Intensive English Programs: Southeast Asia & Vietnam

Posted 30/06/2015 by maavn
Categories: Updates

Tags: , , , ,

iie-logoUS higher education colleagues who offer intensive English programs (IEPs) often ask me about the demand for ESL training among Vietnamese students. Vietnam was once the #1 sending country in SE Asia because of the tremendous need for remedial English training for many students.  For example, in 2008 16.85% of all Vietnamese students in the US were enrolled in an IEP for a total of 25,036 “student weeks”.  A year later, that percentage had decreased to 10.09% and the number of “student weeks” to 20,545.

By 2013, while Vietnam was the 2nd leading sending country in SE Asia – after Thailand (Indonesia was a distant 3rd with only 182 students) – for intensive English program in the US, 1,195, or 6.21% of Vietnamese students, were studying in an IEP for 18,432 “student weeks” and an average of 15.4 average weeks per student.

Below is a graph that illustrates the changes in enrollment over an eight (8) year period.  As you can see, the number has been gradually increasing again since 2010.


vn students iep programs

What explains the percentage decrease from a high of  16.85% (1478 students) in 2008?

  1. more quality opportunities to improve one’s English proficiency at home, thus reducing the need for remedial English training in the US;
  2. a growing ability to pay for those opportunities; and
  3. an increase in the number of institutions with less demanding English proficiency requirements.

Southeast Asia

Many students who need additional English training are high school students, simply because of their age, and students from rural areas who are not afforded the same opportunities to study and improve their English as those in the major urban centers.

Having said that, it’s still a significant market compared to most other SE Asian countries and worth devoting time, attention and resources to for a select group of institutions, especially those that are willing to aggressively market their programs and travel to Vietnam to participate in fairs and other public events that enable them to reach out directly to students and parents.

Follow this link to read the 2013 report (the latest year for which IEP enrollment statistics are apparently available).  After country and number of students are student-weeks and average weeks per student.


“What International Students Think About U.S. Higher Education” (Revisited)

Posted 24/06/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary, Reports, Survey

Tags: , , ,

Attitudes and Perceptions of Prospective Students From Around the World (2015)
New edition, revised and expanded

SH-What-International-Students-Think-About-US-Higher-EducationAccording to the website announcement, this revised and expanded Institute of International Education (IIE) report examines the attitudes and perceptions that international students who are considering studying in the United States have of U.S. higher education and other key study destinations around the world. The following research questions are explored: What attracts students from other countries to study in the United States? What course of study do they intend to pursue? Do they prefer the United States to other key destinations? What are the perceived barriers facing students who wish to study in the United States? The results of surveys conducted in 19 countries are presented together in this comprehensive report.

After downloading and opening this report, I was looking forward to seeing the latest information about Vietnam.  Much to my dismay and disappointment, I found information from a survey I initiated when I was still country director of IIE-Vietnam.  That was over 6 years ago!  Obviously, the only part of the Vietnam section that was “new, revised and expanded” was the introduction.

IIE conducted an online survey in March 2009 of 707 prospective students in Vietnam who had visited the U.S. Department of State-funded EducationUSA advising centers in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and/or had attended one of the IIE Higher Education Fairs in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi or Danang. Students were surveyed regarding their preferred study destinations, reasons for wishing to study abroad, perceived obstacles, main sources of information on studying in the U.S. and their impressions of five potential host destinations (the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, France and Singapore). (my bold)

The U.S. was the overwhelming first-choice destination for respondents in Vietnam, with 82 percent of respondents listing the U.S. in an open-ended question, followed by eight percent for Australia and five percent for the U.K. (Fig. 23). Australia led among alternative destinations, with 31 percent of the total, followed by the United Kingdom (21 percent) and Singapore (14 percent).

Follow this link to read it yourself.

Given IIE’s close relationship to the US State Department and EducationUSA (its two advisers in the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) are former IIE educational advisers and were both involved in the administration of the 2009 survey) and given US Mission Vietnam’s sizable database of student contacts and its reach, especially in Hanoi and HCMC, why not launch a joint online survey to take the nation’s pulse in late 2014 or early 2015?  Six years is a lot of water under the bridge in a rapidly changing country like Vietnam.

Other Reasons to Administer Another Survey

survey imageThe results of the 2009 survey are biased because the student participants were those “who had visited the U.S. Department of State-funded EducationUSA advising centers in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and/or had attended one of the IIE Higher Education Fairs in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi or Danang.”

