ejournals – Mark A. Ashwill
Mark A. Ashwill is director of the Institute of International EducationVietnam. Address: Institute of International Education (IIE), C9-Giang Vo, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The longer version of the article (and Web-based resources) can be obtained by contacting the author.
Unscrupulous companies often make unsubstantiated and sometimes false claims about their products and tend to prefer uninformed consumers. Conversely, reputable ones provide accurate information and call on their customers to educate themselves about what they are selling—even encouraging them to engage in comparison shopping. In fact, one wellknown US discount clothing company has adopted this concept as its slogan: “An Educated Consumer Is Our Best Customer.”
Unfortunately, in the borderless world of international higher education, many institutions prefer that the whole truth not be known about the circumstances under which they were established and the nature and quality of the programs they offer. This goal is much easier to achieve once they begin operating in a foreign country. In a sense, these institutions are preying on “uneducated consumers” (students and parents) who yearn for the quality and prestige of a US education and degree at an affordable price.
Vietnam’s Higher Education Market
In Vietnam, the “education business” is booming, opportunities for expansion are vast, but reliable information and guidance are difficult to obtain. Demand for higher education is strong, and as the government has acknowledged, the current system is unable to meet it. According to a survey conducted by Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, the General Statistics Office, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, 90 percent of general students in Vietnam want to enter a university; in reality, only 10 percent fulfill their dream. In Vietnam, 30.7 percent of urban young people graduate from high school, while only 21.11 percent of their rural counterparts achieve that goal. Similarly, about 14 percent of urban youth graduate from university; that figure is 1.5 percent for rural areas.
Since the cost of higher education in the United States is prohibitive and there is no guarantee of obtaining a student visa, US degree programs offered in-country or through distance learning are attractive options for many students in Vietnam. Furthermore, because Vietnamese are brand name conscious, US institutions naturally have a competitive advantage in the higher education market. For many, “made in the USA” is synonymous with quality. Vietnamese universities, in turn, are actively seeking US and other foreign academic partners to develop these programs for the many tangible (e.g., quality academic programs, additional revenue, training future professors and researchers for the university) and intangible benefits (e.g., prestige, improved academic discourse) that accrue.
A growing number of US universities and colleges, most accredited but some not, are looking to Vietnam as a lucrative market for online and in-country education and training programs. Most of these institutions are well intentioned; their primary goal is to meet an urgent need and provide a quality education at the lowest possible cost.
Other US higher education institutions, however, see a golden opportunity to reap substantial profits from a market that has rosy long-term prospects. Those institutions are well aware that there are many parents who cannot afford to send their child for overseas study but can afford the price tag of an in-country degree program or would prefer that their child earn a foreign university degree at home. There are also many…