Demystifying the typical RMIT Vietnam student identity

By Huynh Ngoc Tan

First and foremost, it’s important for readers to know about the writer upon reading this. I am a 28 year old male professional who has been working in the Information System Industry for 10 years. I went straight to professional work after finishing my Le Hong Phong high school in 2002 without going to any higher educational institution inbetween. In February 2012, with all the conditions ripe, I enrolled in RMIT Vietnam, Saigon South Campus for a Bachelor of Information System (BIS) Degree. It was a logical choice of mine as the combination of RMIT Vietnam SSC and the BIS degree is a suitable solution for my both goal and problem: Getting a bachelor degree in order to be ready for graduate study while still allowing me time and opportunity to maintain my professional career and income. My real passion which I have discovered through my 10 years of work, ironically, lies in sociopolitical science research and the RMIT environment turns out to be a gold mine of raw material for such practicing. So instead of seeing through the completion of the degree quietly as my initial intention, I’ve decided to go all-in. So far I’ve become VP of BIS Group and joined SSCC with the hope to enrich my fellow students experience with my rich background while trying to maintain meaningful conversation with lecturers in my program department.

Such deep involvements combined with my personal background have given me some insights so far in term of a SWOT analysis. There are both issues and potentials and while the potentials are easy to acknowledge, the issues are sometime delicately imperceptible. A common and frequent complaint is about the quality of students. Student quality control is a huge subject and therefore has numerous causalities and expectation management between students and school is one of them. There won’t be a universal solution or state of balance for this issue, as the relationship between student’s expectation and school’s expectation has an endogeneity nature. However, is it possible to have a dominant equilibrium solution for this matter? Should the school uphold the integrity and quality standard defined? And at what magnitude could it be? As any professional would do, I speculate joining RMIT Vietnam as an investment decision especially with a large amount of money and 4 years of my life, thus find myself in a strong urge to step up and defend my investment by ensuring the quality and recognition of the reward which I will earn is upheld with integrity.

This empirically written article will be my first attempt to identify (or demystify to some extent) a conventional RMIT Vietnam student identity – finding the answer for a simple yet important question: Who are they?

RMIT International University Viet Nam (RMIT), being one of the few higher educational institutions in Viet Nam, is in a unique position with many distinctive characteristics. There is no doubt that RMIT possesses the best of breed academic facilities with a campus environment on par with international institutions. The tuition fee is considered to be quite high compared to other local institutions. Given the facts that student loans are not very common in Vietnam and the orthodox Vietnamese practice of parents covering the college tuition fees, it is safe to say that the majority of students who enroll into a 3 or 4 years program in RMIT are from families of wealthy nature although the magnitude of which could be a debatable subject. There are some exceptions such as professional workers who support the university tuition fees by themselves, which, however, are heterogeneities.

So one might wonder what the characteristics of a typical RMIT student are. Although it’s impossible to build a homogeneous RMIT student profile, through observation and derivation, certain assumptions can be made and in some cases, it can be seen how conjecturally wrong and prejudiced they could have been. Since we did talk about wealth just earlier, it is essential to reevaluate the wealthiness of the students’ families to gain a throughout understanding.

The Vietnamese K-12 education system – with its focus on theories and a stressful examination system – is differentiated in certain aspects of learning from a more ‘Western’ style of university learning. Additionally, the fact that Vietnam is a developing country and students’ personal interests and curiosities of the outside world have converged have often resulted in a strong professional and sentimental preference upon studying abroad by both students and families. RMIT is also affected by this bias despite its status as an international university. So what are the reasons that keep them from proceeding?There could be many but apparently financial capability, or wealthiness, reigns as the top. While some foreign institutions in developed countries are able to offer University programs with approximately the same cost as RMIT, students and families will have to spend a huge amount for accommodation annually. With RMIT, the combined amount is lower by leveraging the local status, hence emerges an affordable solution. There are always exceptions such as students who don’t want to live away from families or families that don’t want to send their kids abroad but in general, the myth of RMIT students coming from wealthy families are partially lifted – at least we know it’s not entirely true.

