Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Country Director for Viet Nam, shared with Viet Nam News her comments about the challenges and opportunities facing the development of science and technology in Viet Nam
I learned from a recent visit to the Institute of Biotechnology in Ha Noi that bacteria living in the guts of termites may hold the clue to turning cellulose into an energy source – sustainable, green technology that can be harnessed to achieve further poverty reduction in Viet Nam. This is amazing.
The ongoing Innovation Week in Viet Nam showcases the country's impressive progress in innovation. Based on the INSEAD business school's Innovation Efficacy Index, Viet Nam is effective in accessing world knowledge and integrating into global value chains that create a potential for productive flows of knowledge.
Internet penetration, for example, rose to 39.5 per 100 of inhabitants in 2011. That was much higher than Thailand (26.5) and Indonesia (15.4), which have significantly higher per capita incomes than Viet Nam.
In science, Viet Nam's main advantages are in earth and environmental sciences and biomedical research. This has had an above-average global impact based on the number of citations received for each scientific publication.
On the other hand, Viet Nam has below-average specialisation in disciplines such as clinical medicine, general science and technology, as well as the "built environment and design" industries, including civil engineering, construction, environmental impact, and urban design.
Despite the encouraging trends and outstanding world-class research being carried out in some institutes, the application of new technologies remains quite low in Viet Nam. The same INSEAD Innovation Efficacy Index mentioned above also shows that Viet Nam needs to strengthen its capability to mobilise and apply new knowledge for social and commercial purposes.
Unless the country intensifies investment in deepening and disseminating activities, the value-added gains for innovation from science and technology achievements is likely to remain modest.
Weak linkages between science and industry are a key problem for society to address. Business expenditures in research and development account for only 2.8 per cent of the funding of public research and play a modest role in the overall science and technology effort of Viet Nam.
A 2012 survey on skills in the labor force by the Central Institute for Economic Management and World Bank found that only about 6 per cent of firms had engaged in innovation-related co-operation with an outside partner, and only about 1 per cent collaborated with research institutes and universities.
Thus, three urgent actions are required to bring about greater innovation and they involve all of Vietnamese society. First of all, universities in Viet Nam need to conduct more research related to the demands and challenges faced by society, especially considering that young people working at universities are the driving force for innovation.
Reforming university financing to provide greater autonomy to attract research funding and scientists is an urgent policy reform priority to make this happen.
Second, companies in both the public and private sectors need to take advantage of investments in research and development, which offer a solid path to greater profitability and sustainability. Finally, the Government, in addition to funding basic research, needs to put in place policies and financing mechanisms that will boost the collaboration between universities, Government research institutes and industry.
My visit to the IBT showed clearly that Vietnamese researchers have great potential.This needs to be complemented by action from other stake holders so that the microbes can provide a new source of energy to serve Viet Nam's developmental needs.
Innovation has to be the business of the entire Vietnamese society. — VNS