Vietnam Ranks 29th in Annual EF English Proficiency Index & 5th in Asia

 Vietnam is among the top performers in the region, ahead of Japan and China. Graphic: EF
Vietnam is among the top performers in the region, ahead of Japan and China. Graphic: EF

EF logoHere’s some more good news for Vietnam and colleagues from English-speaking countries who recruit here at the secondary and postsecondary levels.  According to the results of the EF (Education First) Proficiency Index, which profiles 70 countries, including 15 in Asia, Vietnam ranks 29th with “moderate proficiency” in English.  Last year, it ranked 33rd out of 63 non-native English-speaking countries.  Among Asian countries, Vietnam ranked higher than Cambodia, China, Japan and Thailand.  This will come as no surprise to those who have visited those countries or worked with their students.  For example, when you walk into a department store in Bangkok in what has been a middle-income country for quite some time – with many more socio-economic advantages than Vietnam – the staff will usually scramble to find the one person who can communicate in passable to good English with foreign customers.

Here are a couple of interesting findings from the Vietnam survey:

  • As in most countries, women speak better English than men.
  • Adults in Hanoi are somewhat more proficient in English than those in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).

As the survey points out, research shows that better English correlates with higher income and better quality of life.  Since English is an international language, it also allows its speakers to tap into an international network of information and knowledge, as well as develop relationships with an estimated half a billion people whose native language is English or who speak it as a foreign language.

Why is Vietnam making so much progress so quickly?  The sheer number of number of young people, including children, who are studying English, the growing ability to pay for instruction at proprietary centers, combined with opportunities to practice English, the result of Vietnam’s integration into the global economy.

These impressive increases in the English proficiency of growing numbers of Vietnamese bode well for the country’s development, as well as the career prospects of those who are able to communicate in this important language.

If you want to read the “Monarch notes” version of the results, check out this article.  The original report can be found here.


Vietnam’s PISA Surprise

How has the country been able to overcome socioeconomic disadvantages to perform so well?


Excellent analysis by M Niaz Asadullah and Liyanage Devangi Perera.  Asadullah is Professor of Development Economics and Deputy Director of the Centre for Development Studies (CPDS) at the University of Malaya, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). He is also an Associate Fellow of the Department of Education at Oxford University.  Perera is a doctoral student at Monash University, Malaysia.

The results in a nutshell:

  • Vietnam’s 15-year-olds participated for the first time in the 2012 assessment and ranked 17th in mathematics, 8th in science, and 19th in reading among 65 participating nations, placing Vietnam above the OECD average.
  • Vietnam has outranked the US, Australia and the UK

The authors touch on a number of contributing factors that may explain the performance of Vietnamese students in the latest round of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  Several of them are double-edged swords with obvious benefits and drawbacks.

  • it’s not about resources but rather “the careful choice of education policies and in political commitment and leadership”;
  • one analyst “attributes Vietnam’s success to forward-thinking government officials, a focused curriculum and higher social standing and investment in teachers;”
  • Vienam’s curriculum “has been designed to allow students to gain a deep understanding of core concepts and master core skills as opposed to the ‘mile-wide but inch-deep curriculums’ of countries in Europe and North America”,
  • a strong emphasis on the value of education, rooted in Confucianism, encourages hard work and is “likely to have aided policy initiatives in bringing high returns on public and private investment in schooling;”
  • extra learning activities, which 95% of principals surveyed reported in mathematics, for example, the third highest rate in the PISA sample; and
  • high parental pressure exerted on school academic standards and their children (this includes extra lessons for parents with the ability to pay).

One of the key lessons they identify is that “a higher budgetary allocation will not on its own move these countries out the bottom third without policy innovation and a willingness to learn from others.”  As a longtime observer and occasional participant in these efforts to “learn from others” in the spirit of comparative studies and education in particular, I agree with this point.

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.

Bonus:  Here’s a related article that focuses on HCMC, in addition to New York, London, Rio de Janeiro and Dubai.

Perhaps the single most impressive story is from Ho Ch Minh City. Vietnam entered the PISA test for the first time in 2012 and Vietnamese students did extremely well across the board. Students in Ho Chi Minh City performed well above average.



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

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

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.


Top Emerging Markets for International Student Recruitment

Below are some excerpts from this World Education Services (WES) follow-up study to a 2012 research report that identifies key emerging markets for international student recruitment through 2018 and seeks to inform higher education institutions’ strategic planning by giving them a deeper understanding of future international student recruitment markets.

This report addresses two main questions:

  1. Beyond the traditional markets (China, India, and South Korea), what are likely to be the top four emerging markets for recruiting international students in the next three years, and what exactly makes these promising recruitment markets?
  2. What are the most effective strategies and practices for recruiting international students from these emerging markets?


