Students slam new curbs on overseas study

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Students and graduates say a draft decree aiming to regulate Vietnamese studying and working abroad could hinder the country’s efforts to lure and retain those trained in developed countries.

Proposed earlier this month by the Ministry of Education and Training, the decree stipulates that students who study abroad using state financial assistance can not work in host countries for longer than three years after graduation and must pay Vietnamese income taxes.

These students would also have to work at government-approved jobs upon returning to the country; otherwise they must repay all funds provided by the government.

“It’s like one neck two chains,” said Duong Tuan Hung, a recent Ph.D. graduate from University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, referring to the clause that will force students to pay Vietnamese taxes. Most students already pay taxes in their host countries.

As a Vietnam Education Foundation fellow, Tuan Hung has recently returned to Vietnam seeking employment in the chemistry sector following his doctorate.

Though VEF fellows can stay in the US for academic training or a post-doc degree if they find other sources of funding, 64 percent of the fellows had returned to Vietnam as of September 2008, according to statistics released by VEF in April this year.

But for many returnees, their initiative can be stifled by the time cap placed on their research and work abroad.

“Three years is not long enough for doctorate and post-doctorate candidates to gain enough research experiences and most of the research institutions prefer students who can stay for a longer period,” Tuan Hung said.

Slowdown

Luu Quang Hung, a Ph.D. student at Kyoto University in Japan and the president of Kyoto Vietnamese Student Association, said most of his friends were “surprised and somewhat disappointed with the proposed regulation.”

Quang Hung said that although it makes sense that state-funded students must return home, the time limit could “slow down the development of professionals and intellectuals” who are crucial to progress in Vietnam.

The three-year requirement could be seen as an effort to prevent a brain drain but it’s more important for the country to create favorable working conditions for those who return, said Nguyen Quoc Huy, another Ph.D. researcher at Kyoto University. He said Vietnam should not limit the opportunities for students to grow in a more competitive environment.

Nguyen Kim Dung, vice director general of the Institute of Educational Research, said in a world that has become more integrated and globalized, it makes more sense to acknowledge that citizens can contribute to the development of their country regardless of where they work.

She said the three-year requirement might force students into either breaking the regulation to finish research or return home and perhaps miss the opportunity to advance their work.

The draft decree also asks that all students, regardless of their funding sources, must report their academic results every six months to the Ministry’s International Education Development office.

Students â€" including those who are self-funded and those who receive scholarships from respective universities and foreign organizations â€" must notify offices at the Ministry of Education and Training or the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, when they complete their programs and keep the authorities updated on their plans to return home.

‘Breakthrough’

In an interview with a local newswire, Nguyen Ngoc Hung, deputy head of MoET’s International Education Development office, said that the draft could be considered a breakthrough in managing statistics related to Vietnamese student studying overseas.

He estimated that the number of self-funded Vietnamese students studying overseas is about 10 times higher than those funded by the government, adding that it could help government agencies and offices in terms of allocating the number of students who should be sent to study abroad for a particular subject.

And the public would also have a clearer picture of which majors overseas students are pursuing abroad, which could be helpful for other prospective students in their decision-making process, according to the MoET official.

However, most overseas Vietnamese students say requiring every student to report their academic progress to the government was unreasonable as in most developed countries academic records are considered confidential.

“The ministry does not have the right to require self-funded students to submit their academic records,” Tuan Hung said. “And there’s also the question of what the ministry would do with the records.”

A recent report released by the Institute of International Education in Washington, D.C. ranks Vietnam ninth among the top ten countries and territories sending students to the US for higher education, with roughly 12,800 students currently in America. About 50,000 Vietnamese students are estimated to be studying abroad.

“Assume that each student has to submit a two-page report every six months, so yearly the VIED [Vietnam International Education Development] has to process 60,000 papers. Who will read them and who will organize them?” Quang Hung wondered.

Time magazine’s ranking of Vietnamese professor Ngo Bao Chau’s math discovery as one of the top-ten discoveries of 2009 was a proud moment for many Vietnamese.

However, “If the proposed regulations applied to him and forced professor Chau to return after three years, could he have obtained such a status?” Quang Hung asked.

Reported by Huong Le (An Dien also contributed to this report)

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