Duong Bao Ngoc spends some US$35,000 every year on her daughter’s study at a college in the United States. She considers it a major investment that will certainly pay off.
“If you want your children to thrive and succeed in the future, you should send them to schools abroad,” she said. "A degree from overseas will help them compete better against their peers."
For many parents, overseas education gives their children more than just a prestigious degree but also practical knowledge, foreign language proficiency and social skills.
This belief is growing strong, particularly among the country's upper-middle class who think the local education system is too rigid and riddled with problems and scandals. Many better-off parents have jumped on the bandwagon of sending children to international-style private schools, and later, to colleges and universities overseas.
Many education experts said the Vietnamese educational system is widely regarded as being in crisis at all levels. Teaching methods remain too passive, with students having little chance to interact with their teacher, discuss issues, or ask questions.
Vietnamese universities have been churning out a degree-holding workforce that falls short of its economic and societal demand. Foreign companies have lamented that the poor quality of universities will hinder Vietnam's economic growth, claiming that they still find it difficult to recruit graduates in finance, management and information technology.
Another parent, Nguyen Thanh Trung, has decided to give years of savings to his two children's education. His daughter left for Australia last week.
"It will cost my family dearly, but I think it is worth it. She cannot study here in Vietnam," he said.
His other child, 15, is being prepped for a school overseas as well.
The trend of studying abroad moves in tandem with Vietnam's economic growth, which has lifted many out of poverty and created an increasing large high-income fraction. The annual income per capita has risen to more than $2,100 – for the nouveaux riches that amount may only be equal to the stipend for their children overseas.
More than 110,000 Vietnamese students are reportedly studying in 47 countries around the world, spending an estimated US$3 billion a year.
Vietnam ranks sixth, after China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada, among all sending countries at US institutions, mostly colleges and universities but also boarding and day schools, according to a new report in The Value of Education series from HSBC.
Australia and Canada are also the favorite countries for Vietnamese students. English-speaking environment is one of the main reasons.
Parents put their child’s education at top of their financial priorities and most worry about cost when sending their child to study abroad.
Kris Werner, Head of Retail Banking and Wealth Management, HSBC Vietnam, said: “The financial sacrifices that parents are willing to make to fund their children’s education are proof of the unquestioning support they will give to help them achieve their ambitions. Many would also consider topping up a domestic university education with a study abroad program to increase their child’s chances of succeeding in their future careers.”
Return on investment
But many now warn that a shiny new degree from overseas may not always translate to good employment prospects.
Despite spending a lot of money on their programs, many graduates have still struggled to find their dream jobs in Vietnam after returning home. Some demand high salaries while others lack the experience needed.
Phan Truong Son, director of an electronics trader in Hanoi, said many graduates from overseas universities often think that they have better qualifications than those from local ones, so they ask for higher pay.
“Many overseas graduates expect starting salary of $1,000 at least. This is just too high for entry level positions,” Son said.
Son said employers are willing to pay more for strong candidates. “But no employers would offer high salaries only because you graduated abroad.”
Amid high demand for international education, some experts said the government should encourage more foreign investors to set up quality schools here in Vietnam.
They said the government should ease restrictions for foreign investors in the sector. Currently, to open an education institution, investors have to apply for three different licenses and they have to repeat the similar procedures when they want to open a new branch of their existing institutions.
During their operation, investors are also obliged to repeatedly acquire assessments and certifications from different agencies, which costs a lot of money and time, they said.
At the moment, Vietnam only has a few international universities, including RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) Vietnam and the British University of Vietnam.
Foreign investors pledged a total of US$732 million for education and training projects in Vietnam in the first half of this year, down from $822.31 million in the same period last year, according to figures released by the Foreign Investment Agency.