Enrollment in basic science majors declines in universities

May 04, 2023 - 08:29
This trend has raised concerns over a potential imbalance in the job market, leaving basic sciences with a shortage of qualified professionals.
Candidates enter the first round of the Competency Assessment Exam of the Việt Nam National University – Hồ Chí Minh City. — VNA/VNS Photos Thu Hoài

HÀ NỘI — Enrollment in basic science majors at Vietnamese universities has dwindled in recent years, with many students opting for more lucrative fields upon graduation.

This trend has raised concerns over a potential imbalance in the job market, leaving basic sciences with a shortage of qualified professionals.

If the situation is not fixed, an imbalance of professions is predicted to occur, leaving to basic sciences falling into a state of 'scarcity' of human resources in the future.

At the University of Sciences under the Việt Nam National University – Hồ Chí Minh City, the enrolment of majors in natural sciences and life sciences has been behind those in the majors of computer, information technology, and engineering between 2019-22.

The oceanography major recorded the lowest number of candidates between 2019-22. It enrolled only 21 candidates in 2019; eight candidates in 2020; 25 candidates in 2021; and 20 candidates in 2022. All are lower than the target of 50 candidates.

Data from the University of Sciences under the Việt Nam National University – Hà Nội showed that the rate of new enrolment in basic sciences only accounts for 30 per cent of the total annual enrolment target. Some basic-science majors continue facing a low rate of students' application.

Data from Nha Trang University last year show that the three basic-science majors of fisheries management, aquaculture, and aquaculture processing failed to enrol enough targeted numbers of students.

The school only enrolled 32 of the targetted 50 students for the major of fisheries management, 125 out of 160 in aquaculture, and 68 out of 100 in seafood processing.

At a recent conference, the Ministry of Education and Training revealed that last year, the country had 521,263 candidates entering university, reaching a rate of 83.39 per cent, the Vietnamnet online newspaper reported.

The ministry said four majors of agriculture, forestry and fisheries; natural sciences; social services and life sciences had recorded the lowest enrolment in three consecutive years.

Specifically, the major of life sciences enrolled 54 per cent of the target in 2020, 60 per cent in 2021 and 61 per cent in 2022.

The major of social services enrolled 49 per cent of the target in 2020, 67 per cent in 2021 and 59 per cent in 2022.

The natural sciences major enrolled 42 per cent of the target in 2020, 56 per cent in 2021, and 57 per cent in 2022.

The major of agriculture, forestry and fisheries enrolled 44 per cent in 2020, 62 per cent in 2021 and 49 per cent in 2022.


Phùng Quán, an admissions official at the University of Sciences under the Việt Nam National University – Hồ Chí Minh City, said that candidates ignore basic-science majors such as natural science, life science or agriculture in recent years because the majors are believed to provide fewer opportunities of job and career development than other majors now.

Fresh graduates, who finished their training course of basic-science majors and worked at a research institute, are entitled to a salary according to the coefficient prescribed by the State. If calculating the starting point, the salary is only a few million đồng.

“The students’ choice of major not only depends on their interests and skills but also on the income they will receive after graduation,” Quán said.

He said that if a basic-science major does not bring a high-income potential for graduated students, few students will want to pursue it.

Besides, the basic sciences are the sciences that study and discover the laws of nature and create new knowledge, requiring in-depth knowledge and skills in analysis, reasoning, and solving complicated problems, he said.

Therefore, students are required to have a good knowledge base, be able to study, research and adapt to difficulties in the learning and research process, he said.

However, he said not all students have the ability and interest to work in this field.

In the meantime, professions related to business, information technology and healthcare currently bring higher income for students after graduation than basic-science majors do, he said.

“If the situation continues, it will lead to a shortage of high-quality human resources working in the basic-science sector, affecting the development of the industry in the future,” he said.

Huỳnh Quyền, principal of the Hồ Chí Minh University of Natural Resources and Environment, said the first reason is that dissemination on the internet and the media does not orient candidates to register for the basic-science majors at the university.

It is one of the reasons leading to inadequacies in the supply of human resources of basic sciences, especially environmental resources, he said.

First-year students at the start of their studies at HCM City's University of Technology.


Nguyễn Xuân Hoàn, principal of the Industrial University of Hồ Chí Minh City, said the State should issue policies to solve the problem soon.

The policies aim to ensure job opportunities for students after graduation and provide scholarships for students during their studies, he said.

He suggested the State order, for example, how many graduates from basic science majors ministries and agencies need. Universities will train and ensure the quality of the staff as ordered.

He said that students would apply for basic-science majors at universities when they know their job opportunities are ensured.

Trần Quang Huy, a lecturer at Nha Trang University, said basic-science majors play an important role in developing a country.

Therefore, the State needs a strategy and a long-term vision to train the necessary human resources to meet the country's infrastructure construction and development demand. Without proper attention, there will be a shortage of qualified manpower for basic-science sectors soon, he said.

Specifically, the State is advised to issue a policy to support tuition fees, offer scholarships to students, and have better personnel treatment policies in terms of salary and insurance for staff working in basic-science sectors, he said.

In the work of career guidance for high school students, he said that universities that operate basic-science majors have to publicise the needs of recruitments related to basic sciences so that students understand the meaning and professional value of the careers.


In an attempt to fix the situation, Nguyễn Thiên Phúc, vice principal of the Hồ Chí Minh City University of Technology, said the school had promoted the importance of the basic-science majors to society.

The school also encourages students of the majors through sponsorship from alumni or local companies operating in the basic sciences, he said.

Trần Vũ, head of the Communication and Admissions Office, University of Sciences under the Việt Nam National University – Hồ Chí Minh City, said the university had maintained a scholarship worth VNĐ2 billion (US$85,770), providing tuition fees and scholarships for first-year students learning majors of natural and life sciences.

The majors include physics, oceanography, nuclear engineering, geology, geoengineering, environmental science, and environmental engineering technology.

Tô Văn Phương, head of the Training Office at Nha Trang University, said the school had improved the content of the training programme and teaching methods to attract more students learning basic science majors.

The school has also strengthened cooperation with local businesses and employers in training human resources for fisheries management, aquaculture, and processing majors. For example, the school already worked with a leading shrimp export corporation in the country last year.

Accordingly, the corporation will finance the training cost of VNĐ10 billion ($429,000) each school year between 2022-27 for 100 students in two aquaculture and aquaculture processing majors.

In addition, the school has supported all costs of accommodations at dormitories for the students until they graduate. Students are offered jobs after graduation, he said.

It is one of the solutions that the school expects to help attract more students learning in the majors in the future, he said. — VNS