Is Vietnam on the brink of a post-Covid resurgence, and what role does education play in this pivotal moment? Dr. Andreas Stoffers offers actionable strategies to boost Vietnamese education, aligning it with heightened demand for skilled human resources.

Ancient Vietnamese aphorisms like “a knife must be sharpened to be sharp” and “if we want our children to be literate, we must love the teacher” embody a deeply ingrained spirit of diligence passed down through generations. In Vietnam, education takes precedence in every family’s daily concerns, as emphasized by Former Minister Phung Xuan Nha, who remarked at the 5th Vietnam International Scientific Conference on December 15, 2016 that “Vietnamese parents can sacrifice everything, sell all their real estate, fields and gardens to take care of their children’s studies and study abroad.” In the Vietnamese dream of becoming a dragon, investing in education is a fundamental and inevitable choice on the path toward prosperity. 

Education Quality is Associated with Economic Growth 

On a global scale, numerous studies have highlighted the correlation between education quality and economic growth, advocating for increased investment in education. However, education is a unique commodity with low price elasticity of demand, particularly evident in developing countries where families prioritize education spending even amidst rising costs. This poses the risk of excessive allocation of resources to education, potentially neglecting other essential needs like food, housing, and healthcare. Acknowledging the finite nature of resources, it’s imperative to recognize the significant opportunity cost associated with the commitment to education. 

Preparing Human Resources for the Post-Covid Era: Essential Considerations 

Situated at ASEAN’s core and pivotal trade junctions, Vietnam aims to become an industrial nation by 2045. This entails not just economic and technological prowess but also sustainable resource management. Achieving this involves creating a conducive trade environment, and shifting from labor-intensive to high-tech industries to escape the middle-income trap. In all these efforts, a first-class education must be considered the foundation.

Specifically, to reposition the country in the post-COVID era, prioritizing STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is crucial. Graduates must excel not only in theory but also in practical application, with a growing demand for internationally trained professionals adept at working in multicultural settings. The time when one could build a career in a large Vietnamese company without foreign experience is over; especially at senior and middle management levels, where Vietnamese professionals face increased competition from foreign counterparts. Simultaneously, Vietnam must combat brain drain, as many well-educated individuals leave for permanent opportunities abroad, despite their potential contributions to Vietnam’s development. As a result, we need more mechanisms to help young talents easily stay in their home country. 

However, international experiences still need to be seen as a positive factor. During the globalization process, Vietnam stands to benefit from the expertise of foreign professionals in academia, technology, and economics. This trend is evidenced by the growing number of foreigners, choosing Vietnam, particularly Ho Chi Minh City, as a preferred destination for living and working. Furthermore, the return of overseas Vietnamese to contribute to the country’s development underscores the significance of international exchanges in enhancing Vietnam’s education system. 

Returning to my initial premise, an education based on the spirit of studiousness remains indispensable. This entails fostering pride in one’s country and culture alongside a readiness for innovation. As Johan Norberg emphasizes in his bestselling book “Progress,” the world has witnessed significant positive development over the past two centuries, despite occasional setbacks. Today, Vietnamese people enjoy a higher quality of life compared to their war-affected ancestors, with education being the key to future development. 

Successes and Limitations of the Vietnamese Education System 

Numerous studies have examined the Vietnamese education system, highlighting both its strengths and weaknesses. In this article, the goal is to contribute an analysis from the perspective of the subjects involved in the educational process, including parents, learners, and educational and training institutions. 


Vietnamese parents prioritize their children’s education above all else, allocating a significant portion of their household expenditure to this endeavor. Data from the 2020 Population Living Standards Survey published by the General Statistics Office reveals that education expenses comprise over 20% of an individual’s total living costs, averaging about 7 million VND per year per household member. In addition, younger parents who have the opportunity to access technology and integrate into the world can comprehensively assess their children’s success and the effectiveness of education. 

Despite these positive shifts, a critical examination reveals lingering biases among Vietnamese parents. Specifically, in the way they look at education, paying more attention to the questions Where and Who (Where does the child learn? Who is the teacher?), rather than questioning How, What, and Why (How are the teaching and learning methods presented? What is the specific teaching content? Why should one learn those things?) 


From the learners’ perspective, recent years have witnessed notable progress in foreign language proficiency, particularly in urban centers. However, the biggest limitation of Vietnamese students still lies in their ability to make decisions. Many Vietnamese students struggle to answer crucial questions regarding their strengths, passions, market demands, and potential income in their career paths. Consequently, they face challenges in identifying the intersection of these factors to make informed choices about their educational and career trajectories. 

