University degrees don't help make a living

By Nguyen Hang   August 8, 2023 | 03:11 pm PT
University degrees don't help make a living
Many university graduates work as ride-hailing moto couriers to make their ends meet. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Tu
Nguyen Hien spent around 400 million ($16,887) on tuition and expenses to complete university, but her first job paid only VND6 million per month and she couldn’t pay her bills.

So she quit her desk job and now works as a bartender in the daytime and a cocktail waitress at night for around VND16 million a month.

"I don’t dare tell my parents about my real job," she said. "I just told them generally that I worked in the food and beverage industry."

After four years of study, and hundreds of millions of dong, Hien said her undergraduate degree in law has given her no help in finding a job that can pay for her daily cost of living.

And university graduates like Hien that cannot make a living with their bachelor’s degrees are not rare in Vietnam these days.

A recent report by the Ho Chi Minh City Center of Forecasting Manpower Needs and Labor Market Information showed that less than 20% of positions being hired for in HCMC are seeking applicants holding university degrees or the equivalent. Meanwhile, around 85% of potential workers seeking employment are university degree holders.

Labor market reports have pointed out that labor needs in sectors such as tourism, information technology, textiles, marketing, and law have decreased in 2023. The trend has pushed many students to the brink of unemployment after graduation.

Human resources experts have also raised their concerns about how opportunities for university graduates are so limited that many highly educated young people are now competing with non-degree holders for manual labor jobs.

Nguyen Duy Khoa graduated from a university in HCMC with a degree in marketing. He had been working low-level jobs since his freshman year, so he was confident that after graduation his degree and three years of experience would land him a good position.

But after four months of applying to dozens of companies to no avail, he soon became depressed.

"I attended a few interviews, and none of them were too difficult," he said. "But none of the companies that scheduled interviews with me got back in touch afterwards. I assume that means I failed."

Khoa said he performed well in his interviews and met all of the requirements proposed by his potential employers. Still, "9 out of 10" places didn’t return his calls when he reached out after his interviews and the only company that got back to him simply replied that he "was not a good fit."

So Khoa began working as a moto courier for a ride-hailing app to make ends meet while he continued his job search. But even this new gig hasn’t been much help as waves of layoffs and unemployment in Vietnam have created an oversupply of such drivers and finding enough fares amid the intense competition is rare.

An estimated 150,000 people qualified for unemployment compensation in HCMC in 2022. Among these, as many as 46,000 were university degree holders, accounting for more than 31% of the total number.

Mechanical engineer Le Dung has just gotten a new job after a year working as a moto courier. He had to lower his expectations and apply for entry-level positions instead of experienced engineer positions.

"Thinking about how I’m having to put my degree aside now, I feel sad sometimes," he said. "I regret spending my time pursuing my undergraduate course."

Experts have attributed this phenomenon to several factors, including the fact that Vietnam has not invested enough in improving the quality of its higher education. According to a report by the Academy of Finance, Vietnamese authorities spent VND70 trillion on the higher education system in 2017, which accounted for the considerably low figure of only 0.34% of the country’s GDP.

Moreover, the local higher education system is relatively chaotic as higher education institutions in Vietnam are governed by separate and different government bodies – namely the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs – which don’t always work together to create a coherent system. This leads to differences in the quality of training among institutions.

Experts have suggested that the Ministry of Education and Training should invest and focus more on creating a high-quality domestic labor market that can compete with foreign labor markets and contribute to improving the country’s economy and social conditions.

In the meantime, graduates like Hien have to get by with the least worst career choices.

"There are many traps, many risks, and many negative effects on health for someone working at a night bar like me," Hien said. "My memory, my hearing, and my eyesight have worsened [since I started the job]."

Still, Hien showed no signs of quitting the job in the near future, as she did not know what else she could do to make a living.

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