With a population of 86 million, the steadily increasing per capita income, a booming private sector, and the high value Vietnamese place on education, Vietnam offers significant opportunities to U.S. providers of education and training services. In addition, strong industrial growth and expanding foreign investment are generating the need for a variety of workplace skills that are currently in short supply. Education and training are top priorities for the Vietnamese government, which has plans to equip the labor force with technology and management knowledge and skills.
The education system is currently facing a number of challenges, including outdated curricula, lack of training facilities, and a shortage of qualified lecturers and trainers at all levels. Raising the quality of education is one of the priority tasks encompassed in the government of Vietnam's Educational Development Strategy and Vision through 2020. Over the last few years the Vietnamese government has increased budget allocations, liberalized private sector involvement, and encouraged foreign participation in developing education and training in Vietnam. The Education Development Strategy for 2001-10 estimates that the share of education expenditure could increase to 6.9 percent of GDP and 20 percent of total government expenditures by 2010.
The ongoing opening of the service sector will continue to drive the demand for U.S. education in Vietnam. More than ever before, education has become a key feature in bilateral cooperation between Vietnam and the U.S. Surveys consistently show that the Vietnamese recognize U.S. schools as high quality education providers. The U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Michalak, has made the development of education in Vietnam a top priority, both through dramatically increasing the number of Vietnamese students studying at U.S. institutions of higher learning and through the establishment of U.S.–affiliated programs in Vietnam.
The best prospects for U.S. providers are English language training, corporate training, vocational and technical training (including information technology and basic manufacturing skills), higher education (including overseas study programs), and distance learning. English is the language of choice for Vietnamese seeking to enhance their educational and career opportunities. Schools and centers specializing in English language training, including TOEFL, IELST, and TOEIC, are booming in Vietnam's major cities. The authorities are however unable to monitor and control the teaching quality of these schools. Several State-owned institutions, public schools, and English learning centers are seeking help to upgrade both standard and specialized English courses.
For 4-year university study, the best prospects include recruiting Vietnamese students to study in the U.S. and establishing joint-programs with local universities. Local foreign education programs continue to steadily increase their student base, while study abroad remains an important and ever popular form of higher education in Vietnam.
As the personal income of the local population rises, more students are able to self-finance their higher education locally and abroad. Vietnam presently has over 20,000 students studying abroad, paying about $200 million in tuition and fees every year. Most graduates study in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and other Asian countries that have strong higher education programs, such as Singapore and Hong Kong. The U.S. continues to be the most desirable English speaking country for Vietnamese students, followed by Australia and the UK, although in 2009 Australia actually received a higher number of Vietnamese students. Surveys consistently show that Vietnamese recognize U.S. schools as high quality education providers. Here are some more relevant facts and figures:
• With a total number of 12,823 students presently studying in the U.S., Vietnam now ranks 9th among countries sending students to the U.S. and is the world’s second leading English-speaking host of Vietnamese students behind Australia.
• With an increase of 46 percent over last year, Vietnam had the second highest percentage increase in students to the U.S. among the top 20 countries. This increase is the 6th consecutive double-digit gain for Vietnamese students going to the U.S.
• Notably, Vietnam ranks as 3rd among sending countries for international students attending community colleges (2-year associate’s degree programs) in the U.S.
• Over half of the Vietnamese students studying in the U.S. are located in Texas, Washington, and California.
• There has been a 380 percent increase in the number of Vietnamese studying in the U.S. since 1998/99.
Studying in-country with 2 + 2 programs or 3 +1 programs is considered the best alternative to study abroad and significantly reduces the time and cost of obtaining an internationally-recognized degree. By cooperating with foreign universities, local institutions can offer joint-programs that consist of two or three years studying in Vietnam and the remaining one or two years at partnering universities abroad. Key fields of study include business management and administration, information technology, marketing, banking and finance, and engineering. Both state-run and private local universities are interested in this kind of cooperation and consider it a priority to partner with American institutions.
In the process of Vietnam’s integration into the world economy, management at all levels desperately need soft skills training. Vietnamese business entities prefer short-term training courses and practical methodologies that can be quickly applied in the daily work environment. Skills in demand include customer relationship management, negotiating, problem solving and decision making, presentation and public speaking, and leadership and coaching skills.
In addition, the Vietnamese Government has also identified vocational education as a major area for future investment and improvement. Vietnam has a serious shortage of highly skilled workers, particularly in the areas of information technology, engineering, travel and hospitality and other service sectors. The demand for skilled workers and production technicians is already acute and will become ever more intense as the industrial sector becomes a larger and larger provider of employment. The Government target has been to have 40 percent of the country’s workforce receive vocational training by the end 2010. Priority is given to training workers for high-tech fields such as information technology, biology, materials engineering and automation, as well as economic and social management.
Last but not least, distance learning, in particular e-learning, is becoming more important as Vietnam relies more heavily on specialists to meet future development challenges and as the shortage of both teacher and university facilities worsens.
U.S. entities may participate in the market either through cooperation with local educational partners or through 100 percent foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs). Obtaining a foreign investment license in this field is time consuming with considerable paperwork requirements. Partnering with a local school is the quickest way to enter Vietnam’s education training market, since State-owned institutions and public schools are seeking assistance to upgrade their training programs. Nevertheless, it generally takes time and effort to go through the process of negotiating with a local partner, developing the program, and registering with the Ministry of Education and Training. U.S. schools that wish to work with Vietnamese agents to recruit students should carefully review and investigate any prospective candidates to ascertain their level of professionalism. U.S. education and training providers are encouraged to contact the U.S. Commercial Service to learn about a variety of tailored services that are designed to help find partners and recruit Vietnamese students. A growing number of education fairs are held in Vietnam every year, offering U.S. schools additional opportunities for exposure in the market.