VTV1 Interview About Higher Education Admission Reform in Vietnam

Posted 27/08/2014 by maavn
Categories: Interview

Tags: , , , ,

VTV1 - 1

I was recently interviewed at Vietnam National University-Hanoi by Ms. Kim Hai, VTV1 reporter, about a range of issues related to Vietnam’s higher education admission reform efforts, led by VNU-Hanoi – in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Training.  I mentioned and expanded upon a number of the points I touched on in this essay, entitled Higher Education Admission Reform in Vietnam: The Next Generation.  (Vietnamese version:  ĐHQGHN đi đầu trong đổi mới căn bản và sâu sắc hệ thống tuyển sinh ĐH của Việt Nam)

The interview included some of the following questions:

  • What do you think about higher education admission reform as part of the comprehensive reform of Vietnam’s educational system?
  • What do you think about the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) plan to abolish the high school completion exam and replace it with a unified exam that is also used for higher education admission?
  • How does the US evaluate and assess student learning outcomes for high school graduates and university admission?
  • One can see that MoET and Vietnam’s universities are struggling to find a way to improve the quality of the higher education system in Vietnam.  What are some of the key factors?  What roles does the university entrance exam play?

An excerpt from this interview appeared on the VTV1 evening news on 15 August and again on the 18th in a four-minute report.  VTV1 is producing a show devoted to this  important topic, which will air in the near future.

VTV1 - 2

If you understand Vietnamese, follow this link to view the report in its entirety:  Các phương án cho tốt nghiệp phổ thông và tuyển sinh đại học (Plans for High School Graduation and University Admission)



Vietnam Education Dialogue: Higher Education Reforms

Posted 21/08/2014 by maavn
Categories: Conferences

Tags: , , , , ,

cg hcmcOn July 31st and August 1st, US Consul General, Rena Bitter, hosted a conference on Vietnamese higher education.  The star-studded list of guests included Dr. Ngo Bao Chau, the first Vietnamese to receive the prestigious Fields Medal, known as the Nobel Prize of Mathematics, Dr. Nguyen Quan, Minister of Science and Technology, and Professor Bui Van Ga, Vice Minister, Ministry of Education and Training.   About 150 people attended the conference.  You can find the agenda here, along with a number of presentations in the form of PDF downloads.

The 1.5 day conference, entitled “Vietnam Education Dialogue: Higher Education Reforms” and organized by the Education Dialogue Group and Dr. Chau, “brought together senior government officials, educators, college and university representatives, and businesspeople to discuss strategies and recommend reforms to Vietnam’s higher education system,” according to a US Consulate General press release.  “The Vietnam Education Dialogue is part of the U.S. government’s commitment to this joint goal, based on enhancing educational, cultural, and people-to-people ties between the United States and Vietnam,” the statement added.

My two cents:

  • Soft Power:  Given the fact that education looms large in the US government’s exercise of soft power in Vietnam and other countries, I view these events primarily as political exercises, something to write about and showcase in a press release, media report, and post-conference diplomatic cable.   They are part of an ongoing charm offensive that began in earnest during “Education Ambassador” Michael Michalak’s tenure. 
  • Impact:  I wonder about the impact of these types of events, short- or long-term.  Aside from the fleeting PR value, you can’t claim that they’re networking opportunities on this scale – in contrast to the annual education conferences of AMB Michalak.
  • Authority:  A couple of sources told me that while the academic presenters who hold positions overseas may be experts in their fields, they wonder A) how up-to-date all of these experts are vis-à-vis Vietnamese higher education; and B) why they think that what works in another country will work in Vietnam.
  • More Inclusive?  I know this is asking a lot of what is essentially a very conservative entity with its own narrow agenda but… why not expand the circle and include other voices?  This is about dialogue, after all.


Vietnam (Still) Ranks 8th Among All Sending Countries

Posted 11/08/2014 by maavn
Categories: Updates

Tags: , , , , ,


SEVP releases quarterly report on international students studying in US

WASHINGTON – “SEVIS by the Numbers,” a quarterly report of international students studying in the United States, was released Tuesday by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The report is based on data from the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a Web-based system that includes information on international students, exchange visitors and their dependents while they are in the United States.

As of July 8, 966,333 international students were enrolled in nearly 9,000 U.S. schools using an F (academic) or M (vocational) visa. This marks a nearly five percent decrease from April, primarily due to graduation rates, but an eight percent increase when compared to July 2013. Seventy-five percent of all international students were from Asia, with 28 percent from China.  South Korea and Vietnam had the greatest percentage decrease in students studying in the United States at eight and seven percent, respectively, when compared to April statistics. The top 10 countries of citizenship for international students included: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam (19,279 students), Mexico and Brazil. The University of Southern California, Purdue University, the University of Illinois, New York University and Columbia University rank one through five among U.S. schools with the most international students.

Nearly 350,000 international students pursued STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) coursework in July. Sixty-nine percent of international students studying STEM fields were male. Eighty-five percent of international students studying STEM coursework are from Asia. Seventy percent of international students studying engineering are from China and India. More international students study engineering than any other STEM field of study.

