Vietnam: Many Talented Students, Little Scientific Progress?


When it comes to academic achievements, Vietnamese students have consistently proven their worth. Vietnam is the only low-income country that has performed at the same level as richer countries on international academic tests.

This has been proven in the past few editions of the International Olympiad. Last week, all six Vietnamese team members were awarded medals, including four golds, at the 2017 International Mathematical Olympiad in Brazil.

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Their combined score ranks the Vietnamese team third after South Korea and China.

The result marked Vietnam’s highest ever achievement at an IMO in its 43-year history of participating in the event, according to the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training.

Earlier this month, the Vietnamese team that participated in the 2017 International Chemistry Olympiad in Thailand also made history by winning three golds and one silver, ranking second overall just after the United States.

Their academic excellence brings joy and pride to the country, but at the same time raises a question: If Vietnam has such talented people, why has it not resulted in much scientific progress over the years?

Brain drain

Most Vietnamese students who excelled in academic tests and international competitions continued to shine in fundamental scientific sectors.

However, nearly all of them made it outside Vietnam. After finishing their studies in Vietnam, they chose to emigrate to pursue their scientific career.

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Of the five million Vietnamese living overseas, about 300,000 are directly involved in scientific and technological development, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

One explanation is that there is a big gap between the working conditions in Vietnam, and those of other countries which has resulted in push factors for these talents. It may be the main reason why Vietnam may have no shortage of talented people, but yet faces a problem with talent regeneration in fundamental science research.

Local media has reported that no outstanding scientific achievements have been made over the last 10-15 years in Vietnam.

Unattractive policies

The working conditions for Vietnamese scientists are not good given inadequate and outdated equipment and poor infrastructure. On the other hand, the income of scientists is low compared to other jobs.

The minimum wage for all employees working in public agencies, including scientists and researchers, is only around US$150.

It is estimated that a scientist holding an associate professor role and with a doctorate degree, with 20 years of experience in a Vietnamese research institute, earns a total income of only US$250 per month. The figure is even lower for newcomers.

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How can Vietnam attract and retain talents if the income of a scientist is even lower than that of a taxi driver?

Also, a limited scientific research budget deters talented people from bringing their ideas to reality.

Some cities and provinces have issued new policies to attract talents, such as Ho Chi Minh City which extracted budget to pay leading experts at four hi-tech and scientific parks US$6,600 per month each, starting from 2015.

Along with incentive policies to attract and retain talented people, investments could be made either via sponsors or grants for overseas training for exceptionally talented Vietnamese students who could then return with an advanced knowledge of research and development programmes which they can then transfer to this country, with reasonable remuneration of course.

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