A few examples will suffice to prove my point of self-selection sampling.

The US as the “overwhelming first-choice destination” for Vietnamese students:  While I don’t disagree that the US is the preferred destination for Vietnamese students based on current enrollment figures, it strains credulity that the percentage is that high, especially given the number of Vietnamese students studying in Australia and other top five countries (e.g., Japan, China, Singapore).

Top Three Sources of Information About Study in the USA:  77% said the Internet, followed by the EducationUSA advising centers or US Embassy/Consulate General (51%), US higher education fairs or information sessions (48%), friends or classmates (30%), foreign recruiters or school representatives (21%) and teachers/professors (19%).  Conspicuously absent are education agents, which the majority of Vietnamese students and parents use.  This is probably because that was not included as a choice given State’s and therefore IIE’s bias towards agents.  Call it a sin of omission.  (Another point is that many students who use EducationUSA/US Mission services are less likely to work with an education agent.)

Gender breakdown:  62.9% female vs. 37.1% male, which may be representative of students who visited EducationUSA advising centers and attended IIE and US Mission education-related events but is not representative of Vietnamese students studying, or planning to study, in the US.

Note:  I discussed some of these issues in this 11 March 2010 post, one month after the Vietnam report was published as an IIE briefing paper.


Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students: Vietnam

Posted 22/06/2015 by maavn
Categories: Survey

Tags: , ,

OK, so the stats in this UNESCO graphic are not the most up-to-date (Australia, US data from 2012; Canada from 2011) and some top host countries are conspicuously absent, e.g., China, which has ranked 3rd or 4th the last couple of years, but there’s nothing like a visual representation to illustrate the status of the US as the world’s leading host of Vietnamese students.  [Memo to UNESCO:  Work more closely with the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) when compiling these statistics.]

vn unesco stats u.s.


China & Vietnam: A Study in the USA Comparison

Posted 21/06/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary, Updates

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Given the  intriguing historical relationship between Vietnam and China, I thought it might be interesting to do a brief comparison between the two as it relates to study in the USA. But first, here’s some basic up-to-date (as of 2014) information about each country.


  • The population of China is estimated at 1,393,783,836 as of 1 July 2014.
  • China’s population is equivalent to 19.24% of the total world population.
  • China ranks number 1 in the list of countries by population.
  • The population density in China is 145 people per km2.
  • 54% of the population is urban (756,300,115 people in 2014).
  • The median age in China is 35.7 years.



  • The population of Vietnam is estimated at 92,547,959 as of 1 July, 2014.
  • Vietnam’s population represents 1.28% of the total world population.
  • Vietnam ranks number 14 in the list of countries by population.
  • The population density in Vietnam is 279 people per km2.
  • 33% of the population is urban (30,482,811 people)
  • The median age in Vietnam is 30.3 years.


The 2015 populations of China and Vietnam are 1,401,586,609 and 93,386,630, respectively. This means that China has 15 times as many people as Vietnam.  For what this figure is worth – it is, after all, only an aggregate indicator of economic growth – China’s per capita income of $6807 in 2013 was 3.56 times as high as Vietnam’s ($1911), according to The World Bank.

China, Vietnam & StudyUSA

As of February 2015, there were 25,982 Vietnamese studying in the US at the secondary and postsecondary levels and 331,371 Chinese. China is the world’s leading sending country for US-bound students while Vietnam ranks 7th.  While China’s population is 15 times larger than Vietnam’s, it has 12.75 times as many students in the US as Vietnam.

If you look at secondary (mostly boarding school) vs. higher education enrollment in the latest year for which both data sets are available (i.e., 2013) the breakdown was as follows:

Secondary Total

  • China: 23,562 (#1)
  • Vietnam: 2,289 (#6)

Postsecondary Total

  • China: 235,597 (#1)
  • Vietnam:  16,098 (#8)

87.6% and 12.4% of Vietnamese enrollment was in higher and secondary education, respectively. The figures for China were 91% and 9%.

Using the NAFSA formula for 2014, with information from IIE’s Open Doors Report and the US Department of Commerce, Chinese and Vietnamese students and their families contributed $8.04 billion and $543 million to the US economy last year.

Assuming the average annual cost of attending a US boarding school is $38,580, Chinese and Vietnamese parents paid at least $909 million and $88.3 million, respectively.  (Many are full-paying students at boarding schools in the 45k-55k range.)

