If you are considering setting up a new school in Vietnam you certainly have a lot of things to consider. We have done this many times and in many unique locations.
We are here to help you along the way and have put together this quick summary to help you get started.
The market in Vietnam is very strong. A rising middle class and rapid overseas investment means that the demand is high from both local students and foreign families working in the new and emerging industries. GSE have extensive experience in the region and we have completed a number of projects including market research, feasibility studies, business planning and financial modelling.
Feasibility Study and Market Research for a New School
It is essential that the process of setting up a school begins with this important step. Most countries are unique, such as Vietnam, and making assumptions can be expensive and a comprehensive study will minimise risk and also maximise your chances of success. Even if it is already clear that the school will go ahead, this research will influence many decisions in the set up process including Vision/Mission, Financial Planning, Curriculum, Admissions and more. As Vietnam’s economy grows there is a demand for more international schooling options as the middle and upper class expands and disposable income becomes higher and higher.
Vision and Mission – “The Voice”
Although to some a school vision and mission may seem like an obligatory message on a feature wall, when you are setting up a new school these statements are invaluable. We prefer to describe this step as identifying the school’s unique “voice.” It is important that the school voice is clear and that all decisions about school design, curriculum, choice of staff and policies reflect a unique plan. Project forward to a time in 20 years when graduates return to the school and share stories of great times. How will they describe the school? What is unique about it? How will people distinguish your school from others? What are the “Signature Experiences”?
Financial Planning – The Business Plan for a New School
Both non-profit and for-profit schools need to have a comprehensive business plan that outlines a sound financial strategy both short and long term. We recommend a comprehensive 10-year plan with knowledge that it usually takes 3 – 5 years for a school to reach a sound financial position. Vietnam has unique characteristics in terms of legal authorities, governance and policy and there are risks associated with this. All these differences need to be taken into account.
Long-term planning is essential as it is easy for school leadership to become reactive and move attention away from the end goal. Schools are busy, complex and stressful places, but good management focuses on strategic planning at least 5-10 years in advance. It is also key to look in depth to the future as many new schools do not begin to make significant profit until after operational year 4.
Accreditation and Licensing
Local License: In most cases schools will require local licensing through an education ministry and the endorsement and support from several government departments. This is the case in Vietnam. It must be noted that there are different rules for local companies setting up a school vs a school that has foreign direct investments (FDI). Additional legal documents and certificates will be required to justify the (i) qualifications of the school’s management board, teachers (work permits/visas for foreign teachers); (ii) land ownership or premise rental agreement; (iii) funding proof; etc. There may also be paperwork requested by the Police Department for the boarding service of the school. At this time, no legal framework has been issued with regards to boarding schools though they exist in reality.
International Curriculum: Use of an international curriculum such as UK, US, or a framework such as International Baccalaureate (IB) will also require programmes meeting standards that will be checked and monitored by the Ministry of Education & Training (MOET) governing body. Most of these accreditations are best achieved by good education management principles and these begin right from the early planning stages.
School Accreditation: A school might choose to pursue external accreditation as a way to validate quality. There are many to choose from and in Vietnam a number of these are worth considering.
The key forms of accreditation can include:
- Local Education Ministry License (required)
- Curriculum accreditation eg. Cambridge, Oxford, EdExcel or others
- Partner standards and accreditation eg. an overseas school brand or other form
- International accreditation eg. WASC, CIS or others (3-4 years)
All schools are different and the school design will reflect both local needs as well as the nature of the curriculum and the school’s vision and mission. Before you begin working with an architect, you must first engage a school operator who understands the school curriculum and the key teaching and learning priorities. Gone are the days when architects line up boxes with a corridor down the middle. You also need to consider capacity, class sizes and future needs. These include both educational as well as business decisions. An educator must be part of this process. Vietnam has unique architecture that can be incorporated into any designs as a functional and marketing tool of the school.
So how to stand out from the crowd? To match what the other schools in the market are doing is one thing, however it’s worth considering strategies to excel or be unique in a particular area that no other school has adopted. One of these recommendations could be a unique STEM/STEAM LAB that could be placed on a platform and showcased as best practice to the consumer.
Like everywhere, Vietnam has its own construction standards, costs and processes. This specialist field requires experts to closely monitor. If construction costs blow out or there are time delays, it will cost you dearly. Employ a very good project manager with an attention to detail. Micro manage and follow project timeframes carefully.
We can recommend some excellent Architects, Engineers and Project Managers in Vietnam. Contact us for details.
