Dean Forbes


Oxford Analytica Daily Brief

Published version 14 November 2014

Daily Brief articles do not include the author’s name, and are paywall protected.

Professor Dean Forbes

Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor

School of International Studies, Flinders University

The Vietnamese Government has moved to improve its human capital and build its knowledge economy. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has set out planned measures to support scientific expertise in Decree No. 87/2014/ND-CP which came into force on 10 November 2014. The Decree will provide support for Vietnamese and foreign experts to come to Vietnam, or for those already working or studying in the country, to remain in Vietnam.

It follows on a new clause on the international integration of science and technology and the need to attract overseas Vietnamese talent included in revisions to the Law on Science and Technology and proclaimed in January 2014.

The focus of the Decree is strengthening science and technology and expanding research capabilities, including the development of patents and innovation such as the creation of new seed varieties. Those targeted will include scientists judged to be undertaking ground-breaking research, or those with potential, including researchers with doctorates and three years experience in prestigious academic and research institutions.

The Government measures include making available multiple entry visas and temporary residence cards. The wages of those employed under the program will be judged according to the priority level of the science and technology, the nature, scale and importance of the work, and the qualifications, abilities and effectiveness of the individual.

Tax incentives will be provided and the ability to transfer lawful earnings abroad will be protected. Support will also be allocated for family members, including spouses, parents and children under the age of 18. Assistance will help scientists to find jobs, and get suitable accommodation. Vietnamese abroad, and foreign experts are both targeted.

The Vietnamese Government sent a delegation to China in late 2013 to investigate China’s Plan 111, introduced in 2006 to lure expertise back to China and address innovation in colleges and universities. The delegation told Chinese counterparts that the main strategies in Plan 111 could be applicable to Vietnam. Vietnam’s initiative also has parallels with policies introduced in both Malaysia and Singapore to attract back home expatriate researchers and scientists. In each case strategies have included recognition that parallel reforms are needed in tertiary education and in research.

Vietnamese families value education, teachers are respected, and Vietnamese students do outstandingly well in the global PISA assessments. In the 2012 PISA tests Vietnam ranked 17th globally in Mathematics, 8th in Science, and 19th in Reading.  By comparison, Indonesia’s comparable rankings were 64th, 64th and 60th, and Malaysia’s 52nd 53rd and 59th in the three disciplines.

However, Vietnam has been less successful in its delivery of modern tertiary education. The key motivation for the new policy is long-standing weaknesses in the higher levels of the Vietnamese education system, and particularly in the universities. The education provided is insufficiently tuned to the needs of a market economy.

Teachers in universities are poorly paid, and not well credentialed. Only 14% of instructors in universities had doctorates, and 46% Masters degrees. Universities try to retain their best graduates as teachers, but the lack of openness and mobility in the process is a negative, undermining the flow of ideas and competitiveness that is associated with a mobile workforce.

Vietnamese university students have poorly developed soft skills, inadequate understanding of current technology, and insufficient opportunities for work-integrated learning. Vietnam has lagged in providing students with advanced English language skills. As a consequence, they lack sufficient flexibility or adaptability to the work environment. The Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs estimates only around 10% of graduates go into jobs suited to their qualifications. According to the ILO, around 162,000 university graduates are unemployed.

There is an imbalance in the distribution of Vietnamese doctoral students. UNESCO noted that Vietnamese universities had just 4,000 enrolled in doctorates in 2013, whereas there were 3,400 Vietnamese doctoral students outside of Vietnam. The Decree is targeted in part at facilitating the return of the Vietnamese enrolled in overseas doctorates.

Vietnam has a large number of public universities, totaling 187. By comparison, Indonesia, though approaching triple the size of Vietnam, has just 83, and Malaysia, one third the size, just 20. Consolidation is needed to create stronger public universities.

Private universities are significantly less important in Vietnam, enrolling just 15% of higher education students. By comparison, private higher education in Indonesia accounts for 62% of students, and 43% in Malaysia. A number are foreign university branch campuses. These include Australia’s RMIT University Vietnam, which has campuses in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

The government of Vietnam recently gave in-principle approval to the establishment of Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV). It will be based on the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program, which commenced in Ho Chi Minh City in 1994. The proposal was mentioned in the Joint Statement of US President Barack Obama and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang in July 2013.

Concerns about the variable quality of education and the rigour of learning provided by foreign institutions have meant that some have recently departed, in some cases selling campuses to locals. Overall there has been a slowdown in the growth of students in private institutions. The Government instituted a crackdown handing fines to institutions offering unlicensed courses. Decree 73 in 2012 established a new set of common standards and a minimum rate of investment per student.

Funding is an issue, with Vietnam’s public universities allocated a much smaller share of overall public funding than those in Indonesia. The Soviet model in which university teaching and research are in separate institutions is also a problem. Universities are bogged down by excessive red tape, yet reform has been slow. The Prime Minister has been critical of Vietnam’s slowness in increasing the autonomy of higher education institutions.

Other Southeast Asian countries are having success with strategies to attract back high performing scientists and technological innovators. Singapore is the standout, in part due to the resources it has been investing in universities and research. The generosity of the Vietnamese funding for the scheme will be important, along with the opportunities it opens for a real and open engagement in innovative research.

Vietnam will need to deal with some of the issues confronting universities. It should provide them with more decision-making freedom and encourage universities to be more open and competitive. It should also phase out the current practice of separating teaching and research institutions.

Businesses will need to contribute by building a dialogue with universities and expanding opportunities for students to engage in Work-Integrated Learning. Universities will need to be more strategic in building engagement strategies and overcome the common perception of a yawning gap between industry and universities. The problem is far from being unique to Vietnam.

Perhaps the greatest challenge will be in convincing Vietnamese living abroad that they will have freedoms comparable to those available in the major western democracies. Central to this is freedom of expression, particularly in relation to education, science and technology policies. Vietnam’s track record is not good. A large number of bloggers, journalists, lawyers, Christian clergy and Buddhists have been imprisoned over the last two years as discontent has risen over endemic corruption, one-Party rule and a slowdown in the economy.

Attracting back Chinese Vietnamese will pose a particular problem. The mass exodus of Vietnamese, predominantly of Chinese ethnicity, in the 1970s has left a legacy of suspicion of the Vietnamese Government. A similar level of uncertainty exists in Malaysia. Returning high performing Vietnamese, or non-Vietnamese, will take particular notice of opportunities for their children.


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