It is safe to assume then that Vietnamese families spent over $631 million on secondary and postsecondary study in the US for their children while Chinese families spent nearly $9 billion.  (Memo to the purists:  pardon me for mixing data from 2013 and 2014.  I don’t have the economic impact information for Vietnam and China in 2013.  These are ballpark estimates anyway; this is not an exact science.)

Two Predictions

Like most, I don’t have a crystal ball so these are just educated guesses based on the above data and some information that I have not included about the state of higher education in each country.

Something to keep in mind is that each country has experienced dramatic growth over the past few decades but that Vietnam had a very different starting point because of two consecutive wars, the devastating impact of a US-led economic embargo that dated to 1965 and was lifted in 1994 and post-war poverty.  In terms of urbanization and median age China is now what Vietnam is quickly becoming.

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb by making the following predictions:

  1. Chinese enrollments at both levels will peak and begin to decline.  China’s population (35.7 years) is quite a bit older than Vietnam’s (30.3 median age) and there are more and more quality educational opportunities available at home.
  2. Vietnamese enrollments at both levels will continue to increase.  Vietnam has a younger median age, incomes continue to rise and it will be a while before the domestic higher education system improves to the extent that most Vietnamese of means will want to send their children to local institutions.

This is yet another reason why US colleges and universities should diversify their international recruiting strategy to include the four emerging markets identified in a recent World Education Services (WES) survey:  Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Nigeria.


GUEST POST: Beyond the 23KG: Part II by Huyen Nguyen

Posted 16/06/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

Tags: , , ,

Follow this link to read part I.

4.    Kindness to your future self

Yup, this sounds a bit weird, but there really is a reason why the week of finals is called “Hell Week.” I know that only after going to college. What I also know is that the week right before it can actually be worse. That’s usually when the essays and final projects that make up 20% of your final grades are due. And if you’re thinking it’s one essay you’re dealing with, it’s ALL of them, from multiple classes.  Your finals self is a poor baby who dreams about exams in your sleep and usually has only enough time to eat two bowls of cereal twice a day.  So if you don’t want to suffer unnecessarily, don’t wait until the last minute!

But starting things like essays early can be a pain. What helped me a lot was my first semester English writing class, in which I learned how to question and synthesize what I read, form and revise my thesis, support my central argument, and cite sources properly. When you are doing research, be sure to utilize your school’s books and online academic databases. The academic databases work just as usual search engines, except they only yield peer–reviewed articles and research that could always be traced to specific authors and publishers and backed up by scientific evidence instead of speculation or personal opinions.

I also like to use what I call the “Taylor Swift Method,” which is just turning my recorder on and simply saying what’s on my mind whenever I am stuck. Speaking is faster than writing, so I can decide quickly if an idea has potential. It’s also great for involving more senses in the process and breaking the distracting silence that follows inactivity.

5.  Plans for winter and spring break

The one-month Winter Break and one-week Spring Break are new to me (may the ancestors of whoever came up with the idea be forever blessed!). They are both precious opportunities to reward yourself for your hard work, widen your professional experience and have some fun. The key is:  plan early, whether it’s making arrangements with your friends or applying for volunteer work or internships. You can look for the volunteer or internship opportunities by checking your school mail regularly and talking to your academic advisers or any other wise people you know. The academic advisers should be able to answer all your questions about the major, the program, and graduation, plus opportunities to get involved during these breaks.

6.  Bad Skype connections

One price of going abroad for me is having to spend a good first 5 minutes of all Skype conversations with my Mom assuring her that her hearing ability’s okay, it’s just the bad connection!  Many times, you speak to yourself and repeat yourself more than you’d like while hearing one person on the other side telling the others he or she can’t hear you. So, if you’re imagining the perfect high school class reunion or family gathering during Lunar New Year celebrations when you’re abroad, BE PREPARED!

7.  And finally… bandages for heartaches

It’s not about the heartaches – they are sure to come – but how you cope with them. So, “when the rain is blowing in your face”, just make sure you have your sufficient dose of hugs. There are two Americans I am lucky enough to call my 2nd parents. You really need someone who sincerely shares the highs and lows in the new chapter of your life. When you’re lonely or discouraged or sad, don’t keep it bottled up – look for those people! I am really lucky to have found mine, so I hope the same for you and wish you a wonderful year ahead!

huyen at the grand canyon (resized)Follow this link for information about Huyen and this one to read a feature article about her that appeared last November in Fresno State’s The Collegian.


