by Chu Lan Huong
Attracting talented scientists to work in national research institutes is a top priority for the Government, especially during this period of international integration.
However, the question of how to attract talented teams has not been properly answered for years.
According to the Ministry of Education and Training, the country has about 100,000 masters degree holders, 25,000 doctorates and 1,000 professors and associate professors.
The number is much higher than many countries in the region, but the number of scientists working at State scientific research institutes remains low.
There are many reasons for this situation, including low salaries and a limited scientific research budget.
The Government has applied a minimum wage for all employees working in public agencies.
According to the wage scale, a scientist, who is a associate professor and has doctorate degree with 20 years of experience in a research institute, has a total income of VND5.2 million (US$250) per month, while a doctor who starts working in a science research institute has an income of nearly VND3 million ($140) a month.
The low salary has disappointed scientists who want to devote their talent to the country's development.
That income is not enough to get by on, let alone conduct scientific research and attend seminars and workshops.
Due to the low salary, most young scientists have to take on other jobs to pay for their daily needs, while conducting scientific research projects that can take months or even years.
Some professors and doctors can earn money from giving lectures at universities and colleges, but others just live off their official salary.
The unavoidable consequence of this is that scientists, especially talented youngsters, quit their jobs at national research institutes to work for foreign businesses for a higher income.
This is really a brain-drain on the country.
Ngo Viet Trung, Head of the Mathematics Institute, has told the media many times that the salary was an important part of applying for a job.
If you only offered a low salary, it would be difficult to lure scientists, he said.
The current policy on salary does not reflect their ability and contributions to the country's development.
According to the professor, payment for scientists should be based on their inventions and their long-term contributions to the country.
In other countries such as Korea and Singapore, scientists are paid well so they can devote their time to research. This is a way of investing in the future because science is vital to development.
However, many people question why salaries are so low, despite the fact Viet Nam has such a large number of scientists.
In many cases, professors and doctors do not have time to carry out research because they spend a lot of time giving lectures.
In recent years, the titles of professors and associate professors have been handed out freely, which many think are just for show.
Another reason is that the State budget for scientific research is still modest, and administrative procedures for fund disbursement remain troublesome.
The Ministry of Science and Technology set a target of developing 25 world-class scientific research institutes and centres headed by top scientists by 2020, but to realise that target, the salary policy needs to change.
Recently, HCM City has been carrying out a programme to attract talented scientists. Under the programme, a scientist can earn a salary of VND150 million (nearly US$7,000) a month, 50 times higher than the Government's minimum wage.
The programme has been implemented at the Scientific Technology Institute, Biological Technology Centre, High-Tech Zone, and Agricultural Hi-Tech Zone.
According to experts, universities 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 needed to make this happen.
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 needs to put in place policies and financing mechanism that will boost collaboration between universities, government research institutes and industries.
Salary-related policies should ensure that scientists can make a living based on their work, facilitate the reproduction of labour for scientific staff, and promote the value of this particular profession throughout society. — VNS