Degree holders heading back to school

May 24, 2016 - 07:00

Tertiary education has seemingly become a popular path chosen by the majority of Vietnamese high school graduates, because in a degree-treasuring society like Việt Nam, most people believe that entering university is the best way to secure success.

A cooking class at Hoa Sữa Economic and Tourism Intermediate School in Hà Nội. Many holders of bachelor and masters degrees are heading to intermediate schools to study another major in the hope of more easily finding a job. – Photo
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — Tertiary education has seemingly become a popular path chosen by the majority of Vietnamese high school graduates, because in a degree-treasuring society like Việt Nam, most people believe that entering university is the best way to secure success.

Yet amid the new batch of graduates every year, there is fierce competition among job candidates. Those with bachelor degrees, or even master degrees are struggling to find jobs in their speciality. Many have decided to take a backward step by rushing back to intermediate school to study a different major.

In Việt Nam, post high school education is divided into three levels based on admission requirements, which are intermediate school (two years training), junior college (three years) and university (four or five years).

Nguyễn Đình Đức, 24, who holds a good bachelor degree from an economic university in Hà Nội, is now working as a xe ôm (motorbike-taxi driver) at Mỹ Đình Stadium.

After graduation, Đức was employed to work as an intern for a private company in Hà Nội. One year later, the company refused to sign a work contract with him citing a reduction in personnel. His later efforts to apply for jobs at other companies also failed. The jobs did not match what he had learned at university, not to mention the requirements of work experience.

He decided to quit the search for work and become a xe ôm, from which he can earn VNĐ5 million (US$223) per month, “enough to afford rent, food and tuition fees” he said, if he tightens his spending. In the evenings, he takes a Japanese course at an intermediate school and nurtures the dream of becoming a Japanese teacher.

Holding a masters degree in business administration from a commercial university in Hà Nội, Lương Thu Hoài, 28, is teaching economics at an intermediate school in the city.

However, the number of students has declined recently, not even enough for a single class, because the students prefer college or university. Teachers at intermediate schools can hardly live on their humble monthly earnings.

Hoài decided to start a course at the Hà Nội Medical and Pharmaceutical Intermediate School and switched to studying pharmacy. This is a completely different field from what she studied at university for four years.

Why this happening?

The most recent labour statistics provided by the General Statistics Office of Việt Nam showed that in the first quarter of this year, 192,500 holders of bachelor or higher degrees are unemployed. On average, one among five jobless people in Việt Nam have a bachelor or master degree.

Some years ago, there was a boom in university education as many junior colleges were upgraded to university level. Meanwhile, a series of universities have also increased their recruitment figures, exceeding the real demands of the job market. A university education has become easier to achieve than ever before.

According to the Ministry of Education and Training, Việt Nam currently has more than 400 universities and colleges, three times the number in 1987, and double the number of institutions in 2002.

The mushrooming of higher education led to an outflow of school students rushing to universities and colleges, leaving a more scattered number of students at intermediate and apprentice training schools.

Now, a completely upside down trend has emerged as a large number of graduates, who were trained to work as white-collar staff, now have to hide their degrees and switch to cooking, tourism, mechanics, pharmacy or even factory work.

Lê Hồng Khanh, deputy principal of Hà Nội Medical and Pharmaceutical Intermediate School, said that half of the students at his school have a bachelor degree in another field.

Most of them, some years ago, followed the trend to select “hot” majors such as economics, finance, banking or education. The economic recession led to staff reductions and stricter criteria for recruitment. Graduates lacking skills find it hard to meet the job market demands and are forced to turn to intermediate schools to change their majors.

Due to the high risk of unemployment, the number of bachelor holders turning to learn at intermediate schools is expected to increase, Khanh said, proposing that the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs should seek solutions to reduce the number of applicants for trendy fields each year.

Đặng Văn Sáng, principal of the HCM City-based Ánh Sáng Intermediate School, made a quick estimate of the total expense each bachelor has to bear during their four years at university. It amounted to roughly VNĐ100 million (US$4,460).

After four years at university, it is another big waste if they continue their learning in another major without having gained a job, he said.

Professional orientation

Central Nghệ An is one of the provinces struggling with a large number of unemployed graduates. According to the provincial Department of Education and Training, about 4,000 college graduates and over 3,000 holders of bachelor and masters degrees in the region are jobless.

Thái Huy Vinh, deputy director of the provincial Department of Education and Training said that “training congestion” (too many training institutes) has become a pressing issue for the whole society, like traffic jams during rush hour.

While “job congestion” has touched every family in Nghệ An Province, since the second semester of this school year, the provincial Department of Education and Training has focused on professional-oriented training so that students make the right choices in accordance with their own abilities, he said.

The attitudes of parents towards career selection have changed positively, with many reducing the pressure on their children to study what their parents want, he said.

As a result, in this exam season, 40 per cent of the province’s students will sit for the exam in July to gain a high school graduation certification, not a university admission. It means these students will not choose higher education, but turn to apprentice training institutions after high school.

The professional orientation model of Nghệ An Province might be a good example for other cities and provinces to follow to make major steps.

Vocational training has recently been promoted in large cities that have many people of working age.

According to Hà Nội’s Department of Education and Training, this year, more than 16,000 out of 76,000 examinees registered for high school graduation only, an increase of nearly 4,000 students compared to last year.

Ngô Văn Chất, head of the department’s Division of Testing and Education Quality Assurance, said that the increasing figure can be put down to various reasons, including the fact that students are now able to self evaluate their competence and find out whether they are eligible for university admission or not. — VNS