There are important design considerations when decisions are being made about internal facilities, materials and resources. Upfront costs are a factor as well as maintenance and function. This is a chance for the educator and the architects to be creative and exploit different characteristics of a building. For example at a GSE school in Malaysia, Primary classrooms were 120m2+, incorporating a mezzanine floor and a slide.
Branding and Marketing
Schools, and what they offer are a very different “product/service” than you might expect. A parent and child is joining a community. You are not selling a car. How you brand and communicate your key messages must reflect a deep understanding of education and what Vietnamese families value, all within the local context. Study carefully and seek out expertise. It will make a big difference. We advocate strongly in the use of social media; the modern day “word of mouth.” In Vietnam there are cases whereby digital leads and in some cases offline strategies still has its advantages. TV adverts still hold a huge advantage in terms of reach to an audience in Vietnam, particularly to the local market.
Building a strong brand image in Vietnam includes aspects such as:
- A well regarded education management brand
- Overseas brands, pathways and study programmes
- A quality Principal with an excellent profile
- High quality native speaking English teachers
- Partnerships within the local community
Student Recruitment in Vietnam
The British Council sees Vietnam as a growth market in terms of recruiting students for their programmes through these 5 strategies:
- Focussing on Employability
- The Role of the Parents & their Key Concerns
- Promoting Institutional Rankings in Subject Areas
- K-12 Private Bilingual Schools
- Use a Different Marketing Strategy between Hanoi and HCMC
ICT is an expensive upfront investment and it is expensive to maintain. Get an expert involved. It will save you money by making good decisions right from the start.
Determining what you need and when you need it can be very difficult. Be careful also about the differences of opinion that may exist between your key staff. These decisions about what is needed and what is best use of money can be quite subjective. We suggest starting with a core list of resources and then expanding it based on need.
Any research will tell you that school management is the number one factor that will determine success in a school. It is essential that your leadership is underpinned by education expertise. Put in place a quality management team.
Admissions processes must be clear and have an educational rationale for placement. Your goals should be to accept children “whose needs you can satisfy.” Create admissions tests that are credible and use these as benchmarks for determining grade placement.
Your staffing plan will be determined when you create your financial plan. The ratios of staff to students as well as your support and administration staff must be calculated carefully. As the school grows these ratios will become more efficient so seek good advice in your planning process. There are many ways to recruit with varying costs but, as always, you will often get what you pay for. The best teachers work through the best channels. Also, be aware that as a new school you are marketing yourself to new staff also, not just students. Build a great website and promote yourself well to this audience also.
Also see our top tips for staff retention specific to schools.
In this initial planning phase you will not create a detailed curriculum but you must begin outlining the general curriculum plan. This will be different depending on your key priorities for pedagogy (how you teach) as well as your curriculum choice; be it British, American, Australian, IB or any other.
Standard school handbooks containing school policies can range from 20 pages to 100+. This comprehensive handbook takes time to produce but also must reflect local laws and government policies as well as the standards set by accreditations you have or are seeking. GSE builds handbooks, policies, procedures and systems for schools.
School Review Processes and Action Plans
To be the very best, a school must have review processes and internal standards by which it is measuring itself. A 10-year strategic plan must be broken down into an annual plan, term plans and, sometimes, weekly action plans to achieve key priorities. When a school owner does not have a strong education background, engaging an education management team will be important.
Training and Development
Employ great teachers but then train them. Respond to internal school review processes, academic data and feedback by adjusting practice. The most valuable resource within a school is its Human Resources and investment in this is important.
Timelines for Setting Up a New School
A tough question! Many and most of the above will happen concurrently. The accreditations may depend on each other as well as your recruitment of a strong team. The building process may take anywhere from 6 months to a year depending on the size and location of the construction and the length of time it takes to complete additional approval processes. If you are using an existing facility or refurbishing one, then that might be easier for you, but just like any renovation, you can run into problems. Plan for the process to take longer than you expect as you are depending on factors out of your control, such as government approvals or the weather.
Who is Global Services in Education (GSE)
Global Services in Education is a company led by education experts. They are proven education leaders who know how to set up and manage international schools. GSE can lead the project from the initial idea to set up and full management. Kindergarten, Primary, Middle and High School, Universities and Adult education.
“I love great food and I love beautiful restaurants but that doesn’t mean I should set up and operate a restaurant. Everyone has been to a school and many have sent their children to one but that does not mean they are fully qualified and have the skills to guarantee the school’s success. The key difference between a great school and a failing school is its educational leadership. GSE has developed a reputation for being an invaluable bridge between education and business, particularly in unique cultural contexts.” Greg Parry, CEO.
Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education 2015 and 2016. Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.
Check out his recent podcast