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Overseas PhDs fail to guarantee jobs

Update: August, 11/2014 - 08:27
Statistics showed that for the past 10 years, the Ministry of Education has funded more than 7,000 students overseas with a total of 2.5 trillion dong (roughly $120 million). More than half selected for PhD programmes.— Photo nld.com.vn

by Le Van – Xuan Cuong

HA NOI (VNS) — People who earn their PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) abroad on State budget money, often return home to find their employment chances are relatively dim.

A PhD graduate in "sound physics" at a Belgian university said he had always been keen to work as a lecturer at a Ha Noi-based college.

After graduation, he returned home with high hopes, but found that local colleges showed little interest since his research field appeared to be too new for them to find a suitable full-time post.

"I feel ashamed of myself", he said, explaining that he studied abroad using public tax money, but was unable to use his knowledge to serve the public.

The sound-physics PhD counts himself lucky he still has a teaching job at a reputable engineering college, even though the job does not require his academic specialty.

One of his fellow students ended up opening a store selling musical instruments in a vain attempt to apply the technical knowledge of sound and waveforms learned.

Not getting a job upon graduation is seen as potentially deadly for an academic career.

The Vietnamese Government annually offers scholarships to young experts and lecturers so that they can get further training in more developed countries.

Research activities at Vietnamese colleges are growing and in need of intellectuals. The Government has increased the number of senior lecturers through further education and training overseas.

The number of experts sent aboard to obtain their doctorates rose nine per cent in 2013.

Statistics showed that for the past 10 years, the Ministry of Education has funded more than 7,000 students overseas with a total of 2.5 trillion dong (roughly $120 million). More than half selected for PhD programmes.

Bui Van Ga, Deputy Minister of Education, said PhD and master's degree graduates who had benefited from State-sponsored scholarships must do work assignments from their supervisory institutions thrice longer than the time they studied abroad.

He added that those staying overseas after their graduation were obliged to refund all the training costs.

Going private

Most Vietnamese science and technology experts paid to study abroad by the State would prefer to return home and make a contribution to the development of their country.

But many have no choice but to seek work outside academia.

A PhD graduate with a major in food chemistry had to switch from an academic position at a college in Ha Noi to a career with a foreign corporation.

"The problem was not income," she said. "I worked overtime. In addition to delivering lectures to students, I also advised undergraduates on their theses. I was making enough money to live comfortably. But the problem was the working environment."

Vietnamese universities are wary of embracing initiatives, easily overlooking constructive proposals by lecturers. "I tried and failed to raise some ideas about conducting research programmes for graduate students, or taking them on field trips," she said.

Most local universities do not realise that lecturers are researchers first and foremost. What they need is an academic environment to nurture their future research ideas. University lecturers are currently requested to spend only a quarter of their working time on doing scientific research.

Discouraged by their career prospects, Western-educated intellectuals are seeking employment opportunities in foreign corporations whose competitive and open environment encourages people to work effectively and develop further, according to the food chemistry PhD. This is why the best and brightest minds are leaving academic positions for business jobs. The combination of higher income and better working conditions makes moving to the private sector an appealing option for many.

To stop the drift, the Deputy Education Minister said universities should employ those with PhDs.

Nguyen Dang Hung, a professor with a PhD in science, suggested an increased focus on research and development would provide incentives for intellectuals to stay at universities. — VNS

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