Ho Chi Minh City is offering salaries of up to VND150 million (around US$7,000) a month to draw high-caliber thinkers into the city's science and technology parks.
The municipal administration has issued a New Year's resolution announcing their desire to attract quality staff for the Hi-tech Park in District 9, the Agricultural Hi-tech Park in District 1, the Institute for Computational Science and Technology and the HCMC Biotechnology Center in District 12.
They are offering a monthly income well beyond the average per capita income of $1,890, and many times above the minimum monthly wage of VND2.42-VND3.1 million ($114-146). The per capita income of HCMC was $5,131 in 2013.
The offer, which will draw on the city’s budget, is open to local experts or Vietnamese nationals living overseas who hold doctoral degrees in the relevant areas and have published research in international journals.
Candidates who hold a bachelor's/engineering or master's degree must demonstrate significant experience in their field.
In addition, the candidates must have at least five years of experience conducting research on an international level or teaching at relevant universities or research centers and participating in science and technology projects at the national level.
Nguyen Quoc Binh, deputy director of the HCMC Biotechnology Center, helped found the center after leaving his job in Canada ten years ago.
Binh believes the new wage has the potential to draw overseas experts to Vietnam.
“A professor working in South Korea is paid an average of $60,000-70,000 a year, so they'll only come to Vietnam if they can make $5,000-7,000 a month.”
Binh said he decided to come back to Vietnam to give back rather than make money, but the money still matters.
“My salary is now VND21 million ($1,000) a month. My counterparts abroad would hardly consider coming here to work for that kind of money.”
Dang Luong Mo, a well-regarded electronics researcher with more than ten patents and 300 projects under his belt, left Japan for Vietnam in 2003.
He received the news with great enthusiasm.
“It’s amazing,” Mo said.
“For an overseas Vietnamese, the offer is quite interesting if we factor in the low cost of living.”
Le Manh Ha, HCMC's vice mayor, said the new pay package was designed to attract top minds to the city and create breakthroughs in science and technology.
Ha said the scientists will be given specific tasks and projects so that the budget will not go to waste.
“There's no limit to what the city is willing to spend on developing its science and technology sector. But the question is how to find the right experts and convince them to stay.”
He said the city will try to create an ideal environment for these experts and shield them from administrative tasks such as regular meetings.
“If we put specialists into an environment that requires them to attend daily meetings, they won’t work and even if they do, they won’t be able to be creative. Then their talents will fade and we will gain nothing.”
Ha said the city will provide them with the best facilities possible.
The recruitment of the experts will require city government approval, but their training and research will be independent and their work will be protected by intellectual property rights, he said.
Projects that can bring commercial benefits to the city will receive sponsorship, the vice mayor said.
Since late last year, the Vietnamese government has also rolled out a range of incentives to attract overseas Vietnamese and talented foreign scientists and technicians.
On November 10, the Vietnamese government began offering overseas Vietnamese and foreign professionals in the field of science and technology (as well as their family members) two-year temporary resident cards.
Rather than entering the agencies at the lowest-level of seniority (and corresponding remuneration) Vietnamese and foreign professionals will be assigned managerial titles at scientific and technology agencies and paid “negotiated salaries,” a pertinent government decree said.
Foreign talents will also receive support in obtaining work permits through simplified procedures while their spouses and children will be assisted in seeking out jobs and schools.
In 2004, Vietnam issued a resolution aimed at drawing overseas Vietnamese home to support development in every sector.
The resolution succeeded in pulling in remittances and investment from overseas Vietnamese, but failed to woo academics back to the country.
Those who do return often leave again, after complaining that their work has been hindered by red tape, excessive administrative oversight, and poor working conditions.
At home, analysts blame rigid hierarchies at government agencies and institutions for discouraging and demoralizing high-caliber graduates.
According to the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese, of the 4.5 million Vietnamese living around the world, 400,000 have a bachelor's degree or higher.
However only roughly 1,000 have returned to Vietnam to work.