The TPP & China

Below is guest post by Chuck Searcy, a US veteran who has lived and worked in Vietnam for over 20 years. 

The reporting on “trade” is actually pretty misleading, because the TPP does not have much to do with trade (only what? — five out of 23 chapters related to trade?).  It’s mostly about widening opportunities for multinational corporations to intrude into fragile markets such as Viet Nam to take enormous advantage of local companies and production sectors, particularly drugs and agriculture.

There is something that doesn’t meet the “smell test” about the likelihood that U.S. beef imports into Viet Nam will sell more cheaply than locally produced meats.  That’s because heavy U.S. government subsidies are very well hidden.  The Vietnamese have no clue how to peel through the layers of America’s generously subsidized economy and learn the truth.  But American corporate lawyers will be lined up to take action against Viet Nam for the slightest advantage that Viet Nam seeks under the TPP.

We’ve slapped Viet Nam down several times — with textiles, shrimp, catfish, under terms of the US-VN Bilateral Trade Agreement which the Vietnamese naively thought would help them so much.  The WTO turned out to be a major disappointment for Viet Nam.

Courtesy of WikiLeaks

And no one knows the consequences that will result from America’s attempts to exclude, or cordon off, China from this commercial arena.  The scheme is not realistic, and could be quite damaging for Viet Nam. Much of Viet Nam’s raw material (threads and fabrics for the garment industry, for example) come from China.  Will Viet Nam now have to buy these inputs from other more expensive markets? Possibly. No one quite knows.  But “origin” in China will not be allowed.  That will be great satisfaction for Obama and Washington politicians, who want to “contain” China.

Prof. Herman Daly should be studied and listened to much more carefully. The “steady state” economy that he and many others promote is really the only answer to conventional economics, which is a runaway train that is gobbling up resources as if there will never be a tomorrow.  The conventional approach is to create a rapacious, advertising-driven consumer market that is based on waste and finite destruction.  It is simply not sustainable.

For politicians in Viet Nam and most other countries to continue to speak as robots about “growth” is dangerous for future generations.  We simply do not need to be destroying the earth as we’re doing, in a quest for meaningless gadgets and playthings, while much of the world’s population lives a meager existence only because we have such a distorted global economy that we refuse to distribute a food supply that is actually adequate to feed the entire world.

The TPP is just one more ticket to one more glittery ball to be enjoyed by a few wealthy patrons, as the masses stand outside shivering, but at midnight the clock will strike and everything will collapse (or maybe we’ll turn into pumpkins).

Most of us are in denial that such a scenario will really happen.  And maybe it won’t, if we listen to a few enlightened people like Herman Daly — and if it’s not too late.

Final note:  I recently was in a meeting with two semi-retired company executives and Vietnamese government advisers who are part of a Vietnamese think-tank.  After all the discussion about “trade” advantages turned out to be mostly irrelevant, they concluded, with some confidence, that “trade” didn’t really matter in the TPP.  The reason Viet Nam had to sign the TPP, they said, was strictly political.  “Viet Nam must have a place at the table,” they said.  “We have to be viewed as being a significant ‘international’ player, so we cannot be left out of the TPP.  It is important for our positioning against China.”

There you have it.  It’s all about positioning vis-a-vis China and exactly the trap in which the U.S. wants to ensnare Viet Nam.  Next will come big weapons sales from the U.S. and after that the “independence” that Viet Nam fought for during the past century will be lost to the behemoth of global state capitalism and militarism.

June 2016 Vietnam Strategic Recruitment Retreat

I’m pleased to announce that I will lead a Strategic Recruitment Retreat (SRR) in Phan Thiết, Vietnam from 17-19 June for colleagues whose institutions have targeted Vietnam as a high recruitment priority.  The purpose of the retreat is to give them the tools they need in terms of knowledge, insights and strategy in order to increase their chances of success in recruiting Vietnamese students in what has become a highly competitive market in recent years.  Colleagues can either come after the ICEF Thailand-Vietnam Agent Roadshow or attend on a stand-alone basis.  I’m delighted to welcome Study in the USA as an event sponsor. 

Follow this link for detailed information and online registration.


Vietnamese student numbers growing in the US

Below is an excerpt from my recent University World News (UWN) article.  Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.


Top 10 Countries of Citizenship 11-15

There are currently 1.2 million international students studying in the United States, nearly 75% of whom are enrolled in bachelor, masters or doctoral programmes. California, New York and Texas enrol 36% of all students. Some 919,484 of them, or 77% of the total, are from Asia. Compared to July 2015, the total number of active international students studying in the US increased 13.3%.

These figures are from the latest SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly update published in December. Unlike the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors statistics, which are based on data collected the previous year and include higher education enrolment only, SEVIS data are real-time and encompass all levels of the educational system.

