Meet the new boss, similar to the old boss: new agent regulations unveiled in Vietnam

“It will take a while before the ‘Wild West’ becomes less wild”

Vietnam is a country in flux and the international education sector is no exception. In fact, it is a case study of changes and reforms. Mark Ashwill, the MD of Capstone Vietnam, looks at the current regulatory system for education agencies and what consultants must do to succeed in this exciting market.

Here’s how a typical scenario plays out: the government will attempt to address a concern or deficiency through a policy change. If the desired result is not achieved, or there are negative consequences, the policy will be rescinded and replaced by another. Such is the case with certification requirements for education agents. This reflects Vietnamese flexibility and the never-ending search for workable solutions to vexing problems.

Out with the Old and In with the New – After an interlude

In August 2016, I wrote about a policy that was implemented in 2014 in response to a decision on the Regulation of Overseas Study of Vietnamese Citizens, issued by the prime minister of Vietnam in January 2013. Of particular interest to education consulting companies was chapter three, entitled Management of Overseas Study Services. This section stipulated that education agents would henceforth need to meet certain requirements related to staff qualifications, official certification, and financial capacity “to ensure the settlement of risk cases.”

The stated purpose of these regulations was to raise the standards of practice and improve the quality of service by regulating educational consulting companies on some level. In a December 2014 article, I noted that as with all new approaches, it will take a while before the ‘Wild West’ becomes less wild, less greedy and more responsive to the needs and demands of its clients and higher education partners. This type of certification is a step in the right direction.

A Temporary Return to the Wild West

In July 2016, these certification requirements were abruptly discontinued, meaning that, for better or worse, even more companies could more easily enter what is already an extremely crowded and competitive market in Vietnam. Over the next year, millions of dollars of deposits at commercial banks were refunded to certified agencies and the regulatory clock was temporarily turned back to 2012 while the market continued to expand.

The New Regulations: Similar to but Different from the Old Ones

A new decree recently issued by the Vietnamese government includes a revised set of regulations. The two main provisions are that they are no longer required to deposit 500 million VND (approximately $22,000 at the current exchange rate) and, once again, advisers will be required to take a course and be certified by the education authorities.

The fact that 500 million VND deposits per office are no longer required will make it easier for new companies to enter the market. As with the original requirements, this process of training and certification, while lacking in many respects, is better than what was in place before, which was essentially nothing.

As always, it is up to colleagues to develop and apply their own set of screening criteria for agents and, after the agreement has been signed, to make sure their expectations and standards are met. Do not rely solely on external stamps of approval, all of which have their limitations.

Most importantly, make sure education agents are looking for “best fit” schools for their clients not pressuring them and their parents to choose your school simply because you pay them a commission. This is a fundamental flaw in commission-based recruitment that can only be addressed by developing a new model that creates a triple-win situation for students/parents, partner institutions, and agents.

In highly competitive markets such as Vietnam, educational institutions need to have a diversified long-term strategy that includes non-commission-based recruitment tools and techniques, both digital and traditional, in addition to developing a quality and ethical agent network.

Take responsibility for ensuring ethical recruitment, working with education agents should be just one of many tools in an institution’s recruitment toolbox. If it’s the only one, your recruitment efforts are doomed to fail.


Dr. Mark Ashwill can be reached at