In order of importance, survey respondents to the WES survey identified Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Nigeria as the top four emerging markets to watch over the next three years. In the past five years, these countries have shown substantial increases in the number of students studying in the U.S., alongside stable economic growth.

As identified in WES’ previous Emerging Markets report, Vietnam is and remains an important recruitment market, with outbound mobility growing significantly over the past 13 years. In 2013/14, there were 16,579 Vietnamese students studying in the U.S., making Vietnam the eighth-ranked nation among all sending countries. With steady growth in both the number of students arriving from Vietnam and also in the size of the country’s economy, Vietnam looks set to continue as a strong growth market. Vietnam’s economic growth will also enable parents from its growing middle class to send their children to study in the U.S. at a younger age. An increasing pool of Vietnamese secondary-school graduates in the U.S. also represents an emerging and significant recruitment channel for HEIs.


Note:  The US is once again the world’s leading host of Vietnamese students with nearly 26,000, as of February 2015, mostly at the postsecondary level.  Australia is second with 17,993 Vietnamese students at all levels.  Vietnam ranks 7th among all sending countries using the same type of data from SEVIS (DHS), having surpassed Taiwan and is about to overtake Japan.


Happiness (Among Nations) Is…

world happiness report 2015

This is one of my favorite annual reports, one that should be closely read by representatives of every government.  Color me naive but I believe that happiness is, after all, one of the primary purposes of government.  Keep in mind that this 172 pp. report is not only about “happiness,” as in “do you feel happy, dear citizen?” but rather about various indicators of quality of life in each country that form the basis for a happy and fulfilled life.

As the report notes, “the equation explains national average life evaluations in terms of six key variables: GDP
per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption.   Taken together, these six variables explain almost three-quarters of the variation in national annual average ladder scores among countries, using data from the years 2005 to 2014.”

In this year’s World Happiness Report, published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Switzerland is the happiest country in the world.  The USA ranked 15th while Vietnam took the 75th position.  The countries in bold are among the top 20 countries that host Vietnamese students.  (Australia is currently #2 after the US.)  Their “happiness” is another selling point for those countries.

1:  Switzerland
2:  Iceland
3:  Denmark
4:  Norway
5:  Canada
6:  Finland
7:  The Netherlands
8:  Sweden
9:  New Zealand
10:  Australia

Other Asian countries in the same league of “happiness” as Vietnam in terms of how this report measures it include Hong Kong (72), Indonesia (74) and China (84).

I would argue that less attention should be given to GDP per capita.  (It uses Purchasing Power Parity, or PPP, adjusted to constant 2011 international dollars, taken from the World Development Indicators released by
the World Bank in November 2014.)  GDP PCI is, after all, a very general measurement of a country’s economic progress.  One obvious case in point is the US, where economic inequality is of historic proportions and there is much talk about the death of the American Dream, such as it was.

Speaking of which, in case you still believe a socio-economic US American Santa Claus, read these two articles for a reality check:

American Dream? Or Mirage? (1.5.15, NY Times)

The American Dream Is Dead — And These 6 Charts Prove It (28.4.15, Policy.Mic)

Cover of the first World Happiness Report (2012).
Cover of the first World Happiness Report (2012).

For those of us who work in the field of education the report’s “money chapter” is Chapter 8:  Investing in Social Capital.  Here are some excerpts from the introduction:

Well-being depends heavily on the pro-social behavior of members of the society.  Pro-sociality involves individuals making decisions for the common good that may conflict with short-run egoistic incentives.  Economic and social life is rife with ‘social dilemmas,” in which the common good and individual incentives may conflict.  In such cases, pro-social behavior – including honesty, benevolence, cooperation, and trustworthiness – is key to achieving the best outcome for society.

Societies with a high level of social capital – meaning generalized trust, good governance, and mutual support by individuals within the society – are conducive to pro-social behavior.

The pressing policy question is therefore how societies with low social capital riven by distrust and dishonesty, can invest in social capital.  The chapter discusses various pathways to higher social capital, including education, moral instruction, professional codes of conducts, public opprobrium towards violators of the public trust, and public policies to narrow inequalities in the various supports for well-being, income, health and social connections. (My italics.)  This is important because social and economic equality is associated with higher levels of social capital and generalized trust.

Now think of these issues as they apply to Vietnam and the US, a bundle of contradictions worthy of their own research study, or at least another blog post to lay a very general foundation.


125,000 Vietnamese Studied Overseas in 2013

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 up to $1.875 billion on overseas study-related expenses.  To put this figure in perspective that’s over 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