International vs. Country-Specific Fairs

Recruiters have lots of choices when it comes to different types of fairs. All make the same promises. Hundreds or even thousands of students at each event, all interested in overseas study and all with the ability to pay. How to choose? Here’s one easy way. If you represent an institution from a top five (5) host country, you’re better off joining a quality country-specific fair or fair series.

Spring StudyUSA Higher Education Fairs

For example, the US is the world’s leading host of Vietnamese students and the preferred overseas study destination. If you participate in a US higher education fair, you can be sure that everyone who comes to that fair is interested in study in the USA. (This assumes that the fair organizer has ethical business practices, e.g., doesn’t pay for student referrals and doesn’t bus in students who have no intention of studying abroad.) The same cannot be said for international fairs, which include institutions at all levels from all over the world and, in less desirable circumstances, a veritable rogue’s gallery of schools.

Foreign companies that organize international fairs usually do so as part of a regional tour. Their strategy is to cast a wide net. This allows schools from countries that do not have many, if any, Vietnamese students to come to Vietnam to recruit. Vietnamese companies usually organize international fairs for one of two reasons: 1) They work in multiple markets and it makes perfect sense to do so; or 2) They already tried a country-specific fair, e.g., the US, failed because they do not have the necessary network or reputation, and decide that international fairs have more profit potential.

eduusa spring 2016 fairs
Spring 2016 EducationUSA Fairs

My advice to US colleagues for whom Vietnam is a priority market: forgo the international fairs and focus on quality US higher education fairs – in tandem with other appropriate recruitment approaches.


Of Smoke, Mirrors, & Educational Consultants

I continue to document and add to my rather lengthy inventory the many ways in which educational consulting companies cheat their clients and partners.  This began with an article I wrote in 12/14 for University World News entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment.

cheatingHere’s one that involves an upcoming US higher education mini-fair.  It’s what I’m fond of calling the “dog and pony show” approach to pre-event marketing.  Why do it the old-fashioned way – through extensive and costly on- and offline marketing – when you can simply bribe “students” to come to your event?  It’s easy, cheap and guarantees quantity, if not quality.  You want 500 students?  No problem!  Pay 50,000 VND per student.  Psst – hey, everyone!  We’ll pay you $2.25 in cold hard cash, if you register online, come to our fair and bring a friend.   That’s $1,125 – what a bargain!

If you really wanna rock ‘n roll, you can get 1,000 “students” for $2,250!  Then you can say in your promotional materials and on your website that it’s the BIGGEST FAIR IN VIETNAM!  Tell ’em what they wanna hear.  Bigger is better and money make$ the world go round, right?!?

smoke and mirrors,jpgI don’t know how many of these students are actually interested in overseas study, especially in the USA, but they are warm bodies who will create some buzz and make the fair look “successful.”  This is one of a number of ways to artificially inflate fair attendance.  Others include busing in students, most of whom have no intention of studying overseas.  For them it’s a field trip and a chance to practice their English with unsuspecting colleagues who have not paid lots of money to travel to Vietnam and practice their English with young people who have no intention of studying in the US.

Note to recruiters:  If most of the students are wearing the same school uniform, your fair organizer has probably bused them in.  This is also a common practice among local partners who organize events for regional tours.  Keep the clients happy – at all costs!





The End of An Era: Life Without the IIE Higher Education Fairs

iie-logoThere was a time when IIE higher education fairs were all the rage in Vietnam, when IIE and its EducationUSA advising centers were one of the few quality games in town.  You announced the fairs, did some light publicity and, Lord, did they ever come…  in droves.  There was such an unquenchable thirst for information about StudyUSA yet not many reliable sources of information back in the day. (Speaking of quality, IIE only permitted regionally accredited institution to join its fairs although some nationally accredited schools have managed to get in in recent years, probably the result of staff oversight.)