Spotlight on Vietnam

One of the shining highlights of the SEVIS report is the breakneck growth in Vietnamese enrolments at all levels of the US educational system, especially at its colleges and universities.

Vietnam has surpassed Japan in total enrolment. It recorded an astounding 18.9% increase from July to November 2015, the third highest after India (20.7%) and China (19.4%).

Incredibly, Vietnam now ranks sixth among all sending countries with 28,883 students studying at US institutions, mostly colleges and universities but also boarding and day schools.

Vietnam is also nipping at the heels of Canada, something that was unimaginable seven years ago when it was not even in the top 10. It climbed to eighth place in 2009 with 15,994 students and stayed there until the end of 2015.

The US has surpassed Australia in terms of numbers of Vietnamese students as there were 28,524 Vietnamese students studying in Australia at all levels as of October 2015, a 0.4% decrease over the previous year.

Interestingly, 54.7% of all Vietnamese students in the US are female and 45.3% male. That’s a difference of nearly 2,700 students.

In terms of degree-related programmes, the breakdown is as follows:

  • Language Training: 12.9% (3,732)
  • Associate: 27.9% (8,050)
  • Bachelor: 31.1% (8,976)
  • Masters: 8.1% (2,330)
  • Doctorate: 4% (1,159)

“Young, educated, unemployed: Vietnamese graduates struggle to find jobs”

Students attend a job fair in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach
Students attend a job fair in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach (Thanh Nien News)

“How can I have experience just after graduating from university? No firm wants to recruit an employee with little experience like me,” Nguyen Thuy Hang, 22, said while looking for accounting jobs on a jobs site.

The Hanoi National Economics University graduate has sent out CVs to dozens of local and foreign-owned companies, but only three of them have called her for interviews. Unfortunately, she said, she was less experienced than other applicants and did not make much of an impression.

Hang is like many recent university graduates.  As in other countries, they need much more than a university degree to find a suitable job.  They are competing with fellow graduates who took advantage of internship opportunities and found ways – outside of the classroom – to learn and hone various soft skills, improve their English proficiency and, in some cases, to learn valuable IT skills.  The problem is that most universities do not offer services that facilitate these connections and opportunities, e.g., career planning and placement offices, so the responsibility falls squarely on their young shoulders.

Then there is the quality of the education being provided, which at most institutions is heavy on textbook knowledge and theory and short on practical experience and soft skills, including communication skills, teamwork and collaboration, adaptability, problem solving, critical thinking and conflict resolution.  (I can confirm this as both an interested observer and an employer.)  Nguyen Thi Van Anh, managing director of jobs firm Navigos Search, said in the article on which this post is based that the shortage of necessary skills is much more serious in Vietnam than in other ASEAN countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

This sentiment is reflected in a statement by Hoang Ngoc Vinh, director of the Professional Education Department at the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), who noted that the unemployment problem might come from the quality of university education, rather than the surplus of university graduates.  Around 25-30% of the labor force in developed countries are university graduates; in Vietnam, it’s only 7%. “The quality of university graduates may have not met the demands of the labor market,” he said, as cited by Tuoi Tre.

Another issue is the lack of desire on the part of some recent graduates to gain on-the-job experience, to pay their dues, so to speak, in order to be better prepared for the kind of white-collar job they are looking for.  As Phan Truong Son, manager of a chain of restaurants, cafes and shops in Hanoi, put it, his firm announced vacancies for 20 salespeople and waiters, but got only three applications.

Finally, one of the most compelling issues is a structural one. Duong Duc Lan, director of the labor ministry’s vocational training department, said the country possibly has more graduates than it needs. Vietnam has around one million high school graduates every year and only around 3% of them go to vocational schools, while most want a college degree.  Why?  Because of prestige and the belief that a university degree will automatically result in a white-collar job with a higher salary and more respect.  Meanwhile, Vietnam desperately needs more qualified workers.  The problem is twofold:  attracting more students to certain vocational programs and improving the quality of those programs.

To put all of the above in perspective the national unemployment rate in Vietnam is 2.35%, according to the Ministry of Labor, a fifth of which is university graduates.  Thus, the overall issue is underemployment for many rather than unemployment for the country as a whole and a disconnect between student/parent beliefs and aspirations, the educational system and the labor market.



Vietnam Remittances Top $12 Billion in 2015; OV Investment Nearly $9 Billion

File photo courtesy of TNN.

Last year, Vietnam received $12.3 billion in remittances, according to the World Bank, 57% of which came from the US.  This money is used for a variety of purposes, including investment in new businesses.  Another use is simply to convert dollars to VND and park the money in a savings account in order to earn 7% interest, a substantially higher ROI than in the US, where the interest rate is hovering around 1%.

