Vietnam removes agency certification requirements

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The Vietnamese government has removed certification requirements for education agents
  • The move aims to reduce government bureaucracy in the Vietnamese industry and open up greater consumer choice
  • However, the change to a more open marketplace for education agents will likely also place a greater burden on both students and foreign institutions in terms of identifying credible and qualified agents

The following is a guest post from Dr Mark A. Ashwill, founder and managing director of Capstone Vietnam, a human resource development company with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. From 2005-2009, he served as country director of the Institute of International Education in Vietnam, a country that is increasingly seen as one of the most promising emerging markets for international student recruitment.

In January 2013, the Prime Minister of Vietnam issued Decision 05/2013 on the Regulation of Overseas Study of Vietnamese Citizens. Of particular interest to educational consulting companies was Chapter 3, entitled Management of Overseas Study Services. This section stipulated that education agents would henceforth need to meet certain requirements, including the following:

  • “The head of the organisation of overseas study consultation services and the staff directly giving advice on overseas study must have a university degree or higher, fluent in at least one foreign language and the certificate of overseas study consultation profession training granted by the Ministry of Education and Training” (MoET);
  • Have sufficient financial capacity “to ensure the settlement of cases of risk”; having a minimum deposit of VND 500 million (about US$22,400) – per office – in a commercial bank.

Local Departments of Education and Training (DoETs) were tasked with organising the training noted above, which consisted mainly of lectures, and overseeing the certification process, which was a final exam that advisers had to pass in order to receive their certification.

The stated purpose of these regulations was to raise the standards of practice by regulating educational consulting companies on some level.

When I wrote about this decision and its ongoing nationwide implementation in December 2014, I noted that “as with all new approaches, however, it will take a while before the ‘Wild West’ becomes less wild, less greedy and more responsive to the needs and demands of its clients and higher education partners. This type of certification is a step in the right direction.”

The pendulum swings back

As of 1 July 2016, these certification requirements were abruptly discontinued, meaning that, for better or worse, even more companies could more readily enter what is already an extremely competitive market in Vietnam. Over the next year, millions of dollars on deposit at commercial banks will be returned to certified agencies. The regulatory clock will have been turned back to 2012 while the market continues to expand and mature.

Why the official about-face? In a nutshell, the government – through its National Assembly (Vietnam’s legislative body) – wants to limit bureaucracy and open up the market, thereby giving students and parents more choice when it comes to choosing an education agent.

For example, a half a billion dong (VND) is not an inconsequential amount of money for a small company in Vietnam. Eliminating the financial requirement is one less burden for existing companies and one less obstacle for new entrants.

This new policy, or rather a return to the state of affairs four years ago, is a sign of flexibility, a characteristic that the Vietnamese government values and has exhibited time and time again in education and many other fields.

But as a result caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) should once again be the mantra of students and parents. In another July 2016 article, I asked, “Who should use an education agent? Those who need guidance and advice that will help them navigate a higher education system as vast and complex as that of the United States, for example.” That includes the vast majority in Vietnam and many other countries.

Is this move good for students, parents, and foreign institutions in the long-term? Time will tell. What is certain is that now more than ever they will need to do their homework. Without external stamps of approval it is up to parents, based on their knowledge, comparison shopping, and their intuition, to decide which company will provide highest-quality service for a most precious commodity, their children’s overseas study experience.

Implications for foreign educators

The main change for international educators will be that they should expect to receive more solicitations from new education agents in Vietnam. This of course is a double-edged sword. As with students and parents, this means more choices but it also potentially means more work involved in screening new agent contacts.

As in any business relationship, trust is essential. Trust is based on reputation and meeting expectations of customers and partners, and it is strengthened with each successful and mutually beneficial interaction. So, choose carefully, hold your partners accountable, monitor their activities, and reward them for a job well done, which is to help recruit qualified and suitable students for your institution.

There is plenty of help along the way, including professional associations such as NAFSA: Association of International Educators and, in particular, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, which approved a change to its ethical standards permitting the use of commissioned agents in the recruitment of international students in September 2013.

Rising consumer expectations

What I wrote in late 2014 about an encouraging trend of rising consumer expectations in Vietnam is more true than ever. I see more parents and students who are now “educated consumers,” and who ask more and better questions based on access to higher-quality information both online and from their network of family and friends studying overseas.

At the same time, education agents that value integrity and long-term success over short-term profit embrace the notion that doing business ethically makes for better business. That is good news for all who work as members of a recruitment and student services team in facilitating individual investments in education that ultimately result in a public good.



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