Only five experts were attracted in three years
In the Saigon High-Tech Park (SHTP), Dr. Hoang The Ban has been working as a consultant on the construction and development of the Center for Training and Technology Transfer since 2016. Having worked in Japan for 23 years and then returned to Vietnam, he called for Japanese ODA and supported experts in training the employees and engineers of the SHTP. His activities are highly appreciated by the Management Board of the SHTP and enterprises.
Dr. Hoang The Ban was the only one who persisted in staying at work when Ho Chi Minh City changed its policy on expert attraction. In 2016, he returned to work at the SHTP under the policy in Decision No.5715/2014, piloting some policies to attract experts to work in four units in the city. With this policy, HCMC attracted 19 experts. However, when the program was officially deployed widely, following Decision No.31/2018 of the People's Committee of HCMC, experts left one by one.
By September 2019, the People's Committee of HCMC issued Decision No.17/2019 on the policy of attracting and developing a team of experts, scientists, and people with special talents for fields that the city needs in the 2019-2022 period. Deputy Director of the Department of Science and Technology of HCMC Nguyen Thi Kim Hue said that HCMC made two rounds of expert attraction in 2020 and 2022. In 2020, HCMC was expected to attract 14 experts for five positions. The advisory council received 14 applications, but through the evaluation steps, only five people remained, including Dr. Hoang The Ban. In March 2022, the municipal People's Committee issued a plan to attract five experts for 2022, but only two applications were sent to the advisory council.
On September 8, the People's Committee of HCMC continued to have a plan to attract eight experts for the Management Board of the HCMC High-Tech Agricultural Park. Mr. Pham Dinh Dung, Head of the Management Board of the HCMC High-Tech Agricultural Park, said that these experts were expected to work for the unit for six months, with the tasks of selecting, creating, and producing aquatic species, and aquatic pathology; selecting and breeding of plant varieties; consulting and orienting on technology for production of microbial products applied in agriculture. These are all essential jobs for the development orientation of the HCMC High-tech Agricultural Park in the coming time. It is unknown if it can attract any experts. However, Mr. Dung said that to get this decision, the board had to spend nearly three years proposing positions for attraction.
The problem of the remuneration policy
Dr. Hoang The Ban works at the SHTP with a salary and allowances of about VND20 million per month - an income level considered too low for an expert. With the current regulations, besides the initial support of VND100 million, a professor and an associate professor will receive a salary coefficient of 9.4, or about VND14 million per month, and the remaining positions will enjoy a coefficient of 8.8, or about VND13 million per month. Compared to the general salary level of civil servants, it is high. However, for an expert, especially a leading expert, this salary level is not appropriate.
Having worked for more than 20 years at a research institute under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), Mr. Le Van Cua, Deputy Head of the Management Board of the HCMC High-Tech Agricultural Park, said that sometimes, salary is not the only factor that decides the attraction of experts. The Research Institute of the MARD used to have experts from New Zealand, the US, Japan, and India working together, and each expert had a different requirement. Some people wanted to bring their families to live with them because they loved the living environment in Vietnam, whereas others only asked for a housemaid. Since then, Mr. Cua advised that it is essential to discuss with each expert to understand their needs and come up with appropriate policies.
“It is unreasonable to pay salaries for senior experts at a coefficient of 9.4 and 8.8. Previously, thanks to the maximum remuneration of VND150 million per month, the center could sign contracts with experts. In 2020, the center registered to recruit four more experts, but there were no applications,” said the leader of the Center for Biotechnology.
Explaining somewhat about the regression in the remuneration policy, the leader of the HCMC Department of Home Affairs said that the current prescribed income level is based on the general regulatory framework for senior experts. However, Decision No.17/2019 stipulates a 1-percent bonus for research works of experts and scientists, up to a maximum of VND1 billion. "This is to encourage experts and scientists to have specific product works," said the leader of the HCMC Department of Home Affairs.
However, in the case of Dr. Hoang The Ban, it is extremely difficult for him to receive this bonus because he is in charge of training and recruiting according to the needs of businesses, not conducting a research project using the State budget as specified.
Resolving the problem thoroughly
Decision No.17/2019 is built based on Resolution No.54/2017 of the National Assembly on specific mechanisms and policies for the development of HCMC and Resolution No.20/2018 of the People's Council of HCMC. HCMC is reviewing the implementation of Resolution No.54 and proposing a new policy mechanism to develop the city commensurately.
Assoc. Prof-Dr. Nguyen Phuong Thao, Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research under the Vietnam National University HCMC, analyzed that, for a talented person, who is successful and has a high position in their field, especially for experts from abroad, the ceiling salary of VND120-150 million per month is not high. However, that is not all. Other factors, such as working environment and management mechanism, are also important for young researchers, including established ones, to want to devote to the country. Besides, there should be a system to evaluate the working ability and efficiency to motivate not only experts but also employees, in general.
Assoc. Prof.-Dr. Vu Hai Quan, Member of the Party Central Committee cum Director of the Vietnam National University HCMC, also said that the results of the mechanisms and policies to attract talents in HCMC have not been as expected, especially in the fields of health, education, and science and technology. During the past three years, HCMC has not been able to recruit any experts. Recently, there has been a situation where some good health professionals have moved to the private sector. He also cited Singapore's experience and effective way of attracting talents. Specifically, Singapore attracts and provides scholarships for excellent Vietnamese students to study in Singapore, and when they graduate, they are obliged to work for Singapore.
As an insider, Dr. Hoang The Ban added that what frustrates experts, besides the income factor, is the attraction process. For the old regulations, it only took him a few months to complete the procedure, but it takes several years under the current process. It is also considered unreasonable to ask experts to come for an interview and prove their abilities. Even the Department of Science and Technology of HCMC complained about the 7-step process, in which the advisory council has to appraise applications twice. It takes up to three months at the least, not taking into account procedures, such as contract signing, which takes a lot of time.
The expert attraction has become a lesson for the miraculous development of China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore over the past decades. What can Vietnam in general and HCMC learn to achieve similar development? That is the problem that needs to be solved to develop as expected.