The number of Vietnamese students attending international schools is set to rise after the government eased strict regulations on admissions. Under the new Decree 86, local children can make up to 50% of an international school’s student body. Previously, the percentages of Vietnamese primary and secondary students in international schools were limited to 10% and 20% respectively.
As well as giving more Vietnamese families an alternative to the local education system, the decree is expected to accelerate a growth in the number of international schools opening Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
According to global real estate provider Savills Vietnam,
“The limit on local students was previously a major barrier for foreign investment within the education sector, particularly in provinces outside Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which attract fewer expatriates, yet are home to wealthy Vietnamese willing to invest in their children’s education.”
The number of international schools in Vietnam has grown significantly in the past 10 years. Cognita opened the International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) and Saigon Pearl Primary School; Nord Anglia bought the British International School; and TPG acquired Vietnam Australia School (VAS).
Vietnam’s education system looks good on paper, and in the last international PISA assessments for maths and science, the country outperformed many developed countries including the US and the UK. The general feeling within the local community, though, is that local schools are failing to meet international standards.
According to Savills Vietnam, locally managed education is “recognised as one of the most poorly governed industries within Vietnam, with bribes for school entrances, examinations and good grades appearing across all school levels”. Consequently, several international schools have reportedly had long lists of local students waiting for spaces.
A UNESCO report showed that the number of Vietnamese students studying overseas schools has increased by 12% annually, from 50,000 in 2012 to 80,000 in 2016.
While some schools including the British International School, Ho Chi Minh City don’t anticipate the change to affect their enrolment, the decree is expected to affect the international schools sector as a whole.
Adrian Watts is head of school at the International School Ho Chi Minh City, which has an internal cap for nationalities.
“The change has had no impact on ISHCMC’s admissions policy. At ISHCMC we discussed the potential impact of Decree 86 with our owners, Cognita, and decided to maintain our student nationality ratios to ensure that ISHCMC remains a truly international school.
“Many other international schools have certainly made the most of the new decree and increased enrolment of Vietnamese students. The decree will certainly enable more Vietnamese families to send their children to international curriculum schools and I’m sure will encourage the growth of the international school market in Vietnam.”