Vietnam's affordable education increasingly attracts foreign students

By Le Thu   November 19, 2022 | 04:00 pm PT
South Korean Choi Woo Jae, 23, is studying in Hanoi because he feels he will have excellent career options after graduation.

The Gyeonggi-do Province native is in his third year of Vietnamese studies at Hanoi University.

He excels in a number of subjects, scoring 9.4 points in Vietnamese and 9.7 in economics.

He plans to work in Vietnam for a well-known Korean company as an interpreter or office worker after graduating.

According to the Ministry of Education and Training’s international cooperation department, Choi is one of over 45,000 foreign students from 102 nations and territories who came to Vietnam to study at 155 educational institutions between 2016 and 2021.

Around 3,000 came to Hanoi University from 46 countries for undergraduate, graduate and short-term training programs.

Under various international treaties the Vietnamese government provided scholarships to 26.6% of foreign students.

On average, 4,000-6,000 come each year though the numbers were impacted in the last two years by Covid.

There were 16,000 international students in Vietnam last year, with over 80% of them coming from Laos and Cambodia.

As Vietnam’s economic ties with countries like South Korea, China, France, and Japan grow stronger, the number of students coming from there is rising steadily.

International students celebrate Lunar New Year at Hanoi University of Science and Technology in Janurary 2021. Photo courtesy of the university

International students celebrate Lunar New Year at Hanoi University of Science and Technology in January 2021. Photo courtesy of the university

Choi says he could explore a new culture and practice living independently by studying in Vietnam.

Besides, it is extremely difficult for students in South Korea not graduating from a prominent university to find work after graduation, he says.

So he intends to stay in Hanoi and work for a long time before buying a home and inviting his parents to live in Vietnam.

Foreign students in Vietnam primarily take short courses with those pursuing master's degrees and doctorates being somewhat rare.

Foreign doctoral students are mostly from Laos and Cambodia with a few from China, South Korea and Japan focusing on Vietnamese studies.

According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Trinh Cam Lan, dean of the linguistics faculty at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, foreign students opt for Vietnamese studies, language and literature and the culture of ethnic minorities.

But Vietnam is gradually drawing international students to study engineering and economics, mostly on a short-term, one-year basis and without degrees being awarded.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Phong Dien, vice principal of the Hanoi University of Science and Technology, says most foreign students come on a short-term exchange basis to study engineering.

The university has an internationalization plan that focuses on student exchange programs with foreign schools, he says.

He believes two criteria are essential for attracting overseas students: competitive tuition prices and institutions’ rankings.

If they do not get a scholarship, overseas students have to pay 1.5 times the tuition Vietnamese pay, a "budget-friendly" system in comparison to other countries, he says.

His school is refurbishing dormitories to accommodate international students, he adds.

A survey of 1,000 international students in Vietnam done by the Department of International Cooperation in 2021 found that most of them are happy with the living arrangements, facilities and attention from professors.

Choi says he would have a tuition of VND100 million ($4,041) a year if he studies back home, while in Vietnam it is around VND50.5 million.

He only needs VND7-8 million a month on living expenses while that could range between 800,000 and 1,000,000 won ($604-755) in South Korea.

Three Vietnamese schools have made it into the Quacquarelli Symonds rankings of top 1,000 universities for 2023.

Duy Tan University in Da Nang City and Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are in the 801-1,000 band in the rankings compiled by the British firm specializing in overseas education.

This year's rankings feature over 1,400 universities from around the world, QS’s biggest undertaking yet.

HCMC's Ton Duc Thang University is in the 1,001-1,200 band, the same as in the previous two years.

The Hanoi University of Science and Technology is in the 1,201-1,400 group.

It ranks first in Vietnam in engineering and technology and 360th in the world, making it attractive to international students.

Dr Nguyen Dinh Duc, director of the undergraduate and postgraduate academic affairs department at the Vietnam National University-Hanoi, which has students from 74 countries and territories, says: "The school's ranking is improving and its degrees are getting more and more valued."

Students are normally interested in the rankings of fields and disciplines in addition to the overall ranking of a school, he explains.

In 2022 Vietnam National University-Hanoi is ranked 386th in engineering and technology, 401–450 in natural sciences, 451–500 in social sciences, and 451–500 in social science & management.

Tuitions for foreign students at the institution cost VND50-100 million a year.

"This is a low in comparison with the rest of the world," Duc says.

He stresses the importance of having a lot of teaching programs in other languages, especially English, if schools want to get students from other countries.

Some major universities in Vietnam are currently focusing on expanding their foreign language instruction programs. At the International School of Vietnam National University -Hanoi, 100% of programs can be learned in English.

The Hanoi University of Science and Technology offers 15 degrees completely in English, including mechanical engineering, automotive engineering, materials science and engineering, automation engineering, and electronics and telecommunications engineering.

It also offers five Vietnamese language training programs to help students improve their foreign language skills alongside French and Japanese.

Economics, marketing, business administration, accounting, finance, and banking are among the 13 majors taught in foreign languages at the Foreign Trade University.

Dien says when international students come to his school from abroad, it boosts its influence and brand, important for global integration.

Dr Nguyen Ngoc Tan, head of the international cooperation department of Hanoi University, says the presence of over 3,000 students from 46 countries helps enhance the school’s prestige besides bringing financial benefit.

International students account for 5% of the total number and 8–10% of the school’s revenues.

"It's clear that a source of revenue like this is important for schools with financial autonomy," Tan adds.

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