In addition to remittances, there is significant overseas Vietnamese investment here, contrary to the letter and spirit of this recent Bloomberg article entitled Vietnam’s Divide: Slow Healing, Fewer Prospects for Children of U.S. Allies. According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, overseas Vietnamese have invested in 52 out of 62 provinces and cities in Vietnam, where they currently run about 3,600 businesses with some 2,000 projects valued at a combined total of $8.6 billion.  The projects are in trading, tourism, construction and real estate, in addition to the production of export goods, aquaculture and seafood processing. They bring generate about $20 billion in annual revenue.

The Ministry mentioned that overseas Vietnamese companies and entrepreneurs have stakes in domestic banks such as Techcombank and VPBank, and major property and tourism businesses such as VinGroup and Sungroup.  There’s also overseas Vietnamese investment in large manufacturing companies like Eurowindow and Masan, as well as the waste processing firm Da Phuoc.


USA is Once Again the World’s Leading Host of Vietnamese Students; Ranks 6th Overall

Ranks 6th Among All Sending Countries

As I predicted earlier this year, Vietnam has surpassed Japan in total enrollment in the US, most of it in higher education.  It recorded an astounding 18.9% increase from July 2015, the third highest after India (20.7%) and China (19.4%), according to the latest SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly update.

11-15 Places of Origin Asia

Incredibly, Vietnam now ranks 6th among all sending countries with 28,883 students studying at US institutions, mostly colleges and universities but also boarding and day schools, along with some other programs.  The US has surpassed Australia (PDF), which had 28,524 Vietnamese students at all levels as of October 2015, a 0.4% decrease over the previous year.  As you can see below, Vietnam is nipping at the heels of Canada, which was unimaginable five (5) years ago.

Top 10 Countries of Citizenship 11-15

What are some of the reasons for this continued impressive growth?

  • Robust economic growth, 6.5% through September 2015, which translates into growing ability to pay for one of the world’s most expensive higher education systems;
  • Proactive recruitment on the part of growing numbers of US colleges and universities, which means more choices for Vietnamese students and parents;
  • More institutions with an overall price tag – with or without scholarships – in the 20-30k range or less; and
  • The continued popularity of US higher education as an overseas study destination.

This is in spite of a high visa denial rate over the summer, especially in the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City and growing concern about personal safety, the result of the recent spate of mass shootings.

Extrapolating from the estimate calculated by IIE based on information from Open Doors and the U.S. Department of Commerce, this means that the current contribution to the US economy by Vietnamese students is $919, 461,422. Since most students are self-financing, Vietnamese parents are spending nearly $1 billion on their children’s education in the US.  To put this in perspective Vietnam’s 2014 GDP was $186.2 billion, according to the World Bank.


“Advanced degrees not a guarantee of employment in Vietnam”

Vietnam had 10.7 million trained workers (who have short-term training certificates, finish intermediate school, junior college and have bachelor’s and master’s degrees) which accounted for 20 percent of the labor force. Of these, 4.47 million have a higher education level.

Courtesy of VietnamNet Bridge
Courtesy of VietnamNet Bridge

Like many other countries, including the US, Vietnam is afflicted with the disease of credentialism.  A bachelor’s degree or higher means more and better job opportunities, right?  According to a recent VietnamNet Bridge article, based on information from the Vietnam Labor & Social Studies Institute, unemployment is rising among those with four-year undergraduate and graduate degrees because of oversupply while it’s decreasing among graduates of junior (3-year, i.e., vocational) colleges.  Vietnam’s economy, of course, needs more workers with a quality vocational credential.  Not as much prestige, mind you, but a better chance of finding a job.

Here’s an excerpt from the article with a quote from Nguyen Tung Lam, a well-known educator and chair of the Hanoi Education Psychology Association, about the four reasons for the rising unemployment rate among workers with higher education.

  1.  University graduates did not choose the majors that match with their capabilities and interest.  As a result, they did not pay enough attention and could not obtain the necessary working skills before graduation.
  2. Schools with low training capability cannot produce qualified workers.
  3. A substandard educational system that is not at the level of “international standards.”
  4. Fourth, MoET (Ministry of Education and Training) only controls schools’ operation and training quality on paper, while it does not know what happens in reality.

Once consequence of this overproduction of university graduates is that Vietnam may have to import skilled workers, according to Van Nhu Cuong, president of Luong The Vinh High School.

One problem related to the first point is the lack of career counseling and students studying what their parents want them to study rather than what they’re good at and have an interest in.  Another is a lack of information about the relationship between their chosen field of study and future career prospects.

This also applies to overseas-educated Vietnamese, some of whom have difficulty finding a suitable position back home because they did not take full advantage of the opportunities afforded them in terms of academics, extracurricular activities, internships and language (e.g., some Vietnamese who study overseas do not benefit linguistically from an immersion experience because they live in a Vietnamese community).  An overseas is a point of departure in any job interview not a deciding factor.