Vietnam: Degrees or Career Education?
In Vietnam, high school graduates are usually told to take part in entrance exams for university. Vietnamese society is obsessed with degrees and diplomas and people generally believe that entering a university is the best way to achieve professional success; not many parents want their children to have a vocational education.
High school graduates flock to universities, and after four years in đại học (university) or three years in cao đẳng (college), a new batch of university graduates joins the potential labour market.
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There is fierce competition among job candidates, but recent findings indicate that those with vocational qualifications are likely to find employment more easily than those with academic degrees.
According to a survey by the Ministry of Labour, the unemployment rate of degree-holders in the country was 8.1 percent in 2016, while that of candidates with vocational training was only 1.8 percent.
Among 1.1 million unemployed people in Vietnam, around 200,000 hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
Dang Quang Thien, 26, from the northern province of Ninh Binh, graduated from college two years ago, majoring in the food industry. After failing to find a job, he decided to buy a motorbike and become a GrabBike driver.
He is among many Vietnamese degree holders who have failed to find a job in their field and end up doing something that does not require academic qualifications.
Why Is it Happening?
The preference for qualifications over training probably dates back to the feudal era when a man’s greatest dream was to study and take part in exams to become an official in the imperial administration.
For centuries this was seen as the path towards success for a commoner; being an administrative official was the noblest status in society. That mindset is still very common today.
Many parents think that their children must pursue academia for them to be respected.
They are also afraid that becoming a blue collar worker means harder work and less pay.
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As a result, there was a boom in university education some years ago as many junior colleges were upgraded to university level. A series of both public and private universities opened up and increased their recruitment figures, exceeding the real demands of the job market. Higher education has become easier to achieve than ever before.
According to the Ministry of Education and Training’s 2016 statistics, Vietnam has more than 400 universities and colleges, three times the number recorded in 1987, and double the number from 2002.
Along with other temporary jobs that degree holders take after graduation, many choose to sign up for programs to work overseas, and Japan and Korea are the most favoured destinations.
A number of graduates decide to go to vocational training schools or enrol back in universities with a different major.
Nguyen Hoang Tuan graduated from the Business Administration Department of Long An Economics and Industry University in 2016. More than one year after graduation, he was unable to find a job. Tuan decided to attend the industrial electricity program at a local vocational school.
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“When I enrolled in business administration, I was following the lead of many friends, not pursuing my own dream. The more I learnt, the more I realised that it was not my thing.
“So I think that young people should choose to study something that suits their ability and what they really like, not what others like.”
Vietnam is in true need of skilled workers as the country lags well behind neighbouring countries in terms of labour productivity growth; the manufacturing sector, as it happens, has the lowest labour productivity growth.
Apart from the needs of society, on a practical level young people and their families will benefit from vocational training by saving the money they would have spent in expensive universities.
Mr. Nguyen Hoang Anh, the head teacher of Ho Chi Minh City-based iSpace Vocational College, said: “In a society where people are still obsessed with degrees, those who choose to attend vocational schools should be praised for their bravery.”
Vietnamese experts suggest that high schools and vocational schools should work together to provide advice to high school graduates about better career path choices.
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