EducationUSA Closed for Business

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From the website of US Mission-Viet Nam:

Lapse in U.S. Government Appropriations

The Federal Government of the United States of America is currently in a Lapse of Appropriations period.

Scheduled passport and visas services, and emergency services for U.S. citizens, will continue at the U.S. Embassy Hanoi and our Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City during the lapse in appropriations as the situation permits.

The American Centers and EducationUSA advising offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City will be closed to the public during the lapse in appropriations. All schedule programs are also postponed until further notice.

We will not update this account until full operations resume, with the exception of urgent safety and security information.

EducationUSA is unable to work with international students who have an interest in study in the USA because DJT wants his border wall.  The irony is so thick you can cut it with a knife. 

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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Cheating in the Education Industry: Let Me Count the Ways!

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Here’s another one to add to my long and ever-growing list.  It’s a variation on the theme of the classic dog and pony show that so many education fairs are these days.  

As a fair organizer, do you want to guarantee a certain number of students at your events?  Don’t go the route of ethical marketing and promotion with the goal of organic and quality attendance.  That’s unpredictable and for losers.  You don’t want to be sweating bullets moments before the event doors open.  If you want a sure thing, there are several tried-and-true ways of doing it, several of which I’ve written about in previous posts and articles.  To recap, here they are:  

  1.  Bus them in, regardless of their qualifications, interests, goals, and their parents’ ability to pay.  Warm bodies make for good photo-ops and impress some of the (more inexperienced) representatives.  I recently heard from a colleague who attended one such fair.  He said there were a lot of 8th graders wearing the same school uniform.  Bingo!  
  2. Hire a service that employs faux students and pay a certain amount of money to guarantee a certain number of attendees.  (There’s something for everyone in Viet Nam’s relatively new free market economy.)  Marketing dollars well spent!  
  3. Pay students who “bring a friend” essentially a finder’s fee, thereby doubling or tripling the fun.  Great ROI!  

#4 is a new one and a variation on #3.  Are you ready?  🙂  

Since most fairs have student volunteers to assist colleagues with translation and contact information collection, offer a cash reward for each additional young person, student or not, they bring to the event.  It beats the expensive cost of traditional and digital marketing.  Genius!  

Seriously, though, I’ve been around the professional block a few times and am still amazed at how many companies have jumped on this particular cheating bandwagon, including some that pay lip service to ethical business practices and have some kind of external stamp of approval, for what that’s worth.  (Not much, actually, but that’s another post or article.  Start with this one, if you’re interested.)  

One company, for example, offers 100,000 VND for four (4) students, which amounts to $4.30 or $1.08 per referral, rounded up.  Too cheap!  Give those poor volunteers a salary increase!  More money equals more warm bodies!  What’s not to like?!?  😉

Probably after checking out the competition, another one, wink, nod, decides to be more “generous” and pays 50,000 VND ($2.15) per student.  400 “students” will cost you a paltry $860.  Given the high cost of digital and many kinds of offline marketing these days in Viet Nam, that’s a bargain!  Since the name of the game is short-term profit, the more, the merrier (say it with me!), this will help you fatten the all-important bottom line!  

If you’re a money-minded student, which company do you want to “volunteer” for?  To paraphrase Karl Marx, you sell your labor to the highest bidder.  Forget about quality – it’s all about the numbers.  Inflate event attendance by essentially bribing students to attend.  Look, Ma, we had 400 people at our fair!, don’t mind the obvious and distressing fact that the majority were paid attendees aka essentially actors without an audition.  

Of Dogs & Fleas

Shame on people who have no qualms about cutting ethical corners.  These are the kind of people that – after meeting with them – you feel the immediate need to wash your hands, maybe even take a shower and, in extreme cases, to delouse.  Perhaps worst of all, they set a bad example for Viet Nam’s younger generation by reinforcing the notion that the means justify the ends.  Cheating is acceptable.  Go for it!  Look at us and, in some cases, US(A)!  

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Image courtesy of THE PINK ELEPHANT ROOM

This is yet another example of corruption in the education industry.    It reminds me of a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s AlmanackIf you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.   (Latin:  Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent.)

What a misuse of creativity.  It also reminds me a little of the idiom Necessity is the mother of invention, except you can substitute necessity with cheating.  As always, success – at all costs – in this case, as measured by the total number of participants, without integrity is failure.  

