In Vietnam, it's harder for college hopefuls to become a military officer than a doctor

By Vi Vu   August 2, 2017 | 05:28 pm GMT+7
In Vietnam, it's harder for college hopefuls to become a military officer than a doctor
Vietnamese female commissioned officers march during a parade marking the country's National Day in Hanoi. Photo by Reuters/Kham

Military academies are demanding top marks from this year's batch of high school graduates.

The results are in from this year's university entrance exams, and nearly 150 institutions across Vietnam have set their benchmark scores for admission, with some surprising results. 

Forget medical, economics or engineering schools, it is the armed forces that are demanding the highest grades.

Vietnamese 12th graders took the national exam in June with separate tests in math, literature, English and sciences. Their total scores in three of these subjects are used to determine what school, if any, they will be accepted by.

Most schools are demanding higher scores than they did last year, which education experts blame on easier tests. Though military, medical or economics hopefuls took different batches of subjects, at least technically speaking, police and military schools are proving harder to get into. 

Officials from the education ministry said that many majors at these schools are asking for a minimum total score of 29 out of 30.

The People’s Security Academy in Hanoi, which trains forces such as police officers, security agents and inspectors, is asking for up to 30.5 points (students from remote areas or who come from revolutionary families can receive up to 3.5 bonus points.) 

The University of Fire Fighting and Prevention in the southern province of Dong Nai is also asking for a total score of up to 30.25.

Students vying for the Military Technical Academy and the Vietnam Military Medical University, both in Hanoi, need a score of up to 30 to secure a place. 

Medical schools, usually the hardest to get into, are asking for a score of up to 29.25 this year, while economics and science institutions have set their levels between 27 and 28.5. 

So why is it so appealing to get into police and military schools?

First of all, they do not charge tuition fees, and they provide meals and accommodation. This certainly makes them more attractive compared to other public schools, where a four-year course costs thousands of dollars. (The average annual income in Vietnam was $2,200 last year.)

But teacher training schools and philosophy courses are also free.

Then there’s the second reason, and possibly the more important one: Police and military students are guaranteed a job when they graduate.

All graduates will be assigned jobs at units under the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Public Security when they finish their majors, receiving salaries and bonuses that add up to an average of VND5.4 million ($237.5) a month, according to a report released by the labor ministry in June.

Labor ministry figures for the first quarter of this year showed that 138,800 people with at least a university degree in Vietnam did not have a job, accounting for nearly 13 percent of the country's unemployment rate.

So while there are safety risks that come with their future jobs, students at police and military schools can study hard safe in the knowledge that they will be debt free.

Now for the dark side.

The perks of being a police or military student have led to illegal services popping up that offer places for low-scoring students - for a fee.

The providers claim to have contacts in these schools and charge desperate families tens of thousands of dollars.

In late March, a man from the southern province of Dong Thap was arrested on fraud charges after a family accused him of failing to fulfill his promise of getting their son into a police school despite paying him VND870 million ($38,300).

Another man from the central city of Da Nang was arrested in February for conning another family out of VND440 million.

In January, the Ministry of Public Security also busted an organization that had been cheating families across 26 cities and provinces, including Hanoi and Saigon, from 2014.

There are no official figures on how many students get into these schools through the back door.