Is it worth spending billions studying abroad only to earn peanuts?

By Fool   May 22, 2024 | 11:48 pm PT
Looking at families who send their children to study abroad, I wonder if they think it is a sound investment.

The families spent large amounts of money, likely more than VND1 billion ($39,300), just so that their children come back to a job making a few hundred U.S. dollars a month.

"If you can find a scholarship, full-funded or even partially funded, I could help with the remaining cost," I frequently tell my children.

"Studying abroad is not for everyone. If you are good enough to get a scholarship, it would be a good experience. If not, studying in Vietnam is fine. I did not study overseas, and I turned out just fine."

To me, studying abroad can be considered an investment for the future of finding a job or living abroad. If students, after finishing their studies overseas, return home, they may not even be able to compete with their counterparts studying domestically, who have a better understanding of the home environment. Such investments may be wasted.

Therefore, instead of studying abroad, I would rather invest money for my children to learn a new language, learning and acquiring professional licenses from organization such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Google, or Microsoft, which would have more direct contributions to my children’s professional advancements. I could also buy my children a car, let them travel abroad to expand their horizons, and many other things.

I know some families spend billions of Vietnamese dong for their children to study in Western countries. But after graduating, the children return home, find jobs, become public officials, and receive low salaries. These children could work their whole careers without being able to recoup their tuition fees.

For some families who own businesses and send their children abroad to groom future business owners, I can somewhat understand their intention.

These cases however just account for a small number of students returning home after studying abroad. These more affluent students, besides the academic knowledge they studied abroad, still need to learn business acumen for the Vietnamese market.

My advice to the younger generations is to stop this rosy picture of studying abroad. They look at affluent youngsters who post pictures on social media about their travels and luxury spending abroad, mostly sponsored by rich families.

Studying abroad does not automatically translate to a high income upon returning to Vietnam.

More and more Chinese university students are facing financial difficulties as their families cannot support them. Surveys by Beijing-based education advisory New Oriental Education and international research firm Kantar Group show that in 2023, over 27% of families with children studying abroad are facing financial difficulties due to the pandemic. This increased quite significantly from the 19% in 2022.

Vietnam is the Southeast Asian country with the highest number of students studying abroad. A recent survey showed that Vietnam had over 132,000 students pursuing tertiary education overseas in 2021-22, followed by Malaysia and Indonesia with about 56,000 students each.

However, the number of students choosing to return home after their studies is increasing. There are many reasons for this, with the most common one being the pressure for good jobs and high salaries abroad. This pressure is higher with students who went abroad in their late 20s, who typically find it harder to integrate into foreign societies.

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