The Buddha’s Fifth Remembrance applies to all of us:  My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.  How solid is the moral and ethical ground upon which these scoundrels stand?  (The answer in your interior monologue likely conjures up images of sand, quicksand, or something equally unstable.)  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Postscript:  If you’re reading this and you work for a company that plays one or more of these games, then the shoe definitely fits.  Wear it but definitely not with pride! 

 

Top US 10 States & Leading Host Institutions by Location

open doors 2018689,063 international students in the US in 2017/18, or 63% of the total, studied in 10 states, according to Open Doors 2018 data.  You can see a list of 50 states and some US territories by following this link, or click on each state below to see its fact sheet (PDF download).  Each fact sheet lists the top 5 places of origin for international students by percentage and the top five host institutions in that state, in addition to the percentage change from the previous academic year and the estimated international student expenditure in that state.  

1) CA: 161,942
2) NY: 121,260
3) TX: 84,348
4) MA: 68,192
5) IL: 53,362
6) PA: 51,817
7) FL: 46,516
8) OH: 37,583
9) MI: 34,049
10) IN: 29,994

You’ll notice that most have large urban centers, which is where most US Americans lives.  Below is a composite image of the continental US at night in 2016.  (Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)  

us map at night 2018 nasa

Now here are the top 25 leading host institutions, which enrolled 251,972 international students last year, or 23% of the total, followed by a map of the US that indicates clusters of high international enrollment.

top 10 leading institutions

11-20 top

21-25

usa map enrollments

One conclusion to be drawn from the above is that if your institution is not located in one of the top 10 states, the challenge of recruiting international students, in addition to everything else that is currently on our collective plate, is more daunting.  You simply have to be more proactive and, to use an old tagline, try harder.  There are many individual success stories and concrete reasons for institutions’ success in international student recruitment.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fulbright University Vietnam & Moral Leadership?

48425414_726336877749126_906051796659601408_nGiven events of the past few years, these are two phrases that mix like oil and water.  Think textbook cognitive dissonance.  Or a feeble attempt at rehabilitation in the eyes of the public, an audacious means of gaining the moral high ground from the morass of historical tone and gross insensitivity.  

My first reaction upon reading about this 10 January 2019 lecture and, more importantly, the series of which it is a part, was “that’s rich coming from an institution that engineered not one but two consecutive PR disasters related to the US War in Viet Nam.”  

The first involved Bob Kerrey, who was offered and accepted the position of chairman of the board of trustees.  That misguided appointment was the source of considerable controversy and ultimately became a thorn in the side of a budding bilateral relationship – at the highest levels.  

The second involved another war veteran and “one of the most influential figures in the US-Viet Nam relationship you’ve never heard of,” Thomas Vallely.  He made a series of cruel and insensitive statements about civilian deaths during the war in an interview that was published in early 2018 in Politico

In case you’re just tuning in, dear reader, or are not entirely up-to-date, have a look at the articles and posts below.  

Bob Kerrey

Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University – What were they thinking? by Mark Ashwill (MAA)  (8.7.16)

47 Signatories Urge Bob Kerrey to Resign from Fulbright University Viet Nam Position by MAA (8.9.16)

The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position by MAA (26.5.17)

Thomas Vallely

How a U.S.-Backed University in Vietnam Unleashed Old Demons by Isabelle Taft (4.2.18)

More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells by MAA (17.8.18)

The Importance of Speaking Up About “Things That Matter by MAA (26.12.18)

Make amends and come clean, FUV; then you’re entitled to launch a Moral Leadership Speaker Series in good conscience.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA, The Unquiet US American

About Viet Nam’s “gifting culture”

Giving gifts to people in authority has become normal, but we have to be aware it institutionalizes an ‘underworld.’

Also known as an “envelope culture” (văn hóa phòng bì) because envelopes are used for more than sending letters, so passé in the digital age, and giving “lucky money” (lì xì) at Lunar New Year.  A recent essay explains how small-scale corruption works and is recommended reading for those interested in learning about some of what goes on behind the curtain.  

Here are some of the money paragraphs, no pun intended:

The situation has been left for so long that it has become normal. And when this happens, people’s trust in the system is undermined, even as they go with it.

We have the option of eliminating this system entirely by refining our legal and administrative procedures to make them more transparent, more accessible to the public. In the long run, we would also need to learn how to spend the national budget more efficiently and more effectively. That way, not only can we reduce financial burden on our businesses, people can also see that their tax money is put to good use.

