth mentioning to prospects. Likewise, we can tell you first hand that Vietnamese student organizations can make a real difference in an international student’s overall experience. So, if you got it, flaunt it. 

The Big Barrier + Vietnamese Student Mindset 

Hien Dao, who was born and raised in Vietnam and attended US universities as an international graduate student herself, is an educational entrepreneur who prepares Vietnamese students for global pursuits. She says students’ and parents’ interest in attaining an international education continues to go up, especially among those who are exposed to international education within Vietnam through dual enrollment or other supplemental programs brought into the country. 

She says English language training is so mainstream that it creates an environment allowing for students to have a better understanding of what international education is like. As a point of reference, a recent survey she conducted among her students shows 54% have either an interest or intention of studying abroad. 

Of course, interest is one thing, affordability quite another. “Cost is a major concern,” she says. Especially when students are weighing options in the US, Europe, and Australia. “US institutions have a reputation for being pricey compared to Europe or Australia, which are both easier to get to in addition to being less expensive.” 

But then there’s the matter of influence. “The US ranks at the top in terms of how attractive a place it is to go to university and a US credential gives you a competitive advantage when looking for work in Vietnam. For my students, if they have the financial means, then the US tends to be their top choice. Otherwise, they look to Australia or Europe,” she says. 

As for tips for higher ed institutions seeking to increase the number of enrolled from Vietnam, she offers two: 

  • Provide application assistance. The university application process to get into a Vietnamese university is more straightforward than the process used by US institutions. So, applying to the US can be intimidating. Providing clear insight on the must-have vs nice-to-have aspects of applying to your institution can go a long way. Also talking about the selection process, including any specific test score or GPA requirements, can help students set their expectations. 
  • Focus on the personal touch. Be responsive. Handle emails and inquiries promptly so prospects feel less intimidated and more seen. Connection matters so much and can make all the difference when it comes down to the prospect’s decision. Dao recalls what an impact it made when Michigan State University sent someone to the airport to pick up her nephew on his big flight to the US. “His parents could not stop talking about it. He was half a world away and it made a big difference. It was a big deal,” she recalls.  

Indeed, the little things matter so much. And we’re here for them and for you. Be in touch as you strategize ways to broaden your recruitment reach. From domestic markets to new-to-you global regions, we can help your team understand the nuances of the market, assess the recruitment tools available, develop the targeted messaging, in short, we can help you shine from ideation through application. 

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