Shifting focus: Vietnamese students & overseas study destinations

“The story of student visa issuances in Viet Nam has been one of a pretty consistent upward trend”

There is never a dull moment in the dynamic Southeast Asian country of Viet Nam, including among its overseas-bound students.  While overall interest in study in the US remains strong, there is also ample evidence of a shift to other countries, including Canada.

According to the July 2018 SEVIS by the Numbers update, Viet Nam slipped to sixth place among sending countries, displaced by Canada, albeit by a statistically insignificant 338 students. In fact, nearly all of the top 10 places of origin experienced double or single-digit decreases, ranging from -11% for China, -10% for Japan and Saudi Arabia to -9% for South Korea and -7% for Taiwan.  The only exception was Brazil, whose numbers increased by a paltry 1%.

Given the recent jump in Vietnamese enrollments in Canada to nearly 15,000 in 2017, a record 89% increase in one year, it’s not a leap to conclude that it was Vietnamese students who pushed Viet Nam down one notch on the top 10 list.

Keeping in mind that these statistics reflect a dip in enrollments associated with yet another academic year drawing to a close, Viet Nam currently has 27,657 students studying at all levels in the US, a 9% decrease from December 2017, when the total number was 30,389.

Overall, Vietnamese interest in study in the US remains strong.  Primary, secondary, and postsecondary students from Viet Nam comprise 2.47% of total international enrollment in the US.  In September 2015, that percentage was 1.08%.

Secondary Schools and ESL Market Segments

As of December 2017, there were 4,129 Vietnamese students enrolled in boarding and day schools in the US or 13.2% of the overall enrollment.  By June 2018, that number had plummeted to 2,873 (10.4%), mainly the result of graduation.  I expect to see most of those graduates at US colleges and universities come this fall and the percentage of Vietnamese attending US high schools back in the 13% range for the 2018/19 school year.

“Overall, Vietnamese interest in study in the US remains strong”

It’s worth noting that a significant number of young Vietnamese who are enrolled in dual enrollment high school completion programs at Washington state community colleges that enable them to kill two academic birds with one stone, a high school diploma and a two-year degree, are counted in the higher education figures.

A continuing trend in “language training”, i.e., ESL programs, is the steady decline of Vietnamese students because of rising levels of English proficiency in Vietnam, attributable to growing ability to pay for proprietary programs and private tutoring, as well as the increasing quality of many high school programs.  In November 2016, there were 3,054 (10.1%) Vietnamese studying ESL in the US.  By December 2017, that number had decreased to 2,681 (8.5%).  As of June 2018, it stood at 1,858 (6.7%).

Enrollments in community colleges vs. four-year institutions are at 30.6% and 34%, a slight widening of the gap from last December.  The reasons for this gradual shift have to do with the dynamics of a maturing market.  There are more four-year institutions actively recruiting in Viet Nam and offering degree programs at a lower price point than in the past, with or without scholarships, which means more choices for students and parents.

Just the (Visa) Facts

The story of student visa issuances in Viet Nam has been one of a pretty consistent upward trend – with a few aberrations along the way – starting with 886 in FY99 and rising to 17,032 in FY17.

A look at the F-1 issuances to date in FY18, i.e., from October 2017 to June 2018, and extrapolating from those issued from July-September 2017, however, reveals that the US Mission in Viet Nam is on track to issue fewer student visas unless the numbers this summer significantly exceed those of the summer of 2017.

While there are the usual issues of a high denial rate resulting from unqualified applicants and consular officer mistakes, that would likely signal a continuing shift of Vietnamese students to other overseas study destinations, first and foremost, Canada.

Looking ahead, will the overall numbers for Viet Nam rebound in the 2018/19 academic year, remain stagnant, or decline?  The proof will be in the F-1 statistical pudding as the peak visa season winds down next month.

Mark A. Ashwill is an international educator who has been living and working in Viet Nam since 2005.  He was country director of the Institute of International Education in Vietnam from 2005 to 2009.  Ashwill is the co-founder and managing director of Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Viet Nam.  He blogs at An International Educator in Vietnam.