How to attract overseas Vietnamese to return to VN

VietNamNet would like to introduce our roundtable talks with the theme "The policy to attract overseas Vietnamese to contribute to building the country" with the participation of the Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha, Ngo Bao Chau, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Chicago (USA) and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Mathematics (Vietnam), Former VietNamNet chief-editor Nguyen Anh Tuan, currently chief editor of the Global Citizenship Education Network and Magazine of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and Hoang Minh Son, Rector of the Hanoi University of Technology.

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Prof. Ngo Bao Chau and Minister Phung Xuan Nha

At the round-table talks with VietNamNet, Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha said that only when the principals of universities are responsible for their school’s “products” to society and compete to win government and partners’ orders will Vietnamese universities be motivated to seek talented students and staff.

VietNamNet: The first question is for Minister Phung Xuan Nha. How has the Ministry implemented the Prime Minister’s order?

- Minister Phung Xuan Nha: Attracting talent is the natural task of the Ministry of Education and Training and the country as well. Now we are tasked by the Prime Minister. We are very excited because there is interest from the government. 

In fact, for many years, many meetings were held on this policy and many programs were set up but the results are still modest. When I worked at the Hanoi National University, I also found that the main cause for the ineffectiveness of the policy to attract talented people is that the policy makers did not really listen to the people they wanted to attract. Sometimes, attracting new talent is only the will of the leaders.

This time, I want to propose new solutions. The first is to listen to the advice of overseas Vietnamese scientists. I will also work with education and training establishments and the units that need to attract talent to see their actual needs.

After that we will select the most appropriate model and policy. Initially, we may be unable to implement the policy universally to all overseas Vietnamese but only those who are able to return home, especially the scientists working in the fields of education, training, science and technology.

I believe that if we carry the first policy well, we will be warmly supported. 

VietNamNet: I would like to return to the starting point of the matter: Why don't Vietnamese who studied and set themselves up in business abroad want to return home?

- Prof. Ngo Bao Chau: Actually the answer lies in the question. The living conditions overseas are better, and the income is higher. But more importantly, it is the condition for human development.

'Hiệu trưởng nhìn cấp trên để giữ ghế sẽ không có nhân tài'

Ministe Phung Xuan Nha and Mr. Nguyen Anh Tuan

One who just gets a college or doctorate degree cannot be called a talent because talent has not been not confirmed yet, and they have not made any contribution, except for a few special cases.

They need lots of time to assert themselves, to cultivate their potential to become talents who are recognized by the international community. For them, returning to Vietnam is a very tough decision.

- Nguyen Anh Tuan: It is true that people working overseashave many opportunities to develop and that’s why they are attracted to it and don’t want to return home. About the solutions, I believe that along with our country’s momentum of development today, we will have a good environment and policies for talent.

For example, this roundtable talk today is the idea of Minister Phung Xuan Nha. Talking with Mr. Nha, I have seen his enthusiasm and aspirations for making changes and doing good things for the education sector. I think changes and renovation must start from the leader. Even with a good policy, without leaders who have enthusiasm, aspiration and determination to act, it is very hard to turn policy into reality.

- VietNamNet: Prof. Ngo Bao Chau has said that the choice to return to Vietnam is a tough one. Could you explain the inner difficulties that hinder overseas Vietnamese talents from returning home?

- Prof. Ngo Bao Chau: First of all I want to mention the drawback of higher education in Vietnam. The other issues I will analyze later.

I think a fairly basic problem is the labor market in Vietnamese universities is "closed". In Vietnam, it is very rare to see a lecturer moving from a university to another one.

Normally, excellent students stay to become a lecturer at the university where they studied. If they try hard within a sufficient period of time, they will become associate professors or professors. If they move to another university, perhaps they have some troubles that force them to move.

Meanwhile, in normal social conditions, it is very usual to move from this company to another one. But this simple thing does not exist in universities in Vietnam.

We usually think that universities do not have large budgets so they cannot pay high salaries to attract good lecturers. Indeed, we should let the society "open" itself gradually.

When a university really wants to entice someone, it will find a way. And if another university also wants that person, they will have to compete to have that talent. Thus, the policy will gradually open.

- VietNamNet: Prof. Ngo Bao Chau’s opinion reminds me of the report by professors of the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) about the state of recruiting lecturers in Vietnamese universities, in which universities usually recruit their former excellent students. That is the difference between Vietnam universities and foreign universities. Is this also a matter of the Hanoi University of Technology – Mr. Hoang Minh Son? And have you found any solution to this problem?

'Hiệu trưởng nhìn cấp trên để giữ ghế sẽ không có nhân tài'

Mr. Hoang Minh Son, Rector of the Hanoi University of Technology

- Hoang Minh Son: Mr. Chau’s opinion is partly true. But in recent years, the situation has changed dramatically, particularly in the thinking about recruitment.

Many universities have allowed and encouraged lecturers to move to other schools or welcomed lecturers from other schools.

Previously, recruitment was difficult and the top universities could not recruit graduates of other universities so excellent students, after studying abroad, usually returned to their universities to work. It was natural, not the wish of universities.

Today, the labor market, especially the market for scientists, is very open. The top schools are ready to welcome people from other schools or institutes.

- Minister Phung Xuan Nha: Thanks to the opinion of Mr. Son and Mr. Chau, I see clearly the problems that I’ve realized, which will be solved completely in the near future.

I think it is cultural factors when universities prefer recruiting their former students. Teachers always want their students in their teams and students always want to defend their teachers. 

Teachers and students working in the same research group is not bad, but if it extends into systems, it is problematic. The root of this problem is the low competitiveness of Vietnamese universities.

Only when the rectors of universities are responsible for his school’s products and have to compete with others for winning society’s and government’s order, they will know how to act to have money to fulfill the school's mission. They will have to seek talented people and treat them in a very sincere way.

Competition will force universities to think of attracting talent.

'Hiệu trưởng nhìn cấp trên để giữ ghế sẽ không có nhân tài'

Minister Phung Xuan Nha

Therefore, we will strongly pilot the autonomy mechanism at universities. Only with the autonomy mechanism do universities have accountability before society, parents and students,while they also have the opportunity to win large contracts, and have a good environment to attract talented people, not only overseas Vietnamese, but also talent inside the country.

Vietnamese universities do not attach training quality with the responsibility of the head. Consequently, many rectors don’t care about renovation. Those who are eager for renovation do not have policies for taking responsibility and being motivated.

With the autonomy mechanism, those who do well will have success and vice versa. That mechanism will force rectors to respect talent.

Without strong reforms, many rectors will not see their teachers as those who make up the brand of their universities. If the rectors rely on their superior to keep their positions, the training quality at universities will still be poor.

Mr. Chau’s opinion is about the fact at many universities lecturers want to keep their students to become future lecturers. Mr. Son thinks that some universities have changed, but it is important to have a policy on the responsibility of the leaders.

I am very concerned about it. I have discussed with the responsible people and we will promote the autonomy mechanism at universities. The State will only support strong universities. The weak ones will be merged with other universities or dissolved.

Implementing the autonomy mechanism at universities is not a new thing but in Vietnam it must be carried out gradually.

It will take at least six months for universities to perform accreditation verification to get the AUN standard (ASEAN University Network). We will use the verification results to decide which universities will be invested. At that time, rectors will need talent and first of all they have to keep the talents they already have.


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