International Student Mobility (ISM) has changed over the last ten years, notably the multi-direction instead of the traditional East-to-West movement, generating challenges and opportunities for both traditional and emerging players. For example, Viet Nam has experienced critically imbalanced inbound and outbound student mobility with the number of Vietnamese overseas students many times higher compared to that of foreign students studying in Viet Nam. This research aims at investigating the implication of imbalanced inbound and outbound student mobility to propose a strategic framework to retain and attract international student mobility for higher education in Viet Nam.

The multi-qualitative method is believed to be the most appropriate way to collect comprehensive data for the best possible outcomes of the research, using semi-structured interviews to explore in-depth knowledge at the industrial level. The pilot interview was first conducted with nine interviewees from the institution and agencies to define the research problem, followed by the contribution of the researcher’s own experience through student recruitment and the implementation of collaborative programs in Viet Nam. The main study was conducted with twenty interviewees, in which eleven interviewees represented universities from the North, Middle, and South of Viet Nam and nine educational agents represented the most population study destination for Vietnamese overseas students.

The research outcomes highlight that quality management and lack of graduate employability are the key issues of higher education in Viet Nam to retain and attract inbound and outbound students. Theoretically, the findings draw the pattern of imbalanced inbound and outbound student mobility, theorise the knowledge of brain circulation in Viet Nam, types of student mobility, and methodical design related to sampling and population on researching international student mobility in Viet Nam. Practically, data and quality management, continuing collaborative programs in different subjects and remote areas with quality purposes, the need for R&D to generate better strategies, and career orientation to enhance graduate employability are the focus for policy-makers and senior managers. Further research is recommended on exploring the experiences of foreign students in Viet Nam to improve inbound recruitment; career orientation for Vietnamese overseas students; and collaborative programs in unexplored subjects and geographic areas in Viet Nam.

Covid-19 has unexpectedly become part of this research, slightly amending the data collection method from face-to-face to online interviews; however, instead of appearing as a barrier, the situation contributes the new perspective of international student mobility to the outcome of this research.