Covid-19 silver lining: overseas study opportunities abound for Vietnamese students

October 12, 2021 | 05:20 pm PT
Mark A. Ashwill Educator
Educational institutions in key host countries, most of which bore the brunt of Covid's fury last year, are reopening their doors to international students, including those from Vietnam.

One silver lining of Covid-19 and its impact on global higher education is that overseas study has become a "buyer's market." There are more high-quality, fulfilling, and meaningful study abroad opportunities than ever, resulting in the agony of choice.

Of over 250,000 young Vietnamese studying overseas at both the secondary and postsecondary levels, seven of 10 are in five countries. In descending order, they are Japan (62,233, 2020), South Korea (59,876, 2020), the U.S. (25,816, June 2021), Australia (22,823, July 2021), and Canada (~21,222, 2020).

Rounding out the top 10 hosts are Taiwan, mainland China, Germany, Russia, and France. Other destinations with sizable numbers of students from Vietnam are the U.K., Finland, and New Zealand. Some other up-and-coming places with considerable untapped potential include Ireland and the Netherlands, where Vietnamese students number in the hundreds.

Not surprisingly, 63 percent of all Vietnamese studying overseas are relatively close to home in East Asia. This reflects the close cultural and business ties that these countries have with Vietnam, including trade relationships and the influence of popular culture. After English, the most popular foreign languages are Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, skills that many are putting to good use in their work for public, private, and non-profit entities that do business with those countries.

Rosy picture

All of this is good news for young people and their parents who have an interest in overseas study. There is literally something for everyone in terms of location, degrees, programs, cost and post-graduation employment opportunities.

Some more good news is that many foreign institutions want and need international students because they recognize their intrinsic and tangible benefits. The former is a reference to student body diversity while the latter includes tuition revenue and other examples of economic impact.

In order to attract more international students, whose numbers declined after the arrival of Covid-19 in those countries, institutions are offering a variety of financial incentives that make it more affordable for qualified and deserving students.

Vietnamese students have a well-earned reputation for strong academics, dedication, and participation in extracurricular activities, including in leadership roles.

Where? That’s the question

If students don’t have a strong preference and are open to different opportunities, the process of choosing a shortlist among so many appealing alternatives is both an art and a science. Each country and its education system have their own unique set of advantages and drawbacks.

Some countries are known for being among the most student-friendly for international students while others with a pro-immigration policy offer clear post-graduation employment pathways. All the host countries offer programs in general and vocational education.

Students attend an education fair in Vietnam in 2019. Photo by Global Education Fair

Students attend an education fair in Vietnam in 2019. Photo by Global Education Fair

Studying in the European Union gives students the golden opportunity to travel in 26 Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Several countries offer quality education at a reasonable cost. Study in Germany is free in most states (Länder), assuming students can pass the German language proficiency test and gain admission to a university. The average cost of living is about $12,000 a year.

In Finland, international students paid between $4,700-21,000 in 2019-20 for bachelor’s and master’s degree programs taught in English. Monthly living expenses for room, board, travel, insurance, etc. range from $800 to $1,000, depending upon the location.

In the U.S., overall costs can be much lower than average if the student is able to win need-based aid or earn a merit-based scholarship, or if she/he is willing to live in a location with a lower cost of living, e.g., the Midwest or the South.

In most countries, international students can have a part-time job with some placing restrictions on the number of hours per week visa-holders can work. One notable exception is the U.S., which only allows on campus employment and post-graduation employment on a student visa through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

While most programs are offered in the local language, many countries have programs taught in English, which tend to be more expensive. Included in this category are bi-national partnerships such as Duke Kunshan University in China and branch campuses like the University of Utah’s Asia campus in Seoul (Incheon), South Korea.

Most host countries offer an array of scholarships funded by the respective national government and educational institutions, assuming students are proficient in the local language, e.g., Chinese, French, German, and Russian.

U.S. a top draw

There were just over a million students from all over the world in the U.S. last year, most of them enrolled at the nation’s colleges and universities. That included about 25,000 from Vietnam, which ranked fourth among sending countries.

In spite of stiff competition from Australia, Canada, the U.K. and other countries and some vexing problems and unresolved issues at home, U.S. higher education remains a leading global brand.

The most obvious reason, a so-called pull factor, is world-renowned quality, especially in research, as measured by rankings, academic awards, and grants and contracts, but also teaching, depending upon the institution.

Another is the sheer size of its higher education system, which reflects the vastness of the country of which it is a part (4,690 km from New York to California and 2,863 km from Canada to Mexico by car). It includes 50 different state (public) systems of higher education and hundreds of private, non-profit institutions, which means that there is something for everyone in terms of academics, extracurricular activities, climate, cost, internships, and location.

There are urban, suburban, and small college town settings from which to choose. There are nearly 4,000 regionally accredited (RA) institutions, the gold standard of institutional accreditation. The happy reality is that most of the country is safe, including secondary and postsecondary educational institutions and their communities.

A third reason is the large number and variety of scholarship opportunities, now more than ever because of the detrimental impact of Covid-19 on enrollments, both domestic and international. Aid packages can include both self-help (employment) and gift aid (scholarships and grants) offered by the more selective institutions.

Studying in the U.S. is among the most expensive options in the world on paper but can be very affordable after discounts, need-based aid, and merit-based scholarships have been deducted from the official cost.

Finally, U.S. institutions are known for the quality of their student services, including academic and career advising. There are many enrichment opportunities and it’s up to students to be proactive and take advantage of them.

One caveat: studying in the U.S. is not for everyone. For example, if students don’t have the necessary qualifications to earn a scholarship to defray the overall cost, it may be too expensive.

If they’re looking for a seamless transition to the world of work either on a temporary or permanent basis, other countries have a clear and predictable pathway to accomplish this goal.

However, if students’ goal is long-term employment and, possibly more (permanent residency and citizenship), they still have the opportunity to work after they complete their degree for one to three years, depending upon their major, through the OPT program. Some international graduates are then able to shift to an H-1B (work) visa with the assistance of employers who are pleased with their performance and wish to retain them, to mention one possibility.

Carpe Diem

Students who decide the U.S. is for them should create a shortlist of "best fit" institutions to which they would like to apply based on accurate information, realistic expectations, and quality guidance that has their best interests at heart, be it from a consultant, an education agent, or other source of assistance. If they feel sufficiently confident and empowered, they should by all means apply on their own.

If the U.S. is not a good fit, for whatever reasons, then students should shift their focus to another country that welcomes Vietnamese and other international students. There is a world of overseas study opportunities from which to choose.

Ultimately, you, your host institution and country and Vietnam will benefit immeasurably from this life-changing experience.

*Mark A. Ashwill, Ph.D. is the managing director and co-founder of Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company established in 2009. From 2005-09, he served as a country director of the Institute of International Education-Vietnam.

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