Forbes: Studying online - E-learning is creating initial hallmark in Vietnam

(Forbes Vietnam, 9/2014) Everyday, Nguyen Thanh Chung, 37 years old, Sale Vice Director of Cpharma Company (Hanoi) spends 30 minutes in average to access into online teaching system of TOPICA Edtech Group to answer questions of trainees in the courses for developing individual skill, basic marketing and marketing administration in which he is a lecturer.



Chung is not a lecturer under traditional style. TOPICA found Chung on LinkedIn in 2011. He mainly regulates the discussions of trainees through network and he rarely meets directly the trainees in the class. According to the regulation on remote training of the Ministry of Education and Training, the trainees of Chung do not have to participate in the entrance exam, they take learning documents through network but they have exams in the class under traditional style. Chung is one of over 1,000 “entrepreneurship instructors”, they are managers, experts from enterprises and organizations who participate in the teaching program for issuing bachelor degree on the basis of technology background of TOPICA. Chung said “TOPICA is like an industrial zone”, and the schools are like factories hiring land for production. TOPICA is also the place for finding customers and selling products of schools.”

Online education model which allows the trainees at any place, any time studying anything and studying the whole life is developing in Vietnam, as 30% population approaches the Internet and this rate is increasing rapidly. TOPICA is considered as the leading unit in providing online education platform in Vietnam. After six years of operation, the founder of TOPICA Pham Minh Tuan said that more than 1,600 graduated bachelor's degree, the graduation rate is about 64%.

Dr. Pham Minh Tuan, 39 years old, Founder & General Director of TOPICA realized the potential of online education in both development size and quality as he was Deputy Director of Hanoi Advanced School of Science and Technology (HAST) under Hanoi University of Science and Technology. He implemented the project for developing the platform and materials of online education in 64 provinces and cities, with sponsorship from Microsoft, Qualcomm, Hewlett Packard and USAID. He recalled: "The project was quite successful, billionaire Bill Gates and Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem visited." Then they organized the trial courses with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA). The professor gave lectures from USA, through network and offered lectures which were recorded in advance to 30 Vietnamese students studying in Hanoi, with two Vietnamese graduate students in USA as teaching assistants. The result was "unexpected": When having a exam with same questions as those of MIT students, Vietnamese students received more points A and A- (no A +, means excellence, as a person of MIT). Minh Tuan and his colleagues looked towards long-term development direction of online education programs of high quality. They established TOPICA in 2008 with 20 people in the project team, did everything which he called as "difficult and new".

"Many people mistakenly believe that it is only necessary to record the lectures of lecturer or digitalize the textbooks and upload to the network then it is possible to train online." - Pham Minh Tuan.

TOPICA “solves” one of the headaches of the people who want to invest into online training, it is to grant recognized degree to the trainees. They supply technology and support service for 5 schools namely National Economics University, Hanoi Open University, Thai Nguyen University, Tra Vinh University, Duy Tan University and AMA University (Philippines) deployed 5 study majors namely business administration, accounting, finance and banking, informatics, and law.  The degrees are issued by schools, the Ministry of Education and Training recognizes, and certifies for students of TOPICA. In addition to higher education sector, TOPICA has TOPMITO program which started from 2014 which they have right to organize the examination to issue CASEC international English certificate. In addition, the program for cultivating, founding of TOPICA, a branch operating in Vietnam of (Founder Institute) from Silicon valley, is having the third trainee generation.

Pham Minh Tuan refused to share to Forbes Vietnam the information relating to investors, invested amount up to now, revenue, number of trainees in each year, and profit. According to our study, they had first investment (series A) from IDG Ventures Vietnam IDGVV (it is also the place where the investor invests into Interaction Communications Company, in charge of business of Forbes Vietnam) and CyberAgent Ventures, but the invested amount is not disclosed. TOPICA at present has 400 employees, 1,100 lecturers and 100 collaborators. Those people “contributed to building an environment ‘if winning, being a king, if losing, being a knight’ in order to introduce the newest technology and method into application.” Mr Tuan said “There is a lecturer who is a bank leader, despite of being very busy, such person still spends 800 hours per year for teaching online, it means nearly three hours per day and answers thousands of questions of the students.”

Online education is becoming popular in the world because of the reasons: school fee increases, technology and labor market changes rapidly. According to the study of Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne under Oxford University in 9.2013, 47% employment in America will be automated in the next few decades, requiring individuals to continually improve capacity if they want to get a job. Online education can help the process of training and re-training more favorable due to the ability of scalization due to technological advantage, helping reduce school fees and increase the universalization.

According to Mr. Tuan, in the next 10 years, the majority of teaching and learning will happen through Internet, from university, secondary knowledge to skill, foreign language. “It is also like 10 years ago, we only read newspaper, used desk phone, listened to the music on CD disc and took photograph by film camera; therefore, it is very difficult to image that in one day, most people will read online newspaper, use mobile phone, listen to online music and take photography by smart phone and then post it on Facebook.” he said.

Many people believe so. It is considered as going behind the world about 5 - 10 years, online education market of Vietnam is being invested, exploited by some enterprises at segments such as issuance of bachelor degree, having private tuition, revision for exam, training of foreign languages, skill (see table). Jacob Stiglitz, co-founder of Rockit Online Center, commented that the market in Vietnam has “very great potential and demand”. Rockit Online called for nearly 500 thousand US dollars from investors for online learning models having interaction between learners and teachers. “It is true that this is the time for investment,” Stiglitz said. “Approaching to Internet, curiosity of everybody, interaction, inventions, initiatives and pioneers are favorable factors”. Introduced from 4.2014 up to now, nearly 2,000 people registered and 170 began the school term, in which 2/3 of them learned English, the remaining people learned mathematics, physics, chemistry and there are 45 part-time teachers. They put the objective of attracting 2,000 students to start the school term and 100 teachers in the next 1-2 years. “The interesting thing of online learning is that you do not need to go to a place to have good teacher or good student who wants to study. Everything is available through network.” co-founder, CEO Rockit Online Dao Thu Hien said additionally.

