Industry needs to encourage scientific research: education official

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Students carry out an experiment in a lab of the Tay Nguyen University in the Central Highlands

Vietnam needs to develop a science and technology market and get companies to support research to create a momentum for scientific development. Research is mostly funded by the government, but there is not enough money, former vice chairman of the National Assembly's Culture and Education Committee, Nguyen Minh Thuyet, tells Vietweek.

Vietweek: Many young people are not keen on research in fundamental science. What should we do to create an interest in it?

Nguyen Minh Thuyet: In a country lagging behind others in terms of science and technology like Vietnam, the development of science should be encouraged. Now the number of our scientific research works and patents is still modest. Our scientific research does not factor in production requirements, so it has no momentum for development. In Southeast Asia, we lag behind Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia in scientific research. Most Vietnamese scientists lack international credentials.

So we should increase investment in the field. But research works cannot bring results within a short time. Scientists do not earn much, so few young people are interested fundamental science research.

But I think fundamental science research is a difficult field. Only those who have a high ability to generalize and conceptualize thought can achieve success in the field. So we need not encourage young people to participate en masse in fundamental science research. If schools set the bar too high in selecting students for fundamental science research, the fees they collect will not be enough for them to remain in operation. The government, which faces a tough economic condition, cannot fund training in schools in the field of fundamental science research. So this is a very difficult issue to resolve.

Is the shortage of funds the main reason for our poor fundamental science research?

It is one of the reasons. But the most important reason is that we have not yet developed a science and technology market. Even if there is a market, it is difficult for fundamental science research works to participate in it. Normally it is easier for applied science research works to participate.

Scientists now do research mainly with support from the government since companies have no demand for the results of their research. If they want technology, they buy it abroad.

But the government's funding is not enough for scientific development. We need to have a strong science and technology market and industrial production which creates momentum for scientific development.

Our economy, mainly based on outsourcing and assembling industries and natural resources export, does not create a momentum for its development. A lot of government funds set aside for scientific research are misused. This has been happening for the past few years and becoming more and more serious. If it is not stopped, scientists will not benefit from the funds, and both science and the government will lose.

NGUYEN MINH THUYET, National Assembly's Culture and Education Committee

 We should prevent scientists from paying bribes to officials to be assigned major research works with large funding from the state.

In countries with a developed science and technology market, companies support scientists so that they do research to serve industry. They pay a lot for productive research, thus encouraging research.

In some other countries, governments and companies, when faced with practical problems, commission scientists to find solutions. In Vietnam, scientific projects do not help deal with practical issues.

Many universities announce plans to expand research, but never do it. The quality of research has not got due attention. What do you think about it?

It is very difficult to persuade university teachers to do research because they spend too much time on teaching activities. The fact is teaching is easier and brings them a better income than scientific research. So we should reconsider the norms for university teachers. For instance, some countries require university professors to publish at least one paper in international publications and attend an international science conference in a year. They would be sacked if they fail to do this for four or five years in a row. 

In Vietnam, we should pay more for scientific research that yields good results to encourage university teachers to do research.

We should divide research work done in universities into two categories. The first will include medium and small projects, which should be assigned to all teachers. The projects could help them practice their research skills.

Newly graduated scientists often have to wait for a long time to be assigned research work though they need the works to practice their skills.

The second will include big projects, which should be assigned to those coming up with the best solutions.

We should prevent scientists from paying bribes to officials to be assigned major research works with large funding from the state. We should stop heads of research institutes from acting as team leaders for all major research projects assigned to their institutes. I know institutes whose heads lead four or five research projects. But they are project leaders only in name. They often ask their subordinates to do their work. When they lead four or five projects at a time, how can they do it well?

There are cases of heads of institutes discontinuing research projects worth billions of dong within a year since they are unable to carry them out. The issue needs to be resolved.

The Hanoi National University stipulates that a person cannot work on two research projects at one time. But not many agencies have this stipulation.

Many good Vietnamese scientists do not want to return home after studying abroad. What is the experience of other countries in encouraging scientists to return home?

China offers high salaries and positions to graduates of famous universities. A professor at Harvard University told me that few Chinese scientists stay back in the US after finishing their studies. But many Vietnamese students do.

In Vietnam, graduates from famous universities get low salaries just like other employees at state agencies and so don't want to return home. To afford to pay them good salaries, agencies have to cut the number of employees. But it is not easy to deal with the issue in Vietnam.

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