Higher Education Admission Reform in Vietnam: The Next Generation

Posted 29/07/2014 by maavn
Categories: Articles, Commentary

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vnu-hn logoBelow is the English version of an article of mine that was published on the Vietnam National University-Hanoi website earlier this month.  Follow this link to read the Vietnamese translation:  ĐHQGHN đi đầu trong đổi mới căn bản và sâu sắc hệ thống tuyển sinh ĐH của Việt Nam.

Just as Vietnam revealed its practical side by making the fateful decision to change socioeconomic course in 1986 with the renovation reforms (Đổi Mới) that set in motion the “market economy with socialist orientation” that we see today, Vietnam National University-Hanoi is leading the way in the much-needed reform of the country’s university admission system. This step forward is a testament to growing recognition that the current system no longer meets the needs of Vietnamese society, as well as to the determination of the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) to replace it with something more workable and more equitable.

Every summer, poignant and inspirational stories abound about young people who make great sacrifices in their quest to gain admission to one of Vietnam’s 419 institutions of higher education. They do so by participating in the annual rite of passage that is the university entrance examination. I remember one story about a young woman last summer who traveled 38 hours by bus with her father, a farmer who didn’t want his daughter to become a farmer. She and nearly 2 million other high school graduates took a handwritten exam consisting of three (3) subjects and lasting 90 or 180 minutes, depending upon the subject required to enter the postsecondary institution of their dreams.

Vietnamese parents are looking anxiously for their children at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology on July 4, 2013. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Vietnamese parents are looking anxiously for their children at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology on July 4, 2013. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Two grueling days and exams in three subjects based largely on rote memorization. A month later, students and parents find out the results, which determine which university they will attend and, some say, the rest of a student’s life. This is especially problematic for lower-income students who need a credential from a reputable university that will help them rise in the socioeconomic ranks and who don’t have the luxury of retaking the exam the following year, should the result be unacceptable.

The cost is significant for those traveling great distances to take the exam, plus room and board for a few days. There is also the prohibitive cost of supplementary education, which includes cramming for the exam. It is estimated that urban students spend about twice as much time as rural students in extra lessons at all levels of schooling, which reflects the urban/rural income gap. Finally, there is the expense of grading the exams (and the cost is borne by the government), a labor intensive process involving a legion of teachers and lecturers.

All test takers and the country as a whole pay a steep price as measured in high levels of stress and inefficiency. In a higher education system that is rapidly evolving from elite to mass, a process that once worked no longer makes sense. Society has changed; so, too, must the ways in which young people are evaluated for higher education admission.

In the tradition of comparative education that Vietnam has used to great effect in a variety of fields, colleagues from VNU-Hanoi, including the Institute for Education Quality Assurance (INFEQA), have looked far and wide for models that could possibly be adapted for the Vietnamese context. This includes the United States, whose higher education system has much to offer Vietnam and other countries as both positive and negative role models.

Post-workshop group photo with Dr. Nguyễn Kim Sơn, Vice President, VNU-Hanoi (to my left), and other VNU colleagues.

Post-workshop group photo with Dr. Nguyễn Kim Sơn, Vice President, VNU-Hanoi (to my left), and other VNU colleagues.

Last October, I spoke to a group of admissions colleagues from VNU-Hanoi in a workshop entitled “Dossier Evaluation and Interviews in Competence-Based University Admissions,” organized by INFEQA in Kim Boi, Hoa Binh. During two morning sessions, I discussed some distinguishing features of U.S. higher education, including size and diversity, enrollments, cost, transferability of credits & portability of credentials, the admissions process as both art and science, the Common Application, national college admission exams (e.g., SAT and ACT), different definitions of selectivity, and rankings methodology.

The bulk of the presentation, however, focused on seven schools that fall on a continuum of selectivity, their requirements and the differing ways in which they screen and evaluate applications. They ranged from open admission (e.g., a community college) and ”minimally difficult” to ”moderately difficult”, “very difficult” and “most difficult,” (e.g., Harvard), plus two nationally-ranked graduate programs in computer science and business (i.e., MIT and Northwestern University).

