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Viet Nam needs to address ongoing ‘brain drain'

Update: August, 14/2014 - 08:12
Nguyen Trong Nhan (M). —Photo dantri.com.vn

by Khanh Van

I was full of joy and hope when 18-year-old Nguyen Trong Nhan from the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang won a contest seeking the best and brightest high-school students.

Nhan was crowned during the Way to Olympia Peak game show last week. His prize was a full scholarship to study at a prestigious university in Australia. And I brimmed over with hope that he could be one among the country's future leaders when he returns.

Viet Nam has good reason to put heavy expectations on the shoulders of the young generations, who are naturally wired to innovate. We want them to come back, to turn Viet Nam into one of the strongest "tigers" in the region. We want to go from a middle-income country with an annual per capita income of $2,000 into a developed country with an annual per capita income 10 or 20 times higher.

Young professionals are eager to take control and to perform at the highest levels. They want to get noticed, create an impact and at the same time discover how to start generating more income and accelerate their advancement. So, are my hopes unreasonable?

Let's look at the facts. Twelve of the 13 ex-champions in the game contest decided to stay abroad to develop their careers instead of returning. Nguyen Ngoc Minh, the first winner of the contest is working for an IT company in Australia. Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, the winner of the eleventh contest in 2011, is studying at Swinburne University in Melbourne. She expects to work in Australia for two years before pursuing a master's degree in the United States.

I remember a shocking report revealed by the Ministry of Education and Training three years ago. It revealed that up to 70 per cent of students studying abroad did not return after graduation. The report made headlines in all local newspapers, but the so-called "brain drain" keeps rolling along.

Of course, students have many reasons for deciding to stay overseas. Some remain to seek better employment opportunities with high incomes and advanced working conditions. Others decided to stay to enjoy better living conditions.

One of my friends, who studied for a master's degree in biotechnology in the US, decided to return to Viet Nam. But after two years here, he worked as a university lecturer with a monthly salary of about VND6 million (US$286) - not enough to live in the capital city of Ha Noi.

More importantly, he found it hard to apply what he had studies as biotechnology remains fairly undeveloped in Viet Nam. Finally, he decided to return the US earlier this year and found work on a monthly salary of $5,000.

Inappropriate working conditions, such as a shortage of modern equipment and funds for scientific research dishearten much returning young talent. The envy of other people's success in the working environment can also dishearten young talent from returning.

Equally important, corruption and lack of transparency in employment processes also discourages young talent. A scandal relating to the results of recruitment examinations by the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Market Management Department stirred great public concern. An investigation revealed that the questions were available beforehand to some students. It was found that some of those who passed the exam had a close relationship with department's officials.

Also, the buying of certain positions in State-owned or Government ministries and agencies is a known fact, making it hard for graduates from abroad to fit in. So what should we do?

It is high time for the Government to make big changes in its thinking and policies to draw young talent back home, presuming that Viet Nam wants to use them to help develop the country.

One thing that could help would be to empower young people and not micro-manage their talent. Let's change the concept that only experienced people can fill important or high-ranking positions. Let's give younger generations a chance to work in these positions to see how they can change things.

Take Singapore for example. Those who get a scholarship to study abroad are offered a chance to be on probation at a Government office after returning. They are then offered work at State or Government agencies, depending on their ability and adaptability. Those who show their capacity can keep the position, but those who fail are eliminated.

This also calls for pouring more investment into developing scientific research and creating favourable material and working conditions for young talent. But above all, I think that the problem can only be solved when the young people ignore all temptation from other countries to return to make contribution to their own country. This is true patriotism. — VNS

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