Number of Vietnamese students abroad up 15% in 2013

We have published two significant updates on Vietnam over the past 18 months. The first, a guest post from market specialist and international educator Dr Mark Ashwill, provides a strong foundation in the important trends and conditions that have shaped the Vietnamese education market in recent years.

A second post, “Spotlight on Vietnam: quality issues, demand for study abroad and graduate employability,” offers updated information on outbound student numbers through 2012, and on the important relationship between quality of education and employment opportunities at home and the demand for study abroad.

Both posts point to an important education market in Southeast Asia, one where outbound mobility has grown strongly over the past decade and where demand for study abroad continues to be driven by concerns over capacity and quality in the domestic education system, and also by a hot economy and rising family incomes.

The country’s youthful population – 45% are 25 years of age or younger – is therefore highly motivated and increasingly able to pursue studies abroad. As Dr Ashwill has noted, over 90% of outbound students are self-funded and total spending on overseas education amounted to roughly 1% of GDP in 2013.

A market commentary prepared by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs adds, “While both parents and students are involved in decision making, parents have the most at stake in the choice of country as they are the main providers of financial support. Students are more influential in the choice of institutions and major.”

Even so, much of the recent growth in international student numbers from Vietnam occurred in the period from 2006 to 2010. Growth was modest-to-non-existent in 2011 and 2012, leading some to wonder if demand in this promising emerging market had started to cool.

If the recently released figures on 2013 enrolment are any indication, however, Vietnam is showing renewed signs of strengthening demand for study abroad and may be poised for further growth.

The Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training reports that 125,000 Vietnamese students studied abroad in 2013. This represents a 15% increase over 2012 and the largest year-over-year jump since 2008/09.

The top ten destinations for Vietnamese students in 2013 (both secondary and postsecondary) were as follows:

  1.  Australia – 26,015 students, up 15.3% over 2012
  2.  US – 19,591 students, up 25.8% over 2012
  3.  Japan – 13,328
  4.  China – 13,000
  5.  Singapore – 10,000
  6.  France – 6,700
  7.  Taiwan – 6,000
  8.  UK – 5,118
  9.  Russia – 5,000
  10.  Germany – 4,600

In keeping with recent-year trends, the two top destinations – Australia and the US – accounted for about 37% of all outbound enrolment from Vietnam in 2013. Major regional destinations, primarily China, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan, accounted for another 34%. Interestingly though, Japan became the third-ranked destination in 2013, nudging China out of a spot that it had held for some time.

Australia and the US, meanwhile, have been the top-ranked destinations for several years now. As we noted earlier, “Vietnamese students reportedly regard higher education in the US as ‘the best in the world’ and ‘as a priority worthy of significant financial investment.’… Cost appears to be the main obstacle preventing a greater number of Vietnamese students from pursuing studies in the US… the US is perceived as being more expensive than alternate destinations such as Singapore or Australia.”

Foreshadowing future growth

Another interesting indicator of developing enrolment trends for Vietnam comes in the form of a July 2014 report on international secondary school enrolment in the US. Published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), Charting new pathways to higher education: International secondary students in the United States makes the point that international enrolment at the secondary level has grown dramatically over the past decade and has “more than tripled” from fall 2004 to fall 2013.

An accompanying IIE press release highlights that “there were 73,019 international students pursuing a secondary-level education in the United States, with 48,632 or 67% of these enrolled for a full diploma… Most of the nearly 49,000 diploma-seeking students at US high schools are from Asia (with 46% of this segment coming from China).”

But if the majority of international high school students in the US come from China or South Korea, notable percentages are also drawn from emerging markets such as Brazil, Thailand, and Vietnam. As the following table illustrates, Vietnam accounts for a higher percentage of international secondary school enrolment in the US (3.1%) than it does postsecondary enrolment (2.0%).

top-places-of-origin-of-international-secondary-and-postsecondary-students-in-the-us-2013
Top places of origin of international secondary and postsecondary students in the US, 2013. Source: IIE

Vietnam was by far the leading Southeast Asian market for US secondary schools in 2013, accounting for roughly half of all enrolment from the region in that year. In Australia, meanwhile, Vietnamese students accounted for 10.3% of international secondary students in 2013, the second-largest national group after only China.

We note that the IIE report shows only data for 2013 and so we are not looking at multi-year trends here. Even so, there at least two interesting implications for recruitment marketing in Vietnam:

  • First, it looks like Vietnamese families are sending their students abroad at an earlier age and this appears to echo comparable trends that have been observed in major Asian markets, notably China.
  • Second, an increasing pool of Vietnamese secondary school graduates in major destination countries represents an emerging and ever more significant recruitment channel for postsecondary providers in those markets.