In December 2013, I was invited to a policy meeting convened by President Phùng Xuân Nhạ to receive additional feedback about the proposal from various experts, including former university and MoET officials, to reform the university admission process.

Rather than just relying on the entrance exam score to determine which institutions a student is admitted to in a once a year “make or break” scenario, the proposed new system includes a Vietnamese SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test or VSAT), plus subject tests in the following subjects: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Literature, History and Foreign Languages.  The VSAT will be administered by computer four (4) times a year in February, March, November and December at six (6) difference test centers throughout Vietnam, which will reduce the cost of travel. Test reports will be sent to the institutions to which students have applied. In addition to the VSAT score, the admission process will take into consideration high school grade point average (GPA).

Once the system has been tested and tweaked, other admission criteria such as letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose (SOP) and an admission interview can be added for certain institutions and programs. The most logical step is to then adopt this system for use by all colleges and universities in accordance with their level of selectivity. In an era of growing demand and rapid expansion of the nation’s higher education system, the current entrance exam, which may have served its purpose in the past, is costly, inefficient and a major source of stress among students and parents.

I am impressed by the prudent and measured approach to an issue that will positively influence the lives of millions of young people in the coming years and, ultimately, contribute to the modernization of the nation’s secondary and higher education systems. It’s gratifying to see Vietnam taking the necessary steps to reform its university admissions process by replacing the traditional university entrance exam with one that is more efficient, more objective and that assesses higher-order cognitive skills.

Mark A. Ashwill is the Managing Director of Capstone Vietnam, a human resource development company with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  From 2005-09, Dr. Ashwill served as country director of the Institute of International Education-Vietnam.

Charting New Pathways to Higher Education: International Secondary Students in the United States (IIE)

Posted 26/07/2014 by maavn
Categories: Reports

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SH-Charting-New-Pathways-To-Higher-EducationAccording to an Institute of International Education (IIE) report released earlier this month, there were 73,019 international secondary students in the U.S., encompassing students enrolled in grades 9 through 12 in both public and private schools last October.   International students enrolled in US high schools to earn a diploma have more than tripled in number since 2004.

Among the leading places of origin, Chinese and South Korean students comprise 44% of the total, while at the postsecondary level 37% of international students hail from these two countries.  67% of international secondary students hold F-1 visas and 33% hold J-1 visas, which generally distinguishes those attending boarding schools vs. their peers who are participating in exchange programs.

Surprisingly, Vietnam ranks 6th – in the same tier as Brazil (#5) and Mexico (#4).  This means that last year 12.4% of all Vietnamese students were attending a US high school or boarding school and 87.5% were enrolled in an institution of higher education. 2,052 were on a F-1, while 237 were on a J-1 visa.  They comprised 3.1% of all international secondary students.

The implications are obvious:  1) more parents are sending their sons and daughters to study in the US and other countries at an earlier age; and 2) the large numbers of international high school students creates yet another recruitment pipeline for US colleges and universities.

Top places of origin of intl secondary and postsecondary students in the US, 2013

Below is an excerpt from a press release issued by IIE about the study.  Follow this link to download the report (PDF, 950 KB).

NEW YORK, July 8, 2014—A new report published today by the Institute of International Education, “Charting new pathways to higher education: International secondary students in the United States,” provides comprehensive analysis on the more than 73,000 inbound international students who come to the United States for high school, and what the trends mean for higher education enrollments and recruitment.

The new IIE report looks closely at where the students come from and where they study—with breakdowns by U.S. state and types of schools. It provides narrative analysis and data tables that compare specific numbers and trends for international students at the secondary level with those for international students in higher education in the United States.

“While secondary school students from around the world have been coming to the United States on high school exchange programs for many years, IIE’s new analysis shows that the number of students who enroll directly in U.S. schools to earn a U.S. high school diploma now significantly outnumbers those who are here on exchanges,” said IIE’s Deputy Vice President for Research and Evaluation, Rajika Bhandari. “This is a remarkable finding, and one which has implications for U.S. higher education.”

