Vietnam plagued by apathy to research

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Researchers work in a lab at the Vinh Phu University

Vietnam now has some 9,000 professors and tens of thousands of doctorates, much higher than in some neighboring countries. However, the country has only 12 patents registered in the US, while its annual research output is only equal to that of Thailand's Chulalongkorn university and a quarter of the National University of Singapore's.

Vietweek asked the former education minister, Tran Hong Quan, about the issue.

Vietweek: Why do we have so little scientific research?

Tran Hong Quan: There are many reasons for the small number of our science research works. One important reason is that we do not really respect their application. We are not much interested in research works. Only a few of them have been applied practically.

Earlier, the former East Germany gave us 500,000 patents to use, but almost none were used. This shows that our society does not respect patents.

Many scientists devote all their life to a research work, which should be appreciated. But their works are not used by society, which could dishearten them.

For their work, researchers could receive a mere pittance. This also happens in the art and literature. Researchers will not have any motivation. In other countries, successful researchers are honored and could live all their life off a work. However, it has yet to happen in our country.

 

 [Researchers] do not have a strong motivation to discover new things because society does not respect their work much

Another reason is that we have not created a favorable environment for researchers, including for experimentation and [flow of] information.

We have not enough laboratories for fields requiring experimentation. Our investment in the field is still small due to limited funds.

As for information, our researchers have recently been able to better access information, but it is not enough. They can get information from scientific publications, but need to have more exchanges with researchers in other countries. We have not strengthened international cooperation in the field because of limited funds.

Our spending on scientific research is also very small. The funding available for national science research works is small, but the funds for preliminary studies are even smaller.

Many studies cannot be converted into research works though they are vital. We need them for successful research in future, but do not have much money to undertake them.

Is there any other reason our scientific researchers are not too active?

Yes. It is because our researchers have not been trained in a comprehensive manner. Their education has not been practical. They do not have a strong motivation to discover new things, as I mentioned above, because society does not respect their work much. When they do not have motivation, they obviously do not want to create anything new.

How can international cooperation help us improve scientific research?

EASIER SAID THAN DONE

Former Deputy Minister of Education and Training Banh Tien Long said Vietnamese have been described as hard-working and intelligent.

But individual intelligence cannot have a great impact in a community that lacks policies to encourage smart individuals to innovate, he said.

Authorities are responsible for fostering creativity and providing a suitable environment for innovation. They have not done so, he said, but admitted that saying all this is much easier than actually doing it.

Universities and research institutes should boost international cooperation, enabling students and experts to study abroad and have exchanges with colleagues from foreign universities. They could share experiences, and this is very good for scientific research. Many local scientists cannot do justice to their talents in Vietnam but can do so in other countries.

In fact, many good Vietnamese scientists, after studying abroad, do not want to return home. What should we do to encourage them return and devote themselves to our country? 

Many scientists have accepted lower incomes and poorer working environments to return home to work because they want to work for the country. It should be appreciated. However, we should create favorable conditions for them to use their talent. [Otherwise] they would not want to return. In fact, their talents have sometimes been wasted in our country.

We should facilitate them to work. The scientists may accept low incomes, but they should have enough for their minimum needs so that they can focus on their work. Everyone knows it is very difficult to get rich from scientific research in Vietnam.

The most important thing is that we should respect research results and apply them practically. When the US was in its initial development stage, it respected patents, which were quickly applied in practical life. Thus, it encouraged scientists to create patents. We should create such an environment and a motivation for our scientists.

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