Vietnamese universities of international standard: a thorny path ahead

Published: 06/10/2008 05:00



VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam needs to go more and more quickly if it really wants to have internationally-recognised universities, according to Professor Pham Duy Hien, former Head of the National Atomic Energy Academy, Head of the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute.

Pham Duy Hien, former Head of the National Atomic Energy Academy, Head of the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute

The University of Natural Sciences under Hanoi National University has recently set the goal of becoming an advanced university in the world by 2020 with several study branches meeting training and research standards equal to those of advanced universities in Asia. Do you think that the goal is reachable?

The University of Natural Sciences is an old and experienced university with many scientific researches published internationally. However, this is nothing compared to leading universities in Thailand and Malaysia, the prestigious universities in Japan, China, India and Singapore. The university will have to ‘run as fast as its legs can carry it’ if it wants to catch up with regional universities, let alone more advanced universities in the region.

Recently, I had the chance to join the team that made questions and marked exam papers for the 39th Physics Olympiad, which allowed me to meet a lot of physics experts from universities. They complained that the number of qualified lecturers who also do scientific researches has become fewer. This is really a big threat to Vietnam’s education and training.

Upgrading universities and striving to have internationally-recognised universities is not only the job of universities. It is also the task of the Ministry of Education and Training, which is managing universities, and the Ministry of Science and Technology, as the ministry is controlling scientific researches of universities.

This is also the job of many other relevant ministries involved in making policies. Vietnam will never have universities which meet international standard if lecturers cannot live on their salaries and have to give extra lessons to earn money. Lecturers must devote themselves to teaching and scientific research.

Can a Vietnamese university be among the world’s top 200 universities by 2020? This is not only the affair of a university. An internationally-recognised university is the highest peak of the pyramid of science and technology, education and intellectual standards of people. We cannot build the peak on a weak pyramid. Therefore, I think we need to do a lot of things and change a lot of things to have internationally-recognised universities.

The University of Natural Sciences has reported that in 2008, it has collected VND14bil in tuition fees, while VND25bil from scientific researches. It has also had 110 articles published in international journals. What is your comment about the achievements?

The Scientific Information Centre under the Ministry of Science and Technology has purchased the right to access to ISI Web of Knowledge, which provides updated information from 8,000 international prestigious scientific journals, and are considered as meeting international standards. No Vietnamese magazine has been listed among the 8,000 magazines.

Please see the updated information about the scientific articles published by Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University and Hanoi University of Natural Sciences in 2004.

Total number of internationally declared articles

The number of articles with Thai or Vietnamese being corresponding authors

The Hanoi University of Natural Sciences



Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok



Difference between the two universities



Let me explain the figures. In the total number of internationally declared articles (second column), there were many articles implemented by Vietnamese or Thai scientists during working trips abroad in cooperation with foreigners (foreigners were the joint authors). As the figures do not truly reflect the efforts to develop sciences and technologies in Vietnam, we provide other figures in the third column. This is the articles implemented by Thai or Vietnamese scientists in cooperation with American or Japanese experts, but Thai or Vietnamese scientists played the main role in the works.

The figures show the powerful internal force of Thailand in scientific research. I have to say that Thailand has been speeding up in the last few years in scientific research.

How do you think Vietnam should start to have internationally-recognised universities?

I personally think that our inner force is not powerful enough to make breakthroughs for some more years. The Ministry of Education and Training plans to train 20,000 doctors in order to provide a high-quality labour force for universities. Some people have doubts about the viability of the 20,000 doctor training programme, but I think that it is a good move.

However, the problem is how to use the 20,000 doctors. If the doctors do not have places to do scientific research or teach, most of them will either become officials at state management agencies, or go back abroad. If so, the effort to train 20,000 doctors will have been done in vain. Therefore, I think that it is necessary to attach the programmes on 20,000 doctors and universities of international standard with the establishment of high-quality scientific research centres at universities.

I suggest kicking off a 10-year project right now which aims to upgrade and build 200 new study branches and provide universities with modern equipment. Every year, some 200 foreign experts will be invited to work at the universities.

It is estimated that it will take some $1bil, or $100mil a year for the project. If we count on the expenses for international cooperation and hiring foreign experts, the total expenses will be $125mil a year.

Bao Anh

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