I remember in the fall of 2008 when the HCMC fair had over 90 US colleges and universities and a couple thousand attendees in the course of a day.  It was crazy, lots of pushing, shoving, grabbing and not very many meaningful conversations and exchanges of information.  Success was measured by volume and by that measure the events were a huge success.  These fairs were also immensely profitable, thus contributing to IIE’s bottom line.

A year later, a relatively new political appointee in the US State Department, a bean-counter, decided that the US government could save money by moving EducationUSA back to the US Mission (i.e,. the Embassy in Hanoi and Consulate General in HCMC).  Kill two birds with one stone.  Save money and control the message more closely using a “back to basics” approach.  What’s not to like from a bureaucratic perspective?

The post-EducationUSA IIE continued to offer its regional US higher education fairs, including in Vietnam.  They remained an important source of income for an organization that was striving mightily to diversify its revenue base.  At one time, IIE received 2/3 of its budget from the US government (USG), mainly from the State Department for the Fulbright program.    While it was 36% in 2014, the USG is still a valued client, both financially and politically.  So when IIE decided to suspend or discontinue its regional higher education fairs some colleagues asked me why.

IIE Higher Education Fairs

Here are two likely reasons.  Choose one or both.

  1.  Don’t bite the hand that feeds you/customer is king or queen.  EducationUSA began organizing its own US higher education fairs in Vietnam and elsewhere in the region.  As a courtesy to State, IIE decided to bow out so as not to compete with one of its most important clients.
  2. The IIE fairs were becoming less relevant and less well-attended.  In a sense, IIE was living in the past, doing pretty much the same thing year after year while the market was changing and becoming much more competitive.  It reminds me of this saying, which I read in a recent IT article:  If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

Full disclosure:  I served as country director of the Institute of International Education-Vietnam from 2005-09.  During that time, IIE offered EducationUSA advising services on behalf of the US State DepartmentThe HCMC EducationUSA advising staff were seconded to the Public Affairs Section of the US Consulate General.  I could never figure that one out.  State paid IIE for staff who worked out of a US government facility.  Go figure!  🙂


Fall 2015 EducationUSA Higher Ed Fairs: Location, Location, Location?

Tuesday, October 6th: HO CHI MINH CITY
Wednesday, October 7th: CAN THO
Friday, October 9th: HUE

I must admit that I’m a bit baffled as to why EdUSA is organizing fairs in Can Tho and Hue.  Nice places to visit but not exactly hot “markets” for StudyUSA.  (At least one has quite a few students with a high visa denial rate because of the attempts on the part of many to use the F-1 as a ticket to emigration.  Google “sestak, hue, visa scam.”)

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a no-brainer but why not Hanoi, where the US Embassy organized a very successful US higher education fair last January? What about Danang, where there’s a lot of interest in StudyUSA, a growing ability to pay and a paucity of events?  (Most colleagues fly over Danang on their way to events in the country’s two largest cities, i.e., markets.)

new edusa logo

It’s like an experiment though one not likely to be successful if student recruitment is your goal.  From the official (EdUSA/State Department) perspective it’s yet another opportunity to exercise soft power in places other than Hanoi and HCMC, and to do so on the dime of the participating US colleges and universities.  What’s not to like – from an official perspective?

At 1k per school it’s quite inexpensive – a chance to discover why those may be your first and last fairs in two off-the-beaten path locations that are worth visiting and maybe recruiting in on a targeted basis but probably not fertile recruitment grounds via traditional fairs.  Let me know!  Prove me wrong!



Linden U.S. University Fairs – In Cooperation With Capstone Vietnam

144hinh_linden I’m pleased to announce that Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company based in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), is assisting Linden Educational Services with its U.S. University Fairs on 20 and 22 September in Hanoi and HCMC, respectively.

There are currently 34 colleges and universities from 18 states participating in this fair series, which is part of a regional tour that includes Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Jakarta, Indonesia.  This is another great opportunity for interested  students and parents to get first-hand information about a variety of top-notch public and private US higher education institutions at a US higher education-only fair.