On a side note: did you know that as many as 90,000 businesses in Vietnam went bankrupt last year, a 50 percent increase compared to 2017? That happens despite how the country’s GDP grew by over 7 percent last year, the highest in a decade.

While that might signal a competitive economy where only the cream of the crop survives, I sometimes wonder how many of these businesses went bankrupt not because of their poor performance, but because of something else? You should also be asking that question, and so do policymakers.

While I agree with the thrust of the author’s essay, it’s a bit of a stretch to blame petty corruption for corporate bankruptcies.  There are many other factors, including lack of experience and knowledge on the part of the businesspeople whose companies go belly up.  The failure of most new companies is not something that is unique to Viet Nam.  

At any rate, how to solve this systemic problem and ensure that the new normal becomes a thing of the past?  

  1.  Raise the salaries of civil servants and take away the rationale (excuse) for the envelope culture;
  2.  Make it illegal for them to accept “donations”;  
  3.  Create a hotline for citizens to call to report bureaucrats who request “donations”, assuming the business owner, for example, has evidence that supports this accusation, e.g., audio or video recording; and, last but not least, 
  4. Reward conscientious citizens for reporting verified cases of petty corruption.  

The above measures could be the beginning of the end of institutionalized petty corruption.  Now Viet Nam just needs to come to terms with massive corruption, an area in which it has been making some inroads in recent years, thanks to the efforts of Nguyễn Phú Trọng, General Secretary of the Communist Party and President of Viet Nam.  

25thlogo_3Since Viet Nam is so adept at learning from the experiences of other countries, why not study the case of Sweden, once mired in corruption and now a squeaky clean country, comparatively speaking?  In the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index Sweden ranks 6th among 180 countries with a score of 84/100.  (Viet Nam ranks 107 with a score of 35/100.)  Now that’s an achievement worth recognizing, celebrating, and learning from!  

Postscript:  Here’s a bit of good news from Viet Nam.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

English Proficiency in Viet Nam: Giving Credit Where Credit’s Due

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Courtesy of VietnamNet Bridge

An article entitled What is the real English profiency level of Vietnamese? (yes, the word “proficiency” was misspelled) recently graced the Internet in Viet Nam with this description:  While an education organization has ranked Vietnam in the seventh position among 21 Asian countries in proficiency of English, some experts call the result ‘flashy’, saying it does not reflect the real situation of English learning and teaching in Vietnam.

Of course, no one survey can provide an accurate overall picture of the state of affairs of whatever it is measuring.  It is but a snapshot, an impression, a baseline for comparing an apple in Viet Nam, in this case, English proficiency, with the same apple in other countries. 

Yes, there are many students who are not performing well in English, based on high school final exam results.  Yes, many employers complain that most university graduates cannot communicate fluently in English.  Yes, English language instruction methodology in Viet Nam is archaic.  And, yes, there are too few opportunities for many students to practice what they learn in the classroom.  

According to the article, the EF ranking “shows the high readiness of Vietnamese youth for global integration,” an assertion I happen to agree with and that I bear witness to on a daily basis.  Interest in studying English is at peak levels and while much of the instruction is not of the highest quality in terms of teacher quality, methodology, curriculum, and materials, growing numbers of student find a way, including by taking advantage of a plethora of online resources.  

English as an Official Language?  

There’s even been talk about making English an official language in Viet Nam?  Such is the level of enthusiasm about English.  Why?

The reality is that not all Vietnamese need to be proficient in English.  While English is the most popular foreign language, young Vietnamese are studying a number of other languages, East Asian, e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean and European, e.g., French, German, Spanish. Many will require no foreign language proficiency once they enter the world of work.  

Therefore, any curriculum should be designed based on the current and future needs of the target student audience.  Why not offer English as an elective to students who are interested in learning it for whatever reason, including some who are linguistically gifted?  The current “shotgun” approach, while well-intended, is not likely to bear fruit in the long term. 

Let me conclude with some good news.  Based on my rather extensive in country and regional experience, Viet Nam compares very favorably to other Asian countries, including those with huge economic, educational, and historical advantages such as China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand.  What’s needed is a more balanced perspective.  Yes, there’s room for improvement but we should always give credit where credit’s due. 

Congratulations to Viet Nam for its progress to date!    

Shalom (שלום), MAA

P.S.:  For the record, in response to the question in the second article about whether or not Viet Nam should make English an official language, I voted a resounding NO.  The majority vote to date was YES, but 311 votes, most probably cast by foreigners, does not a scientific survey make so take it with a grain of salt, dear reader.  🙂

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