But online training does not mean that only recording the lecture of teacher or digitalizing the textbook and uploading on internet. Mr. Tuan said that up to now, TOPICA built 12 software systems and over 300 management processes, it not only includes classroom but also supports the trainees, checks, evaluates, prevents from giving up studies, takes care of lecturers, monitors the enrolment, manages the point and dossier. “They have system for reminding if the lecturer delays in answering the question or the trainees are not present fully,” Chung said. According to Mr. Tuan, the rate of students continuing to study at TOPICA after the first 12 months is 79%, it is at rather high level in comparison to the rate of online learning programs abroad. According to AskForEducation, the rate of leading online university programs in USA in 2012 was 14% to 93%. According to HR magazine in 8.2013, about 4% of registration people studying under education model of massive online open course (MOOC) studied to the end of course,) TOPICA also applies many new technologies into teaching such as 3D reproduction for subjects of microeconomics, corporate law, algorithm; lecture, discussion, test can be implemented on smart phone and tablet; and the lecture can be watched on television through Internet protocol (IPTV).

The competition among the service supply units is not the biggest challenge for service suppliers, they have to race to catch up with very quick change speed of technology. According to Mr. Tuan, “each 12 months, the mode of online marketing at present will be out of date, for each two years, the training content must be updated, and for each three years, entire training method must be upgraded comprehensively.” He said that the most violent competition is the stage of attracting talented people and the competition playground is Internet sector in general and online training sector in particular. Like traditional education, online education still needs the most important factor which is professional team but “there is still shortage of suitable talented people to develop the technologies and training programs of high quality.”

According to Dr. Pham Thi Ly, Director of Higher Education Evaluation and Research Center (Nguyen Tat Thanh University), the communication form using digital technology will have an important role for Vietnam in very near future, in which there are teaching and learning activities. “While Vietnam school moves too slowly because of many obstructions, digital education will fill up such hole.” But in fact, big investors in the world are also further looking for stable financial model for this type, Ms. Ly commented that some universities, especially in private area in Vietnam, use online education for reducing the cost but they are not actually successful.

“The investors do not care much about this model, it is partly due to not having many products persuading them that they will develop suddenly,” said Nguyen Thanh Minh, founder and CEO of DeltaViet Education Joint Stock Company, online learning foundation about skill for employees ( Developing under Edemy model (foundation and online learning market), up to now, kyna had 22 course, 11 lecturers, with school fee level of about 200 thousand - 300 thousand VND/course and up to now, there are 40 thousand people registering the learning, in which 12 thousand people paid money. “The issue is that learners want to learn but they are not ready to pay money for online learning.”

Vo Thanh Cong, who is developing many learning applications on Facebook said that, in Vietnam, there are not many people investing into online education field because “people are focusing on game and e-commerce, the fields having clearer money earning model.” Vietnam goes behind the world, while online education model in the world is still in creation and testing stages, thus there is no clear business model for copying such as Amazon, Groupon…

The necessary factors for successful online education is the model of combining good lecturer, lively lecture, good online interaction, trainee support, creation of driving force and regular checking and evaluation. The technology is changing education like publication and press. “Digital education in Vietnam will surely have quick development step because the market now is global market,” Dr. Ly said.


Looking through university model again

The business enterprises in the field of education are engaging in global competition, where there are entirely new models launched. Minerva University ( in San Francisco is in the form of combination, which uses online technology as an important platform to promote global education model and scalization. They enrolled 1 Vietnamese student in the first course consisting of 32 students, all of them were exempted school fee in the first 5 years and supported finance, the school year started in the beginning of September 2014.

With 25 million US dollars invested from Benchmark Capital Fund in 4.2012, Minerva said that their quality could compete with the best universities of Ivy League, but the price level was much lower, it was about 10 thousand US dollars/year in comparison to about 60 thousand US dollars/year, and the learning locations in the first time would be 7 cities all over the world. “Why do we have to invest into the infrastructure such as learning area, library, laboratory… while we can combine the best places in the world?” Kenn Ross, CEO in charge of Asia of Minerva University said to Forbes Vietnam. “The rate of learning for the first course of Minerva is 2.8%, it is the lowest in the history of American university.” Kenn believes that with online technology background, they can enroll “without quota”, with students all over the world thanks to the different selection process: not SAT point. “Everybody, including the government, needs to start thinking about the changes which may and should be created in the field of education.”


E-leaning in Vietnam



Programs/ Subjects


Grade 1 - 5

Achieved Sao Khue award in 2012, 2013.

A wide range of materials, subjects and grades

A social network shares studying materials, video with approximately 9mil members

Grade 4-12

Online interactive tutoring

A lot of grades

Online and offline learning, invested by IDGVV

Practicing for the Entrance exam into university

Developed by VNF and teachers, invested by VNG


1.9 mil members

Developing soft skills

Founded in 5.2013

Soft skills, English, Biz management, IT

Online and offline learning


Secondary, college and university level

For MobiFone’s member

(Viettel Telecom)

Luyện thi, học tiếng Anh, kỹ năng mềm, thư viện

Nhiều chương trình miễn phí

                                                                                                                                                               Source: Forbes