Vietnam takes a big step forward in international publications in social sciences

About 10 years ago, a mathematician said that Vietnam did not yet have social science study works. The comment seemed to be a bit harsh, but it did make sense, especially when it comes to international publications.

Vietnam takes a big step forward in international publications in social sciences

Photo: The cover of the book "Vietnamese Social Sciences: at the Fork in the Road" which summarizes Vietnam’s social sciences research works in the period of 2008-2018, edited by Vuong Quan Hoang and Tran Trung.

Ten years later, the number of articles in the field of social sciences published on international journals has increased highly. Vietnamese scientists have had their studies published in the world's leading journals such as the Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Economic Psychology, Journal of International Marketing, Journal of Business Ethics, Modern Asian Studies, Studies in Higher Education, Learned Publishing and Scientometrics.

In 2010, according to the ISI Web of Science, there were 1,134 articles in the field of natural sciences published by Vietnamese researchers, while the corresponding number in the field of social sciences was only 137 articles. Thus, for every 8.3 international articles in the field of natural sciences from Vietnam, there was only one article in the field of social sciences. The corresponding figures in 2020 were 11,756 articles in the field of natural sciences and 1,535 articles in the field of social sciences, corresponding to the ratio of 7.7/1. It seems that the field of social sciences has begun to prosper.

According to Scimago, in 2010, Vietnam's ranking in scientific publications in a number of typical branches of natural sciences ranged from 55-59, while the corresponding figure for some branches in the field of social sciences was 60-70. Over the past 10 years, both the natural sciences and the social sciences in Vietnam have experienced significant growth, and between the two fields it appears that some branches of the social sciences have grown even faster.

Some of the leading researchers in the humanities and social sciences of Vietnam have also been recognized by prestigious international organizations, such as Dr. Nguyen Viet Cuong (listed among the top 5% of world economists according to IDEA RePec) and Assoc. Prof. Tran Xuan Bach (the winner of the Noam Chomsky Award 2020).

Three factors for breakthrough

The past 10 years were also the time when more young researchers who were born in the 70s, 80s and 90s and had studied in developed countries returned home and were very active in scientific activities.

Before 2010, Vietnam had many well-trained social scientists. However, after returning home, for many reasons, many of them mainly focused on teaching, or no longer did research at institutes or universities.

The second reason probably comes from the specificity of the social sciences. Unlike natural sciences which has global nature, social science is more local in nature. The same problem, the same theory that is applied well in the US and Europe is not likely to be easily adapted in Asia, including Vietnam. The fact that many researchers return to Vietnam after completing their PhD studies abroad, and the easy collection of data in the home country, is an advantage and also an important premise for the number of international publications in social sciences of Vietnamese scientists to grow in both quantity and quality.

The third reason is Vietnam’s policies to promote international integration in research, both at the macro and micro level.

The first and very important policy is the establishment of the National Foundation for Science and Technology Development (NAFOSTED), which officially came into operation in 2008, and started funding social sciences in 2011. To be financed by this foundation, scientists must have international publications. Following this foundation, having “international publication" has become part of criteria for research projects at all levels.

The new regulations on doctoral training issued in 2017 are also a contribution to the increase of international publications of Vietnamese scientists. Under this regulation, undergraduate students must have articles in international publications and the instructors must also have the same. This regulation, on one hand, has caused a reduction of people who register for PhD studies in the past four years, but on the other hand, has improved the quality of doctoral training as well as the number of articles published in international publications associated with PhD studies in social sciences.

 

Things to do

International research in the field of social sciences in Vietnam can go even further if the three issues below are addressed:

The first is to reform doctoral training in the country. The regulation on doctoral training issued in 2017 is a good premise. However, this regulation only raises the output standard, and does not provide much support to help raise the qualification of PhD students to access that output standard. Regarding Project 89, which replaced Project 911 on doctoral training, besides overseas PhD training, there is also PhD training at home. It is hoped that this project will help to reform the quality of domestic PhD training programs, including programs in the field of social sciences.

Secondly, there should be a special investment policy for strong research groups in the field of social sciences. Most of the current policies on international integration in the field of scientific research only require researchers to have articles published in international scientific journals, and to not distinguish between top quality and average quality international publications. This, in general, has not encouraged scientists to have ground-breaking, world-class research works. The sharp increase in academic publications is only half of the story, as the application of studies in real life is also very important.

Thirdly, it is necessary to raise the level of domestic journals on social sciences. A strong academic background is measured not only by published works, but also the “playgrounds” where research works are published. This is also the strategy being applied by countries in the region such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

In Vietnam, recently the Journal of Asian Business and Economic Studies (JABES) under the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City became the first Vietnamese social science journal to be included in the Web of Science's ESCI index list. This is a very good sign, but not enough. With a country of nearly 100 million people, with a long-standing culture and traditions, and the most dynamic socio-economic in the region, in the next 5-10 years, Vietnam needs to have at least 10-15 social science magazines like JABES.

Pham Hiep

Research Director, EdLab Asia Education R&D Center, Chief Representative of STAR Scholars in Vietnam.

Dr. Pham Hiep has had nearly 40 works published in the Journal of Studies in International Education, Higher Education Research and Development, Learned Publishing, Scientometrics. Dr. Hiep is currently a member of the editorial board of two Scopus journals, and regularly writes reviews for more than 20 other ISI and Scopus journals.

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