GUEST POST: Beyond the 23KG: Part I by Huyen Nguyen

Posted 09/06/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

Tags: , , , ,
huyen at the grand canyon (resized)

Huyen at the Grand Canyon.

Hi, everyone! My name is Thanh Huyen. I have just finished my freshman year at Fresno State University in California. A year ago, I was a high school senior who was not ready to say goodbye to that part of my life and beautiful Hanoi. But even at the time, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. Packing my dreams in my backpack, I headed for the States. It’s that time of the year again when college-bound freshman are preparing for their overseas adventures, so I have written this to suggest a few things you may want to include in your luggage this season.

  1. Special shield for culture shock:

It’s not like we are meeting anyone from Mars; common etiquette still applies: don’t frighten your roommate(s) the first time you guys meet, don’t spill anything in the library and, if you borrow someone’s laptop, give it back, etc.  But long flights and tedious waiting lines followed by a hard moving-in day can drain your energy quickly. I experienced culture shock not really from differences in the way of living, but from the mere fact that my living environment had changed.

When I first arrived, there were mornings I woke up confused about where I was. Half a world away from home is an overwhelming distance that is difficult to visualize. At first, everything felt unreal; it took me about a week to start feeling comfortable in my new zone.

Another shock that was longer–lasting, however, was the language barrier. I didn’t have many problems in class, but conversational English is just so different from my prior SAT-like experience. What happened to me was exactly as said in “The limit of your language is the limit of your knowledge.” I grew up on different stories, childhood songs and movies. I’ve been to places my friends have never been to, and vice-versa. So, we don’t share the same instant excitement over a name or a word. Yes, it really sucks when you don’t get a good joke someone makes at the dining table. But after all, it’s not about the difference; “it’s about our similarities,” one of my favorite lecturers said.

  1. Smart ears and eyes for instructions:

Be it from your professors, student portals, orientation handbook, the Social Security Office or any answering machines. Reading a syllabus carefully is a must (especially if it’s your first year) because you might find phrases like “1 letter grade deducted if …” or “… is compulsory” that could save an A. Furthermore, it indicates what the professor is looking for and usually contains a detailed course plan that can help you stay on top of things.

The three most common mistakes related to receiving guidance are: not paying attention to the full instructions (information like deadline or a penalty), putting off following the instructions because you don’t like parts of them (usually about paying fees you thought you could skip :-)), and losing the piece of paper you wrote important information down on (it happens all the time, if your table looks like mine). So it’s always helpful to get yourself a portable journal for important bits of info.

To be honest, the most troubling things for me about following instructions are that I really really hate reading endless ones, filling out complicated forms and working with machine (I prefer humans). Thankfully, some instructions are quite okay to do without – all that you need is an expert who can summarize the gist of them for you and a friend to go over them with you. Be wise with this choice – the “don’t frighten your roommate(s)” rule can be extended to friends here. The thing is: there are just so many things you have to do for the first time after you arrive, but that’s okay if you have the ability to analyze and follow instructions well. Another item that is needed alongside this is #3 below.

  1. Ability to do things as they arise and email/ texts/ phone etiquette

One of the things you need to make sure that you always clear is your student to–do list. There are documents you might still need to submit as you arrive on campus such as vaccination records or a final transcript. The school will add more items to your to–do list, which is usually located in your student portal, as they arise.

School email is the main form of communication between the school and you. So you’ll find all kinds of interesting stuff in there like a notice that a class has been cancelled that day or volunteer/ scholarship/ internship opportunities with a deadline. Most likely, many emails such as your friends’ Pirate King requests will arrive every day. And you clearly don’t want to have to spend an entire evening cleaning up 350+ emails in your inbox just to find an internship opening you qualify for closed like a month ago.

Other than that, when you’re sending an email, there’s a general rule of thumb: if the receiver doesn’t reply within 48 hours, there’s a good chance he or she never will. It goes without saying that we always need to keep formal emails as short and clear as possible. If your email is too long, maybe it’s because A. you’re using too complicated language, B. you yourself are not clear about what you are asking or asking for; or C. you are not keeping its central question or concern relevant to the receiver’s expertise. Some people’s job is to help students solve their problems, and sometimes they need to hear the full story, but most of the time, they only need and/or have time to hear part of it.

