A working environment that doesn’t match and low incomes prompt many Vietnamese professionals to stay back after graduating from foreign universities.
Dr. Phan Minh Liem, 39, has remained in the U.S. after going there to study on a scholarship program in 2005. He now works at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, home to one of the world’s largest cancer clinical trials programs.
Aside from the lack of a modern and professional working environment, low income and poor remuneration mechanisms are other reasons why many Vietnamese individuals prefer to stay and work abroad than going back, Liem said.
If scientists do not have the opportunity to constantly update their knowledge, learn, and exchange information with colleagues in a cutting-edge environment, they risk falling behind and being unable to catch up, he added.
Prof. Pham Quang Hung, who has been teaching physics at the University of Virginia since 1982, said: “I stayed on in America in order to pursue my passion for research.”
Hung had obtained a PhD in Physics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and conducted postdoctoral research at the Fermilab Particle Physics Division and the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) before becoming an academic himself to continue his research.
He said he found America had the right technology, facilities, scientific and technological conditions and human resources to assist him in fulfilling his scientific dream.
Institutions and laboratories are critical factors in determining the effectiveness of research papers and professional growth for scientists and intellectuals, particularly in fields demanding high scientific and technological research, and those requiring advanced technology, Hung said.
Pham Quang Hung, a physics professor at the University of Virginia. Photo courtesy of Pham Quang Hung
Like Hung, a Vietnamese doctor working at one of the top U.S. hospitals, who wished not to be named, said a company in Vietnam offered him a very high-paying position, even more than some hospitals in America.
However, he turned it down since he didn’t think the working environment would “fit” him.
Pham Quang Vu, 31, a software engineer who graduated valedictorian from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and now works at tech company Meta, which owns Facebook and other products and services, in the United States, claimed that his income is not fixed, but he earns around $600,000 a year.
According to him, STEM degrees are often sought after by many Vietnamese international students, especially considering the fact that even a recent graduate can earn between $150,000-200,000 a year by working for corporate tech giants.
Meanwhile, recruitment website VietnamWorks’ research “Information Technology Human Resources Market” found that the average income of software engineers in Vietnam only rose from VND16 million ($674.7) per month in 2010 to VND32 million in 2020.
The top salary for a software engineer is currently around VND150 million/month in Hanoi and VND160 million/month in HCMC, according to headhunting agency Adeco Vietnam.
“The remuneration policy is not appealing enough to attract high-quality talents to move back for work in Vietnam,” said another overseas Vietnamese doctor who wished to remain unnamed.
Professor Truong Nguyen Thanh, who has worked for many years at the University of Utah in America, said it was “understandable” that many intellectuals do not wish to return to Vietnam after achieving great success abroad.
Though the Vietnamese government has made numerous efforts to lure back high-quality individuals, just bringing them home is simply not enough.
“In fact, their return to Vietnam might not be effective if they struggle to adapt to Vietnam’s work culture,” he said.
Thanh said it was critical that effective solutions are found so that Vietnamese choosing to stay abroad can contribute to the country’s progress without having to return.
Covid-19 has “given us numerous possible options” for sharing ideas across borders, he added.
Liem also supported the option of working both abroad and in the country with research institutes, laboratories, and scientists to train the next generation. This would enable expatriate Vietnamese scientists to contribute to the country’s growth while also furthering their professional development, he said.
Hung said he has been participating in the establishment of the Advanced Physics program at Hue University of Education from 2006 until now, aiming to bridge the gap between Vietnamese and American scientific studies and their applications.
Hue University’s Advanced Physics program is based on that of the University of Virginia; and teaches Physics and Mathematics in English. Hundreds of professors and doctorate holders from America and other wealthy countries have been invited to lecture at the school.
Hung said: “I, like many other Vietnamese working abroad, can contribute to the development of science in the country this way.”
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