For more information and to see the list of participating schools, follow this link.


The 10th VietAbroader Study Abroad Conferences Are Coming!

sac11-1024x683 (2015)Mark your summer calendar, U.S. higher education colleagues!  I’m pleased to announce that the main 2015 VietAbroader Conferences – Passing of the Torch will be held on Saturday, July 18th in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and Sunday, July 19th in Hanoi.

For the first time ever, there will also be conferences in Hue (7/10), Haiphong and Can Tho (7/11), Nghe An and Danang (7/12). With this change VietAbroader demonstrates its commitment to reaching out to underserved communities, educating aspiring young people across Vietnam about U.S. study opportunities and providing them with accurate information and tools with which to make the best decisions for their future. This change will also enable U.S. institutions and schools reach out to a wider and more diverse pool of Vietnamese applicants in the coming years.

Other new features include the following:

  • Interactive Format: Guest speakers will share inspiring stories from applying to U.S. colleges to overcoming challenges abroad.
  • Comprehensive Information: Participants will be given handbooks with accurate, updated information on U.S. college admissions.

There are five (5) institutional sponsorship packages, including Diamond (5k), Platinum (4k), Gold (3k), Silver (2k) and Bronze (1k). (These costs are for Hanoi and HCMC only.) There is currently one Platinum slot left and the Gold, Silver and Bronze slots are wide open.  The registration deadline is May 15, 2015.

vac 2015Follow this link to download both sponsorship documents: Benefits Information for Institutional Sponsors and the Conference Proposal. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Ms. Thu Pham (anhthu.pham [AT], Co-President, or Ms. Thu Diem, Head of Partners & Sponsors, (anhthu.diem [AT]

The conferences include morning seminars that provide pre-screened attendees and their parents with information about U.S. education and fairs in the afternoon that are free and open to the public, where students and parents can meet face-to-face with currently enrolled students, alumni and official representatives of more than 100 U.S. institutions. Here is the tentative agenda (as of March 2015):

  • 08:00 –08:40    Check-in
  • 08:45–09:10     Opening Ceremony & Keynote Speech
  • 09:10 –09:30    Presentation: Why Study in the U.S.?
  • 09:30 –10:00    Experience Sharing: Opportunities & Challenges in the U.S.
  • 10:00 –10:30    Experience Sharing: Pursuing Your Dreams
  • 10:30 –10:45    Break
  • 10:45 –11:30    Discussion in Small groups
  • 11:30 –11:45    School Quizzes
  • 11:45 –12:00    Closing Ceremony
  • 12:00 –14:00    Lunch Break & Networking
  • 14:00 –17:00    College Fair with Representatives from Over 100 U.S. Institutions

What is VietAbroader (VA)?

Then US Ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Michalak, and I after delivering introductory remarks at the 2009 VAC in Hanoi.

VA is Vietnam’s premier student-run nonprofit that provides students with information and guidance to encourage them to study abroad, primarily in the United States. The VA Study Abroad Conference (VAC), the organization’s flagship program, was launched in 2005. I had the honor of speaking at the first Hanoi conference. It is also my honor to serve as one of four VietAbroader advisers, a position I have held since the organization’s founding 11 years ago. When I joined the VA forum in 2004, before it evolved into a full-fledged student organization, there were only a few hundred members. There were over 80,000 when the forum was phased out last August in favor of Facebook and a more interactive website.

Every year, it is my pleasure to help VA’s leadership reach out to potential institutional sponsors. Why should U.S. colleges and universities that welcome Vietnamese students to their campuses consider becoming a VAC sponsor? Because it’s one of the most popular and widely publicized events of its kind, and will help you brand and market your school to a large and targeted audience.  Capstone Vietnam, of which I’m managing director, is a corporate sponsor of the VACs and a long-term VietAbroader partner, along with IDG Ventures Vietnam and EducationUSA.