ITA Report with a Vietnam “Case Study”: Useful but Not 100% Accurate

259709-1 (ITA education report)Global competition for international students is rising quickly, especially among English-speaking countries and countries increasing their English-language course offerings. Although U.S. institutions still host the largest percentage of internationally mobile students, this share is eroding as competition increases. This report assesses global market opportunities for U.S. colleges and universities, providing guidance for U.S. institutions interested in the recruitment of international students.

The International Trade Administration (ITA) of the US Department of Commerce published a report year entitled 2015 Top Markets Report – Education:  A Market Assessment Tool for US Exporters. (PDF)  It begins with an overview of international mobility trends, including information about the top host countries…

intl overview - leading host countries

and the US share of internationally mobile students (2001 vs. 2014) .

us share of intl mobile students

The authors chose to focus on the largest markets with the most potential for growth. While 40 markets were considered, eight (8) were selected for case studies, including Vietnam, “as these markets were large, exhibited significant past growth, and/or had economic and demographic indicators of future growth.”

  • China:  biggest market, high growth
  • India:  second largest market, stable
  • Saudi Arabia:  rapidly growing market
  • S. Korea:  large stable market
  • Germany:  medium-sized market, stable
  • France:  medium-sized market, stable
  • Brazil:  medium-sized market, rapid recent growth
  • Vietnam:  medium-sized market, good growth

Appendix 1 of the report contains a description of the methodology they used to determine which countries to focus on for case studies. Specifically, the authors looked at “four main factors in assessing which markets were most promising for U.S. colleges and universities attempting to recruit foreign students in the coming years.”  The factors and their weightings are as follows:

  • The number of students from a given country currently studying in the United States (0.40)
  • The number of students from a given country studying anywhere outside that country (0.40)
  • Historical growth rates and changes in those rates regarding internationally mobile students studying in the United States (0.15)
  • Share of each country’s students studying in United States, a measure of untapped potential (expressed as a percentage) (0.05)

Mapping SEVIS by the NumbersAmong the countries listed six (6) are in the top ten of all places of origin.  Vietnam ranks 6th, according to the 12/15 SEVIS by the Numbers update (PDF download) and 9th, according to Open Doors 2015 (PDF download), using information from previous academic year.  According to the former, there are 28,883 Vietnamese students studying at all levels in the US.

There is nothing new or surprising about the Vietnam “case study,” just the usual facts and figures about growth trends, current numbers (IIE/Open Doors 2014), popular majors (i.e., business and management, the STEM fields, the social sciences, intensive English), the interest in US boarding schools and some information and predictions about future growth/opportunities.

The report notes that “in the near term, the number of Vietnamese students is likely to increase.”  The percentage increase over the past 10 years was 424%, secondly only to Saudi Arabia.  It mentioned that the growth rate decreased between 2008/09 and 2013/14 to 30% and pointed to two developments that “might further slow increases in Vietnamese student enrollment in the United States.”  Below are the points and my counterpoints.

Point #1: Improvements in domestic higher education as a top priority for the Vietnamese government, meaning that once this happens fewer Vietnamese students will study overseas.

Counterpoint #1:  Yes, it will happen eventually (and should happen!) but not in the short- or medium-term future.

Point #2: Other destinations such as Australia and Singapore that “offer proximity, affordable costs, and possible post-graduate employment.”

Counterpoint #2:  Those countries rank 2nd and 5th, respectively. (They are often second-choice countries for students who are unable to obtain a US student visa.) Other top five countries not mentioned are China and Japan.  Interest in the former is because of cost and simply because it’s China and the latter because of the large number of scholarships.  Both countries are major trading partners of Vietnam and there is significant interest among young people in their cultures.  According to a 2014 HSBC survey, Australia and Singapore – in that order – were the two most expensive overseas study destinations in the world.  The US ranked 3rd.

Not surprisingly, the report mentioned one of ITA’s pet projects, the Vietnam Education and Training Export Center (VETEC), located in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC):  “VETEC offers US institutions and Vietnamese students a broad variety of services, including year-round promotion of US education in Vietnam; advertising campaigns and promotions; on-site student advising and counseling; and facilitation of institutional contacts and exchange.”  The report concludes by asserting that similar methods “will help increase student recruitment in Vietnam over the long term.”   Good advice!  Coincidentally, those are some of the same services that my employer, Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company with offices in Hanoi and HCMC, has offered since its founding nearly seven years ago.

Future Projection a Shot in the Dark

While the report is generally favorable about future prospects for Vietnamese student recruitment, it’s projection of 20,100 students for 2017/18 is way off the mark.  It doesn’t take into account the record number of student visas issued in FY14 (14,822) and the impressive results of the most recent SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly updates.  As mentioned, as of November 2015 there were 28,883 Vietnamese students in the US at all levels, but mostly in higher education.


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