Highlights from the report include:

  • In October 2013 there were 73,019 international students pursuing a secondary-level education in the United States, with 48,632 or 67 percent of these enrolled for a full diploma.
  • The number of international students enrolled directly in U.S. secondary programs more than tripled from fall 2004 to fall 2013, while the number of exchange students grew only about 15 percent during the same period.
  • Most of the nearly 49,000 diploma-seeking students at U.S. high schools are from Asia (with 46% of this segment coming from China).
  • The majority (66%) of the roughly 24,000 high school students who come to the U.S. on cultural exchange programs are from Europe.
  • Compared to Australia, Canada, and the UK, the U.S. hosts a much larger number of secondary students, which is also the case at the postsecondary level.


Cross-Border Education vs. Overseas Study: Similar But Different

Posted 21/07/2014 by maavn
Categories: Articles, Commentary

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In the 1 July 2014 issue of NAFSA.news there was a misleading statement in the July 1, 2014 about Vietnamese students and overseas study.  Below are 1) the headline and statement from NAFSA; and 2) the actual University World News article on which the NAFSA post is based, along with my response.

[For the uninitiated, NAFSA:  Association of International Educators, is a US-based non-profit organization for professionals in all areas of international education, including education abroad advising and administration, international student advising, campus internationalization, admissions, outreach, overseas advising, and English as a Second Language (ESL) administration. As of 2010, it served approximately 10,000 educators worldwide, representing nearly 3,000 higher education institutions.]

1)  Vietnamese Students Losing Interest in International EducationInterest in overseas study might be waning in Vietnam after years of effort to promote the benefits. The government has tightened regulations while some investors have pulled out of the higher education sector, and more students are choosing to stay within the country rather than explore international options, according to University World News.

2)  Cross-border education losing favour with studentsTransnational higher education providers in Vietnam are having to work harder to attract students and some international investors are bailing out as cross-border education appears to be losing favour after almost a decade of exponential proliferation.

If you take a few minutes to read the UWN article, you’ll discover that it’s about cross-border education, not to be confused with overseas study, and the government’s attempts to regulate foreign education providers in Vietnam.  Young Vietnamese who study abroad and those who study at home comprise two distinctly different market segments.   

My hope is that NAFSA will print a correction or clarification and, in the future, that its editors will take the time to read an article before writing about it.  Given how busy everyone is and NAFSA’s credibility, my guess is that many colleagues are inclined to take the summary at face value without reading the original source article.  In this case, they might actually believe the screaming headline that Vietnamese students are “Losing Interest in International Education” and the lead sentence that “Interest in overseas study might be waning in Vietnam…” 

The fact is that interest in overseas study among Vietnamese students remains strong.  Speaking of which, the answer to the question I posed in my June e-newsletter is in this blog post entitled 125,000 Vietnamese Studied Overseas in 2013. (No winners this time!) According to the April 2014 SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly report (PDF download), nearly 21,000 Vietnamese students are studying in the U.S. at all levels.


125,000 Vietnamese Studied Overseas in 2013

Posted 17/07/2014 by maavn
Categories: Survey, Updates

Tags: , , , ,

study_abroadLast year, 125,000 Vietnamese studied overseas, a 15% increase over 2012, according to the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training (MoET).  The top 10 countries are listed below.  Japan climbed to #3, displacing China.  Over 90% were self-financing.  Using the Ministry of Finance’s higher per student estimate from 2012 (15k), Vietnamese families spent at least $1.7 billion on overseas study-related expenses.  To put this figure in perspective that’s about 1% of the country’s 2013 GDP.  Two-thirds of all Vietnamese studying overseas last year were in enrolled in colleges and universities in the top five (5) countries.

1           Australia         26,015

2           US      19,591

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

Universities need to develop strategies to improve experiences of international students

Posted 08/07/2014 by maavn
Categories: Reblog, Research

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Below is a summary of some important research from the blog of “Dr. Education,” aka  Dr. Rahul Choudaha:  DrEducation: International Higher Education Blog -Trends, insights and strategies on internationalization of higher education.  (Posted on 30.6.14)

Dr. Choudaha is the chief knowledge officer for World Education Services (WES) and the lead researcher for the report.  It reveals a wide variation in perceptions of why international undergraduate students in the U.S. leave their institutions of first enrollment before completing their degree.   (My italics.) The study, entitled U.S. Study of International Undergraduate Retention: Implications and Gaps between International Education Professionals and International Students, was sponsored by ELS Education Services, Inc.

