An American Vietnamese educational expert, Tran Duc Canh, talks with Nong Thon Ngay Nay (Countryside Today) about the potential of overseas Vietnamese professionals to contribute to Viet Nam.
What do you think of the Vietnamese professionals who are working abroad?
It was estimated that there were about four million overseas Vietnamese, accounting for approximately 4.3 per cent of the Vietnamese population. The money sent back to the country in 2014 by them was US$12 billion, contributing to about 8 per cent of the country's GDP.
Though the money sent back from overseas was huge, it was just the tip of the iceberg. What also matters is the professional specialisations of those overseas Vietnamese. In terms of the intellectual economy, the production value comes most from the mind. I think that if Viet Nam can create opportunities for those intellectuals to contribute to the development of the country, it surely will grow really fast. I just don't understand why Viet Nam is still struggling to do so because it costs so much time and opportunities for the country to develop.
Viet Nam has never been known as an industrial country; however, among the Vietnamese who lived and worked overseas, especially in the United States, many were outstanding in technology fields.
It is not rare to see excellent Vietnamese engineers working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or at leading information technology enterprises like Google, Cisco, Microsoft, etc. There are a lot of famous Vietnamese scientists abroad yet they are little known in Viet Nam. For example, Dr. Hoang Kim Bong, Professor, Academician of the Russian academy of science was recognised by Russian scientists as one of the top scientists in Russia, yet he is almost nameless in Viet Nam.
Many Vietnamese have contributed to the development of the US in particular and of other countries in general, but why can't they do the same in their own country, Viet Nam?
The truth is any dedicated scientists, if they have a choice, would pick the place where they have the best conditions to work. But that doesn't necessarily mean they don't love their country or their people. If their country's working condition can't bring out the best of their capabilities, they should have their own choice for their future career, though that choice has never been an easy one because working and contributing to the motherland is always a wish of everybody.
It would be imprecise, however, to say that Vietnamese scientists choosing to work overseas a brain drain. Scientists are like chickens which lay eggs. When and where to lay the eggs doesn't matter. They are all precious eggs. Yet we also have to acknowledge from a nation's view that talents who can't contribute to their country are definitely a loss to their country's community.
Many say that the main reason why Vietnamese talents have to go abroad is the limited funding and a lack of scientific infrastructure. What do you think about this?
The war has been behind us for 40 years. South Korea shares the same warring history as Viet Nam and is still divided, yet it has become one of the four Asian economic dragons. What has happened in Viet Nam in the last 40 years that made the country unable to grow to even half of the economy of South Korea? What are the lessons for the younger generation to develop the country in the next 10-20 years?
I myself have had some time working to draft out the project Viet Nam Education Foundation (VEF) in the US in the late 90s. And prior to that, some of my friends and I had tried to help a number of Vietnamese students to receive post-graduate scholarships at top universities in the US.
According to the latest report by the VEF, 317 students graduated and went back to Viet Nam, including 85 masters and 232 doctorates. Another 211 students are continuing their studies in the US.
In a trip with the VEF delegate to Viet Nam in May, I had the chance to meet with some former VEF students in Ha Noi and HCM City. What I found out was that they shared the same concerns of still not being able to find a suitable job in Viet Nam. Some were also worried that the working environment in Viet Nam was not good enough in the long-term.
The number of 317 masters and doctors coming back was actually a drop in the ocean. But the thing is, if Viet Nam is still struggling to bring back the new top-notch trained technical intellectuals to the domestic working environment, how can it persuade those scientists who have been living abroad for years to come back and work in the country?
So what policy should we have to attract those overseas scientists?
Scientists don't wish for any kind of policy but just an open working environment to appropriately do their job. In order to attract well-known overseas Vietnamese scientists to come back to Viet Nam, the best way is to open the path for the domestic talents first. As long as the domestic working environment becomes open, convenient and efficient, those overseas scientists will come back on their own but not because of any policies or privileges. — VNS
*Tran Duc Canh was a former Council Member of the Northeast Consortium of Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts and has had sixteen years working in Massachusetts state government