The July report included a special section that focuses on China. As of July 8, there were 270,596 international students from China studying in the United States. The majority of these students studied in California, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Other key points from the report include: 79 percent of SEVP-certified schools had between zero and 50 international students; 72 percent of international students were enrolled in bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral programs; and California, New York and Florida had the most SEVP-certified schools. A school must be SEVP-certified before it can enroll international students.

The full report can be viewed here (PDF download).  Report data was extracted from SEVIS July 8. It provides a point in time snapshot of data related to international students studying in the United States. Data for the previous “SEVIS by the Numbers” was extracted from SEVIS April 1.

SEVP monitors approximately one million international students pursuing academic or vocational studies (F and M visa holders) in the United States and their dependents. It also certifies schools and programs that enroll these students. The U.S. Department of State monitors exchange visitors (J visa holders) and their dependents, and oversees exchange visitor programs.

NOTE:  There are always decreases in the number of international students in the US in the July quarterly update because of May/June graduation.  For example, South Korea, China, and Vietnam numbers decreased by 8%, 7% and 7%, respectively.  MAA


Happy 10th Anniversary, VietAbroader!/Chúc mừng VietAbroader nhân kỷ niệm 10 năm thành lập!

Posted 07/08/2014 by maavn
Categories: Announcement

Tags: , , ,

Va portraits

Below is a brief message of congratulations that I shared with VietAbroader (VA), Vietnam’s premier student-run non-profit organization, whose mission is to empower Vietnamese youth to contribute to the sustainable development of Vietnam.  I attended VA’s Gala Night 2014 on 3 August in Hanoi.

Happy 10th Anniversary, VietAbroader!

Congratulations to VietAbroader on 10 years of Empowering Vietnamese Youth!  10 years of innovation, adaptation, dedication, and service.  10 years of opening doors, expanding circles of friends and pushing the boundaries.  The founders’ vision and much more have become reality.  I am proud and honored to have witnessed VietAbroader’s genesis, growth and expansion since the early days. It has been my pleasure to spread the good word about VA far and wide, including among U.S. higher education colleagues and students here in Vietnam.  Wishing VietAbroader great success in the next 10 years and beyond!

Mark A. Ashwill, VA Adviser & Managing Director, Capstone Vietnam

 Chúc mừng VietAbroader nhân kỷ niệm 10 năm thành lập!

Dưới đây là lời chúc của tôi gửi tới VietAboarder, tổ chức phi lợi nhuận do sinh viên điều hành và quản lý với sứ mệnh truyền lửa cho Tuổi trẻ Việt Nam nhằm góp phần cho sự phát triển bền vững của Đất nước. Tôi đã tham dự Đêm Gala 2014 do VietAbroader tổ chức vào ngày 3 tháng 8 tại Hà Nội.

​“Chúc mừng VietAbroader nhân kỷ niệm 10 năm thành lập và cống hiến cho sự nghiệp truyền lửa cho giới trẻ Việt nam!

10 năm đổi mới, thích nghi, cống hiến và phục vụ. 10 năm mở cửa, kết nối tình bằng hữu và thu hẹp các danh giới. Tầm nhìn của những sáng lập viên và nhiều điều hơn thế nữa đã trở thành hiện thực. Tôi rất vinh dự và tự hào được chứng kiến các thế hệ của VietAbroader trưởng thành và ngày càng lớn mạnh ngay từ những ngày đầu thành lập. Tôi rất lấy làm hân hạnh được bày tỏ sự khen ngợi VietAbroader tới đông đảo các đồng nghiệp trong lĩnh vực Giáo dục Đại học tại Hoa Kỳ và tới các sinh viên tại Việt nam. Tôi xin chúc VietAbroader gặt hái thêm nhiều thành công trong 10 năm tới và xa hơn thế nữa.

Tiến sĩ Mark A. Ashwill, Cố vấn cao cấp của VietAbroader, Giám đốc Điều hành Công ty Capstone Vietnam


A Blast from the Past: The Day CNN Business Traveller Came to Town

Posted 06/08/2014 by maavn
Categories: Commentary, Interview

Tags: , ,

tableIt was at this table at a popular Hanoi cafe that I had a conversation with Richard Quest, of CNN Business Traveller fame, nine years ago this summer.  Quest was in town to tape a show about Vietnam that took a look at “the practical aspects of doing business in Vietnam, from cultural practices through to legalities for setting up shop.”  It included interviews with me, Thai Ngoc Diep, co-contributor to my book Vietnam Today:  A Guide to a Nation at a Crossroads, and Al DeMatteis, owner of the Delta Equipment & Construction Company, who passed away last August in New York, among others, most notably, Prime Minister Phan Văn Khải.

This August 2005 article entitled  Surviving Vietnam’s business world, about the German retailer Metro, was a by-product of Quest’s trip.  It begins with a statement that still holds true today:  With a curious combination of communism and capitalism, business in this Southeast Asian nation switches between the two all the time.

Near Hoan Kiem Lake on a hot and sultry July afternoon.

Near Hoan Kiem Lake on a sultry July afternoon. I was trying to smile but it was too damn hot – about 39C (just over 102F), as I recall. :-)

Higher Education Admission Reform in Vietnam: The Next Generation

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

Tags: , ,

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

Tags: , , ,

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.



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