Vietnam aims to produce 20,000 doctorates in 2020, but lack of research support and exchange opportunities encumber the nation’s brightest minds.
When Vietnam released its seventh draft outlining the national strategies to develop the country’s education from the period of 2008-2020 at an August conference in Hanoi, some experts said the plan was simply a wishful laundry list.
Among the 11 solution packages to boost the education system in the next decade, two goals aimed to make Vietnam’s higher education more internationally competitive: to produce 20,000 doctorates and have at least 30 percent of university faculty members as Ph.D. graduates in 2020.
The two goals have been fiercely debated for years among the nation’s leading scholars, professors, students and businesspeople – both through online discussions and print publications – as to whether these figure-based goals would solve the country’s shortage of skilled workers.
“I think it shouldn’t be a problem for the nation’s leading universities to achieve this number, but the goal may not be feasible for universities that have been just recently established,” said Nguyen Kim Hong, deputy principal of Ho Chi Minh University of Education, in a recent interview with Thanh Nien Daily.
Hong, who is in charge of the university’s scientific research activities and higher education, said currently 24.2 percent of the university’s faculty members are Ph.D. graduates. However, he stressed that the focus on improving education shouldn’t be about one simple number.
Deputy Minister of Education and Training (MoET) Banh Tien Long said recently at a conference held in Ho Chi Minh City that the plan to produce 20,000 doctorates by 2020 is being finalized prior to being submitted for the government’s approval.
According to the plan, about half of the candidates would be trained in foreign universities, with between 800 to 1,000 sent abroad annually and 10 percent of those to American universities.
During the academic year 2006-2007, MoET estimates the number of university faculty members who hold master’s degrees or doctorates only increased by 11.9 percent among the 3,500 newly-hired teaching staff.
According to Hong, by 2020 with Vietnam having at least 4.5 million college students and 250,000 university teaching staff, the country must produce around 60,000 doctorates to achieve the 30 percent target, given that there are currently 16,000 Ph.D. instructors.
“We have to take into account the faculty members who may retire during the next 12 years,” Hong explained.
“But that’s still a huge number.”
Ho Tan Nhat, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at California State University-Northridge, said it’s crucial for Vietnam to increase the number of people who achieve doctorate degrees.
“It would enable us to produce a ‘critical mass’ and a viable force to buttress this country’s scientific research,” said Nhat, who received both of his master’s and doctorate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Nhat was recently in Vietnam to advise the Vietnam National University-HCMC (VNU-HCMC) on building a credit-based system for university courses – an initiative that would allow students more freedom in choosing their curricula.
Dau Hong Ngoc, a former Vietnam Education Foundation fellow, said the country’s education officials must pinpoint the real purpose for producing master’s or doctorate degree holders.
“In the states, the majority who decide to pursue higher degrees aim to conduct research,” said Ngoc, who received a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“The requirement of research isn’t so prioritized for master’s or doctoral candidates in Vietnamese universities.”
A World Bank report released in 2006 showed that the number of scientific publications produced by Vietnam National University numbered only 34, a tiny number when compared to the 3,600 publications of the National University of Singapore.
Speaking at a recent seminar in HCMC on how to conduct research and get published in international journals, Tung Bui, director of the doctoral program in International Management from the University of Hawaii, said research papers originating from Vietnamese universities are often rejected due to the authors’ poor English and analysis of topics that are not new in the scientific world.
Tung emphasized that Vietnamese researchers have few opportunities to attend international seminars abroad and thus lack the latest information that may lead to new scientific discoveries.
“They often stay inside the country, read topics already published and then start to do research,” he said.
“By the time the research is completed, the topic is already four or five years dated.”
Hoang Dung, head of VNUHCMC’s Department of Science and Technology, said the university realizes the importance of assisting those in the master’s and doctoral programs to get their research papers published.
According to Dung, the university has established a fund to support the school’s faculty members and students in conducting scientific research and attending international seminars.
Reported by Huong Le - Van Khoa