In comparison to emails, texts and missed calls are easier to handle well. You just need to be aware of them and responsive. So, if you have the habit of putting your phone on silent or “Do not disturb” whenever you’re in class, be sure to switch it back when you’re done.

Darlene Wendels / The Collegian (Fresno State)

Darlene Wendels / The Collegian (Fresno State)

Follow this link for information about Huyen and this one to read a feature article about her that appeared in Fresno State’s The Collegian last November.


‘American Universities Are Addicted to Chinese Students’

Posted 05/06/2015 by maavn
Categories: Articles, Commentary

Tags: , , , , , ,

A startling number of Chinese students are getting kicked out of American colleges. According to a white paper published by WholeRen, a Pittsburgh-based consultancy, an estimated 8,000 students from China were expelled from universities and colleges across the United States in 2013-4. The vast majority of these students—around 80 percent—were removed due to cheating or failing their classes.

As long as universities have existed, students have found a way to get expelled from them. But the prevalence of expulsions of Chinese students should be a source of alarm for American university administrators. According to the Institute of International Education, 274,439 students from China attended school in the United States in 2013-4, a 16 percent jump from the year before. Chinese students represent 31 percent of all international students in the country and contributed an estimated $22 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014.

Here’s thechinese students in the us story du jour from The Atlantic about the leading country of origin, China, whose students comprise nearly one-third of the 886,052 international students in the US.  It’s no wonder they attract a disproportionate amount of attention from the media, both positive and negative. In this case, it’s the latter – China as international education whipping boy.

While words like “startling” and “massive” are bandied about, the actual percentage of Chinese students who were expelled in 2013-14 because of cheating or failing their classes was about 2.9%, which means the other 97.1% were at least meeting minimum standards and most doing considerably better than that.  (Cheating is a national pastime in much of Asia so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that Asian students cheat in the US, along with the US peers, albeit to a lesser extent.  What makes China unique and what increases the likelihood that more of its students will be expelled is that 1 in 3 international students in the US is Chinese!)

One thoughtful international education colleague provided some much-needed context with this reaction to the article:

Frankly, I was surprised that the number wasn’t even higher. The entire education regime in China is fundamentally different from the US system, so to expect similar results/outcomes when Chinese students study in the US system is ludicrous to begin with. Add to that, the radical differences in the extra-academic environment, and 8,000 seems low to me. It is to the credit of the Chinese that the number is not higher. This is what the article should have focused on.
A more refined focus would have highlighted how the Chinese, on a per-student basis, actually shift the GPA curve higher, and this is true at every institution that admits Chinese students. They have a higher on-time college completion rate than US students, they pay full tuition (except for the merit scholarship students), and they do not participate in the carnal excesses of Greek loser life. They are often tutors and class/lab assistants in the STEM fields. And in the classroom they contribute a diversity of perspectives and opinions that simply do not exist among US students.
The 8,000 seems significant, but there was no breakdown of how many of those students were expelled for willful delinquency versus expelled for poor academic performance resulting from depression, difficulty in adjusting/assimilating, making mistakes due to lack of knowledge of the campus culture, poor institutional fit due to unscrupulous agents/admissions offices, inexperienced and ignorant student service administrators/staff/faculty, etc.
I would like to see the expulsion numbers for the Saudi students, who contribute far less academically and who seem to knowingly and intentionally get into more trouble for non-academic reasons (and even academic dishonesty reasons) far out of proportion to their numbers.

2-15 top 10 countriesAnother big story is the sheer number of Chinese students enrolled in many of America’s colleges and universities, which has created a several problems.  One is that some of those institutions that have opted to pick the low-hanging fruit have become victims of their own success.  They have Chinese ghettos that make it difficult for many Chinese students to adjust and continue to improve their English proficiency.  (Many Vietnamese and Chinese parents share this concern, and would prefer to send their children to schools that do not have too many students from their countries.)

There are other schools that have chosen to limit their Chinese enrollment in the interest of diversity and recruit from other key markets, including Vietnam.  This explains in part the growing interest in Vietnamese students and those from other countries.  It’s not all about “showin’ me the money,” i.e., tuition dollars and related financial contributions.

So, while the title is juicy and guaranteed to garner thousands of Facebook likes and Tweets, the reality is more complex and nuanced.  Wise institutions follow the path of diversification to the benefit of their students, communities and reputation.



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