Source: NAFSA research on international student research

Source: NAFSA research on international student research

One of the key takeaways of the research was “that poor retention is a function of the mismatch between expectations of students prior to enrollment and the actual experience of students once they are on campus.” Sheila Schulte of NAFSA noted that “The three main implications from the study that can help institutions set transparent expectations with international students are: understanding the diverse needs of the international student body, coordinating internationalization efforts across campus, and investing in programs and services that improve student experiences.”

Here are the related links covering the research:

Infographic on NAFSA International Student Retention Research
Perceptions of International Student Retention Vary Substantially, NAFSA
Meeting Expectations of International Students, USA Today
International Students Coming to America for College More Than Ever, But Why Aren’t They Staying?, University Herald
For U.S. Colleges, a Drive to Retain Foreign Students, The New York Times
Why They Stay or Leave, Inside Higher Ed
NAFSA Research Reveals Student Retention Perception Gap, The PIE News
Retention Is a Growing Issue as More International Students Come to U.S., The Chronicle of Higher Education

US Poised for More Active Student Recruitment

Posted 05/07/2014 by maavn
Categories: Articles

Tags: , , ,

Below is an excerpt from a recent ICEF Monitor article that touches on a number of trends and factors that will contribute to increased activity in international student recruitment in the years to come.  Related to that, I look forward to seeing NACAC’s “best practices guide” for working with commissioned agents in a couple of months.


Already the world’s leading destination for international students, the United States is set to become a more active recruiter of international students. In today’s ICEF Monitor post, we look at what is driving this trend, and examine the latest data on key source markets for America’s still-growing population of international students.

icef monitorAlready the world’s leading destination for international students, the United States is set to become a more active recruiter of international students. In today’s ICEF Monitor post, we look at what is driving this trend, and examine the latest data on key source markets for America’s still-growing population of international students.

Domestic enrolment expected to slow

According to the US Department of Education, college enrolment growth will slow through 2022. In a report released earlier this year, Projections of Education Statistics to 2022, the department forecasts that college enrolment will increase by 14% between the fall of 2011 and 2022. Nevertheless, this rate of growth is significantly less than the 45% increase observed during the previous 14-year period.

Predictions such as these are only expected to fuel the interest of American institutions in recruiting international students in the years ahead. Indeed, international enrolments already help offset flat – and even declining – interest domestically in some disciplines at the graduate level, and also help cushion the blow of budget cuts at some US colleges and universities.

Use of international education agents expected to rise

Another factor that will likely drive more active international recruitment by US institutions going forward is an expected increase in the use of education agents. As we reported previously, the National Association for College Admission Counselling (NACAC) has removed its ban on American colleges using commissioned agents in international student recruitment. The new requirements are scheduled to take effect after a one-year moratorium during which NACAC’s International Advisory Committee will develop a “best practices guide” for working with commissioned agents. It is expected that the guide will be presented at this year’s NACAC Assembly (Indianapolis, 18-20 September 2014).

Follow this link to read the rest of the article.

“International Universities – My Visit to Vietnam”

Posted 02/07/2014 by maavn
Categories: Reblog

Tags: , , ,

Below is a post from Kurt Linberg’s blog, Higher education: Are we making the grade?  Dr. Linberg visited Vietnam last year as a member of a delegation from The College of St. Scholastica (Duluth, MN), where he was Dean of the School of Business and Technology.  (The other members were Dr. Larry Goodwin, President, and Mr. Thomas Homan, Director of International Education.)

International Universities – My Visit to Vietnam (24.1.14)

When I look over my four years at the College of St. Scholastica, I will likely never forget my trip to Vietnam. The St. Scholastica President, the Director of International Recruitment, and I were immersed into all aspects of Vietnam education and culture. We visited with high school students, high school teachers, college students, college professors and administrators, local business folks, and government officials. We also enjoyed the food, the people, and the culture. I left with a deep appreciation for the Vietnam students’ dedication for learning.

Here is a summary of our trip to Vietnam from the colleague that was instrumental in making this trip such a success, Mark Ashwill.

Thanks Mark!


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