Educational and Training Establishments 

While evaluating Vietnam’s education system, Ms. Dominique Altner, Senior Program Expert at the UNESCO Institute for Educational Strategy, observed that the system has not only expanded in quantity but also improved in quality over the past five years, particularly at the general education level. The trend toward educational accreditation is gaining momentum, with an increasing number of institutions adhering to rigorous standards. 

At the higher education level, Vietnam boasts 237 institutions enrolling nearly 450,000 undergraduate students annually. However, the phenomenon of “bachelorization” in the labor market signals a shift from elite-focused to mass-focused university education. Yet, the neglect of vocational education coupled with students’ limited decision- making capabilities risks negative consequences. This includes the undervaluation of vocational education’s role and the mismatch between research -oriented and application-oriented universities, posing challenges for both students and institutions. The students lack sufficient information to determine which school they should attend for theoretical research versus applied industry work. 

Meanwhile, universities must grapple with dual challenges, including balancing short-term profitability with long-term research strategies and developing practical training programs aligned with industry demands. Allowing universities to focus resources on specific challenges is imperative to address these shortcomings. 

Amidst the rapid progress in the post-Covid era, addressing educational strengths and limitations requires a collective effort beyond individual stakeholders. Embracing the Triple Helix model—uniting the business, academic, and government sectors—holds promise in addressing these issues comprehensively. 

Proposals for the 21st-century Vietnamese Education System 

Since implementing the “Doi Moi” process, Vietnam has achieved spectacular economic development. In addition to improved economic institutions, this development is also due to the diligence of the Vietnamese people, rooted in traditional values that prioritize education. However, to thrive in an era marked by globalization and recurring crises like the Covid-19 pandemic, increased efforts are imperative. Central to this endeavor is the enhancement of human resources. Ten specific propositions for improving Vietnam’s education system are outlined below:

 1. Vietnam requires exceptional teachers and lecturers. Ensuring an attractive income for educators is vital. Encouraging industry experts to share knowledge with students is equally crucial. One potential incentive is to grant honorary professor titles to distinguished business experts. 

2. Building outstanding schools with sustainable financial resources is needed to establish a robust educational system. This requires substantial capital, with partial support from the state. Additionally, private and foreign educational institutions should be encouraged to participate and form strategic alliances. 

3. Vietnamese educational institutions and universities must strengthen cooperation with foreign partners and international funding programs. For example, the EU’s ERASMUS+ program offers funding opportunities for strategic partner – ships and capacity building. The DAAD, Germany’s academic exchange agency with branches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, can serve as a liaison with German universities. 

4. Clearly defining and offering both theoretical research and practical training orientations in higher education is necessary. While Vietnam should continue to invest in research-oriented universities, it should acknowledge that not all students seek deep research involvement. Many aspire to acquire advanced skills for practical work. The higher education system must cater to both aspirations simultaneously. 

5. For practice-oriented university training, lecturers with both academic and practical experience are essential. In Germany, professors and lecturers in Universities of Applied Sciences are required to have at least 5 years of professional experience, in addition to their doctoral education. They need to have spent time holding positions such as engineers in manufacturing companies or experts in banks before teaching students. 

6. Developing parallel vocational training programs is a promising possibility worth exploring. Students can sign work contracts with businesses during their studies, integrating work schedules with academic curricula. This approach facilitates direct practical application of theoretical learning and promotes the integration of industry insights into academic teaching. In this model, corporate social responsibility plays a very important role. There needs to be stronger steps to promote cooperation between the academic sector and the business sector. 

7. Alongside higher education, establishing a vocational training system aligned with global accreditation standards is essential. The economy requires not only scholars but also skilled technical experts. 

8. To leverage international expert- ise, Vietnam should offer attractive incentives for foreign lecturers. Currently, too few Vietnamese universities prioritize international orientation, resulting in limited foreign lecturer presence. 

9. There needs to be a mechanism to make employment opportunities in the education sector more attractive, perhaps through promotion opportunities or competitive salaries. This also applies to Vietnamese people who have studied abroad – they need attractive offers from the domestic education system. 

10. Vietnam should not give up an important value of the domestic education system, which is free access to educational services. It would be a shame for young people to face a mountain of debt after graduation, as often seen in America. To support living expenses for learners, scholarship programs from various sources, both private and public, should be encouraged. 

In conclusion, my optimism for Vietnam’s economic development is unwavering. Recognizing the pivotal role of human resources in this traject- ory, education policy must center on cultivating skilled individuals. With strategic investments in education, Vietnam is poised to harness its full potential and propel itself towards a future of prosperity and progress.

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