On a Sunday afternoon in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, young people gather in the central park to meet with their friends, practise their English and perfect their guitar playing. All under the benevolent gaze of Ho Chi Minh himself.
Coming to the end of a short holiday in Vietnam and Cambodia, what has struck me most powerfully is the sheer energy, dynamism and YOUTH of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s economic powerhouse. According to the latest international census data, almost 25% of the population is under the age of 14, (compared to 18% in the United Kingdom.) In fact more than half the population weren’t even born when the Vietnam war ended in 1975.
The City has transformed beyond all recognition since my last visit in 1993 and even more so, I suspect since 1975 and the end of the war. What appears to be propelling the change aside from the industry and hard work of the people is Vietnam’s openness to the world and, I should imagine, education. English Language schools proliferate across the country. According to a recent report in the Vietnam Economic Review, overseas study is increasingly important – although students are often bewildered by the range of choice – destinations and subjects open to them.
In 2011-12, more than 100,000 Vietnamese were reported as studying overseas, spending approximately $1.5bn. While the options to take foreign qualifications in Vietnam are increasing, an overseas education remains the ultimate aspiration for the growing middle classes.
Vietnamese young people are increasingly sophisticated consumers. They search for value in their education and with wi-fi internet available at every street side café, they have no shortage of information available to them. Those universities and colleges which can offer a clearly valuable education, (whether that is in traditional Western markets or in emerging Asian destinations), one which marks Vietnamese graduates out in the international employment market place are more likely to be successful.
Education counselors play a vital role in guiding students to their overseas study. I was fortunate to attend a briefing session on Marshall University for almost 30 professional education counselors based throughout the southern part of Vietnam. Their commitment to operating to the highest ethical standards to students and their families clearly evident.
The career opportunities opening in Vietnam and elsewhere through the region for graduates who have international study experience, are fluent in English and comfortable working across cultures is enormous. All the major multinational brands from services to manufacturing and tourism are building significant presence in the market. And as with the United Kingdom and the United States, there is a shortage of highly skilled, well qualified graduates.
The INTO regional office in Ho Chi Minh City provides full time support to partner universities throughout Vietnam and is part of a wider East Asian team with offices in Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
Author: Tim O'Brien
Tim is Vice President, Global Partner Development, INTO University Partnerships