With part-time employment opportunities drying up fast, most university students are finding it hard to make ends meet
After her class finishes a little later than usual at noon, Nguyen Thu Ha has to cycle home in a hurry. She has an appointment straight after lunch at an employment agency that will hopefully find her part-time work as a shop assistant.
"I have registered with several job centers in the past month or so, but I haven't found any work yet," says Hanoi's Vietnam National University student.
"Students like me used to look for jobs that suited our study majors, but these days you're lucky to get any work, let alone something you like," she says.
In better times, Ha coached a small group of elementary schoolchildren and did some secretarial work to get by.
The economic slowdown is hard on not only workers in both the formal and informal sectors, but also students from poor areas.
The meager remittance from a rural student's family, whose income mainly depends on rice growing and other seasonal farm work, is not enough to cover the university fees and living expenses so the student needs part-time work to make ends meet in the expensive city.
"Every month, my parents send me VND600,000 (US$33), but two-thirds of this goes into school fees and the rest is not enough even for my rent," says economics student Nguyen Thanh Nam from the northern province of Hai Duong.
"If I want to keep studying in the city, I have no choice but to do part-time work," he says.
Temporary employment has been much harder to come by lately, and students' income from part-time work has plummeted.
"I was making VND600,000 to VND700,000 ($33-38) a month in the job I had before, but now I only get VND300,000 ($16.86)," says Nam, who works at a carwash in Hanoi.
Unemployment is rising significantly as the economy slows down. The sharp fall in export orders and sales has led to lower production, job cuts and fewer working days. Students seeking temporary or part-time work are among the hardest hit and most vulnerable.
"There are fewer jobs this year than last. Only a few people in my class have good jobs now," says Ha.
Dr. Nguyen Hoi Loan, a psychologist at Ha's university, says part-time work is almost obligatory for students in Vietnam as most of them come from poor rural areas.
Few rural families can cover all their children's essential expenses in urban areas. In some cases, the decline in income from temporary work means a lower standard of living for the students, and harms their education, too.
"My employer laid off 20 percent of the workforce last month, me among them," says Nguyen Duy Hung from Thai Binh Province. "Since I haven't found another job yet, I've had to borrow money from a classmate to pay for my rent and food."
"If I don't find any work in the next one or two months, I may have to rent a smaller place and give up my extra English class in the evening," Hung, who worked at a construction site in the capital, says.
Some students are resourceful in the face of adversity. As things get worse, they change jobs or start their own business.
"I could not wait for a good job that suited my university studies so I decided to take what I could get, even manual work," says Hung.
Hung will soon start waiting on tables every evening in a Hanoi restaurant owned by one of his relatives.
"It could be hard, but a monthly salary of VND500,000 ($27) is at least enough to feed me," he says.
Nguyen Ha Anh, meanwhile, is more ambitious and wants to take a risk.
"I will ask some of my classmates to pool our money so that we can open a souvenir shop," she says. "The talented ones among us can make things like cards and artificial flowers to sell."
She hopes the income from the shop would be decent. "But the best thing is that we'll be in charge," she says.
For now, Anh is coaching a small group of eighth graders three times a week, but soon it will be down to once a week as the children's parents want to save on tuition fees.