Institutions of higher learning hoping to bolster their numbers of international applicants likely already know the value of targeting quickly developing economies in Asia. Vietnam offers an excellent example of just such an opportunity.
A rising economic tide, present-day challenges in the country’s education systems, and a young population eager to secure greater opportunity all combine for a market that should prove readily accessible to ambitious institutions.
Here is a quick overview of the current educational climate in Vietnam, as well as a run-through of opportunities and tactics that might be used to make inroads with Vietnamese prospects.
Assessing Vietnam’s Value Proposition for International Student Recruitment
With over 96 million inhabitants, Vietnam ranks as the world’s 15th most populous country. Its citizens are rather young, too, with a median age of just 30.5, meaning there is a relatively large potential market of prospective students.
Economically, Vietnam is very much an up-and-comer. According to data from The World Bank, Vietnam’s GDP per capita is low, at around $2,170 as of 2016, but for years the country has consistently achieved a GDP growth rate of over 5 per cent. Statista notes in its report on Vietnam’s growth rate of real gross domestic product that these results should continue in the future, with growth rates in excess of 6 per cent each year through 2022.
Of perhaps greater interest is the rapid expansion in the number of middle-class and wealthy individuals in the country. In a 2016 report entitled Vietnam and Myanmar Continue to Advance, The Boston Consulting Group stated that it expects this number to top 33 million individuals by 2020, close to triple the 12 million that fell into this category in 2012.
On the level of education, it’s perhaps most accurate to say the country is aggressively pursuing reform in a bid to improve the quality available domestically, but that it still has something of a road ahead before this might be achieved. Today still, education within the country is trying to emerge from government restrictions that long prevented modernization and has led to a noticeable skills gap in the workforce. Lê Nguyễn Ngọc Thanh, recruitment business director of Adecco Vietnam, was quoted by the Viêt Nam News as saying “51 per cent of employers think even experienced candidates do not possess up-to-date knowledge and practical skills required to perform their roles.”
Concurrently, university graduates within the country face frustrating difficulty in finding employment commensurate with their skills and education. VietNamNet quotes data from Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs that found more than 190,000 university graduates were unemployed in Q1 2016.
Where are Vietnamese Students Studying?
For Vietnamese students who want to improve their skills – and perhaps set out on a path to greater employment opportunity abroad – the appeal of leaving the country to complete an education is clear. These ambitious individuals have typically gravitated to three primary destinations.
The United States holds top position, with approximately 19,000 of Vietnam’s outbound students electing to pursue their education in America as of 2015 according to UNESCO data on the global flow of tertiary-level students. Most of these are undergraduate students, many attend community colleges, and approximately 30 per cent of Vietnamese students in America elect to pursue a Business education.
Second on the list is Australia, a country which has long been a favourite of international students. Well-placed for Vietnamese students hoping for a good education close to home, World Education News + Reviews states in its Education in Vietnam report that Australia has seen a 75 per cent increase in incoming Vietnamese students between 2009 and 2015. This has led some schools to create special content and programs directed at students from Vietnam.
Example: The University of Melbourne hosts a page specific to Vietnamese students, offering them information about how they can enjoy direct entry by meeting certain criteria.
The other largest destination for Vietnamese students is Japan, which presents an interesting case. By official UNESCO statistics, Japan takes in a little over 10,000 Vietnamese students, so a bit more than half of the number that goes to the USA. The Japanese government, however, estimates that more than 50,000 Vietnamese students are in attendance, inclusive of non-university students.
Despite these three countries taking up the lion’s share of outgoing Vietnamese students, there are also plenty more that take in several thousand from the country each year: France, the UK, Korea, Canada, Finland, Germany, and several others, typically in Europe. There is a clear appetite for education in developed economies and established schooling systems among Vietnamese students, with plenty of opportunity for institutions located around the world to recruit students from Vietnam.
Digital Marketing Strategies for Recruiting Students From Vietnam
Vietnamese students are likely to rely on input from their families when deciding on a location for international studies, and this ought to be taken into account by schools developing plans to appeal to this market.
As a first, broad point, it means that Vietnamese-language marketing and recruitment materials will be good investments. Even if the Vietnamese students being courted for admission to the school are likely to have a decent level of comfort with English, it can’t be expected that their families will as well. The creation of Vietnamese content is therefore both a good way to engage with prospects on terms they will be comfortable with and a good way to clear a barrier to understanding for key influencers in their lives.
Example: This page from Study Australia offers Vietnamese students and families access to information in their own language, making it easier for them to explore options for higher education in Australia.
Engaging with students and families effectively could mean creating a microsite for Vietnamese students, offering a special page on your website with information in Vietnamese, or perhaps even having your entire website translated into the language, with an option to select it while browsing. These various options all carry different levels of expense and effort, so they should be undertaken in accordance with how important your recruitment team believes the Vietnamese market to be.