Another common speculation of which RMIT students are often associated with is that because they are not able to compete with other Vietnamese for the 4-year universities in the annual national University Entrance Examination (UEE) – which are regulated by the government – they join RMIT instead. Therefore, there is a generalization of RMIT students being “Rich kids with low academic skills”. What is more surprising is that such a belief is shared by students and staff.  The speculation is indeed true in its nature: Not all RMIT students (new and current) are able to score high enough in the UEE to gain entrance to popular (or at all of the) Vietnamese Universities. But, is passing the UEE a correct indicator of ability and intelligence or a blueprint for success? It’s often not. K-12 students stuff themselves with theoretical memory in multiple unrelated subjects in a short and stressful period of time for the UEE and then often throw them away upon completion. I’ve witnessed countless people who failed the UEE but became successful in life and are extremely academically knowledgeable: Businessmen/women, researchers, start-up owners, writers, artists, etc. On the contrary, many traditional universities’ students are not able to meet the workforce requirements upon graduation. Hence, making judgments and drawing conclusions from this fact alone is a prematurely misinformed speculation. The raw materials are basically the same.

In a further comparison, the western education system which RMIT is a part of is fundamentally different: The belief that every student (or individual) is unique and such a philosophy is reflected in RMIT admission requirements. The wealth factor is still in place however gaining direct entrance into RMIT directly is not by any mean unchallenging especially with the high English requirement.

The fact that majority of higher education students in RMIT have undergone the English courses speaks for itself. These are the tremendous dedications, patience and commitments of which students have shown. Another strong manifestation of commitment is the financial requirement mentioned above which is higher than many of its peers in Viet Nam. Hence there is an agreeable conclusion in that a typical RMIT student is aware of being educated and is ready to commit efforts and resources in the academic development progress. This thwarts the above speculations of a typical RMIT student as wealthy and academically less successful and provides a bird’s eyes overview of a conventional RMIT student identity.

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5 responses to “Demystifying the typical RMIT Vietnam student identity”

  1. Magee says :

    Thanks, your article was very interesting and gave me some food for thought, it is easy to generalize in cross cultural situations and I think both students and teachers have been guilty of that. I wonder how accurate the student perceptions of staff are… I also wonder about the stereotypes about Korean students – do they all really live in Phu My Hung with their parents?

    I am also interested in the nature of this particular generation in Vietnam and how they perceive gender roles and differences…. Do you fancy writing another article?

    To offer a compliment, your writing is very eloquent – in fact I had to look up a few words!

    Thanks again

  2. huynhngoct says :

    Hi Magee,

    Sorry for the late response, I’ve been running wildly last couple days.

    It’s hard to really “demystify” the whole thing in a few thousand words as the subject is vast. I don’t know much about the Korean students. I tend to believe that they (the Korean students) are keeping themselves in their own group the way we’re keeping ourselves. There might be individual collaboration here and there but I think it is natural that there is a seperation. After all these are the two not-really-open culture we’re talking about. Also I think the Korean students are sort of in a “stuck” status as most are here because their parents are working as expatriate in Vietnam and they have to follow but I am curious to see if the “wealth analysis” did apply to them. Korean family tend to concentrate into 2 major areas in Saigon that is Phu My Hung area (mostly in Sky Garden and Hung Vuong) and another small area near the Tan Son Nhat airport. There’re also some minor spots around the different industrial parks near by Saigon.

    On the gender roles, I am hardly an expert as my view are somewhat unorthodox however I can safely say on an Academic perspective (in RMIT or in other University), they are more or less equal.

    Thank you for your comment Magee, I’m glad someone actually read this :).

  3. MarkHersh says :

    Good article. I especially like the point that entrance exam scores don’t necessarily determine the quality of the student. I’ve known a lot of people from the U.S. who when they were high school students didn’t study that hard. Hence, they didn’t do well on their entrance exam tests. But they went on to be very good college students simply because for the first time they really found school interesting. It sounds like that is true in Vietnam as well.

  4. huynhngoct says :

    Thank you Mark Hersh.

    I also thoroughly enjoy your article about critical thinking and the classic mistake.

  5. Huy says :

    “But, is passing the UEE a correct indicator of ability and intelligence or a blueprint for success? It’s often not.”

    “…countless people who failed the UEE but became successful in life and are extremely academically knowledgeable”

    Hey, I love this! Actually, I have to admitted that I failed that exam 😀 However, I found myself failing that exam not because I’m lazy, stupid or mentally disable, but because, well, the way it tested my knowledge doesn’t fit the way I were “eating” knowledge at that time, up till now.

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