A question framed during a session of the Vietnamese National Assembly early this month has drawn attention to the fact that many local students do not like to return home after studying abroad.
At the session on November 2 discussing the country’s socioeconomic situation in 2015 and making plans for 2016, deputy Nguyen Ngoc Hoa from Ho Chi Minh City gave the example of Vietnam failing to use talents, repeating the story that only one of the 13 winners of the past “Road to Mt. Olympia’s Peak" quiz shows have come back to Vietnam for work after graduating from universities in Australia.
They studied in that country on scholarships granted by the sponsor of the annual show, which was first held in 1999.
“Why do 12 out of 13 of them refuse to return home?” Hoa wondered.
Last year, a heated debate erupted among many Vietnamese people over the choice of the winners to stay in Australia instead of returning to Vietnam after finishing their studies.
The competition is one of Vietnam’s biggest quiz contests for high school students with the winner granted a scholarship of US$35,000 to study in Australia.
Differing opinions have flooded local newswires and social networks since a newspaper article pointed out that only Luong Phuong Thao, winner of the third season, has returned to Vietnam for work after she had earned a master’s degree in Australia.
“Our people have a studious tradition, and people are now investing large sums of money in the young generation, especially those who are studying abroad,” Hoa said at the session.
“Many parents and students wish to return home for work but it is a pity that we have wasted this precious workforce due to the lack of appropriate policy,” he added.
Vietnam needs a breakthrough in attracting and using talents, he said.
The deputy’s thought has drawn the attention of the community which has recently been divided into two camps: one supporting those who choose to return and the other which does not.
Family is the reason that counts
One of the most common reasons for those who choose to come back home is family.
Dr. Truong Anh Hoang from the University of Engineering and Technology under the Vietnam National University – Hanoi recalled the moment 10 years ago when he received the doctorate degree on information technology in Norway.
He said he did think of staying in the European country to continue a research project at the invitation of his instructor but he eventually decided to return to Vietnam for family reasons.
Dr. Hoang said at that time he still wanted to get back to Norway after handling his personal situation.
Meanwhile, 32-year-old Dr. Do Thanh Trung, who is working at the Hanoi-based Vietnam Construction and Import-Export Joint Stock Corporation, shared his plan to stay in France after finishing his PhD but his final decision was to return to his homeland.
Family is the most important and most meaningful reason for his decision, Dr. Trung said.
Although agreeing that the challenging and opportunity-rich working environment in Vietnam was one of the reasons for his return, Dr. Trung said point-blank that from his own experience, the way organizations and workforces here operate is unprofessional, and lacks fair competition and the spirit of teamwork.
“Also, the social environment still has barriers like nepotism or wages not in line with living cost, etc., resulting in people not putting their heart into their job,” Dr. Trung commented.
‘Why do we have to return?’
According to Associate Professor Truong Anh Hoang, the work environment overseas is more favorable for research.
“In Norway, where I was a research fellow, the professors were able to wholeheartedly focus on their work as the salary is high enough to warrant their family expenses, while in Vietnam these factors are more limited,” he said.
Likewise, Dung Le, 26, an alumnus at La Trobe University in Australia, explained that the living standard and public services overseas bring him a comfortable life, not to mention a wide range of career opportunities.
Many overseas students, especially research fellows, choose not to return to Vietnam, in the hope of working in a really professional environment where they do not have to think about their daily living.
Here, students have very few opportunities to do in-depth research due to a lack of resources and attention from the government.
Basic knowledge overseas such as big data and artificial intelligence are still unfamiliar in Vietnam.
“There are some reasons why overseas students do not return to Vietnam, including an unqualified educational environment, which can impact on the future of their children, an unstable lifestyle with a high level of air pollution, traffic jams, and road accidents,” said Vo Duy Khang, now a chief technology officer at Zappasoft, an Australian software company.
T.N.T., 27, who currently lives in the U.S., said he had bad experiences during three years working in Vietnam due to a lack of professionalism and transparency in the workplace and recruiting system.
His decision to work as a consultant for a company in the U.S. secured the full support from all relatives.
According to Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam, as the concept of global citizenship has become more popular, it does not mean overseas students cannot contribute to Vietnamese society when they refuse to return to Vietnam.
As long as these students find their opportunities for higher education and research, build their own reputation as Vietnamese, or send the money back to take care of their family and relatives, there are many ways to contribute to the development of their homeland.
Pham Quang Hung, director of the Vietnam International Education Development (VIED) under the Ministry of Education and Training, has suggested four solutions for government-funded scholarship programs to have more talent return to Vietnam.
According to Hung, the first solution is choosing talent with moral quality to send to those programs, as well as offering obligations that they are required to come back after finishing their studies.
The second solution is strengthening the monitoring of students studying abroad.
Next is to create motivation such as promoting their patriotism and offering good working opportunities and environments.
The last solution Hung suggested is to handle violation cases.
It should be required that those who receive state scholarships to study abroad but do not honor their obligations have to return the grants, and the act should be well supervised, he advised.