Something to consider when constructing information to deliver to Vietnamese students is the matter of finances. With most Vietnamese students either relying on family assistance to pay for school or paying their own ways, and recognizing the relatively low wage enjoyed by even middle-class individuals, it is important that any opportunities for financial aid are outlined clearly. This can be a good way to attract students who might have impeccable grades but lack the funds to attend your institution without assistance.
Example: Advertisement of scholarships and achievement awards for international students are prominently displayed on the University of Miami’s international students page. This kind of information will be relevant to and appreciated by many Vietnamese students.
It could also be worthwhile to highlight the potential for graduates to stay and build a career after graduation. This could mean referring to study and work visa information, occasions to attend career fairs or join alumni networks, and other such opportunities that would allow students to dip their toes into professional waters, or at least understand their potential pathway to residency or citizenship.
Example: The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto places the 3-year Canadian work permit available to all international MBA graduates at the centre of its recruitment strategy.
As mentioned before, business is one of the top areas of study for Vietnamese students, and this prospect is certain to appeal to them. As such, Rotman regularly attends recruitment events in the country and advertises them prominently on its website.
Choosing the Right Digital Marketing Channels for Vietnam
Vietnam’s digital media landscape is composed of an interesting mixture of standard web and social media tools and Vietnam-specific platforms that enjoy significant use. Additionally, the Vietnam E-commerce Index 2017 report by the Vietnam Ecommerce Association (via eMarketer) states that both social media and search platforms are near equally effective for digital marketing in the country. This means schools enjoy number of worthwhile digital marketing opportunities to consider when approaching international student recruitment in Vietnam.
Facebook is particularly strong in Vietnam, with 33.86 million people active on the network. Facebook’s Messenger messaging platform is quite popular as well, as is YouTube, with the citizens of Vietnam regularly turning to these platforms to consume and share news and other content.
The primary domestic player in the social space is a messaging app called Zalo, which is similar to Messenger and offers voice and video calls and multimedia messaging to users. According to a slideshare presentation by Q&Me Vietnam Market Research, one of the primary differences between the two is in the purposes for which the two apps tend to be used. “Zalo is used more for work and close communications, while FB is commonly used among friends,” the report says. This difference, combined with the fact that Zalo enjoys the most success among an 18-25 demographic, means Zalo could be worth investigating as an outreach tool for your recruitment campaigns.
The app also offers a few different advertising options. Of these, the best format for schools is probably “Website advertising”, which is used to direct traffic from app users through to an external website. Ads can be targeted by location, gender, age, and operating system, and is priced per ad click.
Example: This example from Zalo shows what the ad creation process looks like on the platform.
At the level of search engines, Google takes top position among Vietnamese users and a local alternative, Coc Coc, is in second place. According to Statcounter, they enjoy market shares of about 93 per cent and 3 per cent, respectively, but this doesn’t mean you should discount the potential value of Coc Coc. The company’s analytics and user data claim close to 24 million monthly users and 363 million monthly search queries, and reduced international competition for ad space could make this smaller search engine one that can deliver a significant return on investment for ad dollars.
One of the other big advantages of Coc Coc advertising is that ads can enjoy remarkable prominence. Banner ads, search ads, icon ads at the bottom of pages, and video banners all enjoy a place in the Coc Coc advertising ecosystem, which means there is some good variety available to schools with multimedia advertising capability. Better still, browser homepage advertising options mean ads can be delivered to users even before they enter a query, which is quite the advantage for schools hoping to appeal to as many Vietnamese prospects as possible. Depending on the ad format selected, pricing may be per click or per 1,000 impressions.
Example: These examples from Coc Coc offer an idea of where and how advertising can appear to users. Note the browser homepage ad on the left, which is an opportunity you don’t find with Google.
Finally, it’s worth taking stock of the distribution of Vietnamese internet users across mobile and desktop/tablet devices. According to Statista, approximately 55 per cent of Vietnamese internet users accessed the internet predominately via mobile, compared to just 14 per cent who were predominately using their desktop or tablet. About 30 per cent were equally likely to use both device types. There are about 50 million internet users within the country as of 2017.
Cumulatively, all of this data suggests that digital marketing strategies for Vietnam will do best to consider both search advertising and social media, and that mobile should get the edge in targeting (though desktop should not be ignored completely if possible). As for the particular platforms to target, globally popular sites like Facebook and Google will serve you well, but you may also see some strategic advantage in exploring local alternatives like Zalo and Coc Coc if your institution has the resources and wants to make the Vietnamese market one of your main focuses.
Whatever approach is employed, there’s a great chance at enjoying traction by targeting the Vietnamese market. With the country’s economy on the rise and its population young and eager for better education and prospects, there’s a great opportunity now for schools to get a good ROI by communicating the ways their offerings can transform students’ lives. If you’re looking to diversify your international student recruitment efforts into new markets, Vietnam is certainly worthy of exploration.