Vietnam is a notable emerging market today. If these trends toward increasing outbound mobility along with expanded enrolment at the secondary level continue, it will only become a more important source of international students in the years ahead – both for established destinations such as Australia and the US but also for alternate destinations that can offer a compelling combination of quality and affordability.



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15 thoughts on “Number of Vietnamese students abroad up 15% in 2013

  1. Thank you for posting this interesting article.

    I have been living in Viet Nam for 10 years and have been working in the study abroad field for majority of those years. I have noticed a lot of the trends that have motivated institutions to focus on Viet Nam as a student recruitment market, and have also spent a great deal of my time interacting directly with students, parents, study abroad agents, and local universities to better understand the educational pursuits and purposes of Vietnamese students in choosing to study outside of Viet Nam.

    In the article, it indicated that the US is seen as a top choice for Vietnamese students as US institutions are seen as offering world class education. Although this assumption may hold true for a certain number students and parents, the truth of the matter is the US is selected as the top choice due to the larger number of Vietnamese from the southern region of the country and the central region of the country having relatives living in the US. We all know the areas in the US that house large populations of overseas Vietnamese (Orange County and San Jose in California, Houston and Dallas in Texas, Oklahoma City and even Arkansas in the South). In fact, you can find pockets of Vietnamese communities throughout the US in places that I didn’t know existed. Not surprisingly, students ask about institutions that are near their relatives’ houses, often bringing the relatives’ address with them to help determine distance. This doesn’t hold as true for northern Vietnamese, but indeed this is the key motivator for Vietnamese students choosing the US. And in line with this, is the fact that the parents do indeed select the country of study; a decision urged by the relatives living in the US.

    Another point to clarify is the idea that students erroneously assume that the obstacle to being able to choose the US as a study abroad destination is financial – US as an expensive option. Although this is definitely something I have encountered numerous times at seminar events, student fairs, etc., the largest obstacle that has stunted US growth in Vietnamese student numbers is the visa. Vietnamese students and parents adhere to far too many rumours about the US visa being difficult and that their chances of success at the visa interview are too low for them to consider applying. Subsequently, Australia does very well given the smaller number of institutions compared to the US, as well as the extremely high cost of tuition and living compared to the US because the visa is perceived as easier and therefore not really an obstacle.

    Like the US, Australia also houses large numbers of overseas Vietnamese (located in west Sydney or scattered throughout Melbourne), but I have met so many students who selected to study in Australia because they feared the US visa interview. In fact, the number of students who have completed an undergraduate degree in Australia and now looking at graduate options in the US has increased dramatically. When asking students about this choice, they have all said that by having completed an undergrad degree in Australia they assume that securing a visa to study in the US will be easy!

    And one final point regarding Japan. Indeed, the number of Vietnamese students choosing to study in Japan has increased dramatically. Reason? The visa is easy, the cost of study at a private school is low, and work opportunities are readily available! This is a combination that is attractive for Vietnamese, simple! I would predict that if there was a change in visa regulation for Japan, these numbers would drop off immediately as this is akin to Singapore about 5 to 6 years ago; visa was easy, study options were relatively cheap compared to western countries, and the encouragement to find work after graduation. But, this has changed and Singapore is being dropped as a quick option for Vietnamese students.

    I appreciate your insightful article and look forward to further informative releases in the future.

    Thank you.

    -Drew

    • Julia Chu on said:

      Drew,
      Your detailed comment about your experience and perceptions of the Vietnamese mindset in terms of education is insightful and helpful. Many educational institutions are tapping into the emerging market in Vietnam as many companies are sourcing there for talents and labor in manufacturing as well as technology. As the economy and wages improve so will the Vietnamese appetite for a quality education and ensuing career with a foreign institution or company. Thank you for pointing out some of the incentives and challenges Vietnamese families weigh when choosing a study abroad host country. The point about being close to family and having relatives in the US is quite true and sometimes offsets the challenges of obtaining a visa. From your experience with the students who have gone through the process, is it truly difficult to obtain a US visa for studying abroad?

      Thank you for the research and posting this article, Mr. Editor!

  2. Editor on said:

    Hi Drew,

    Thank you so much for sharing your firsthand observations with us. You brought up some excellent points which make a great addition to the article.

    Thanks again!

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