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Cablegate: Amidst Muddled Policies, Staffdel Atkins Finds Solid Science

VZCZCXRO5517
OO RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #1002/01 3121044
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O P 071044Z NOV 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5120
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3418
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY PRIORITY 5349
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 001002

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, USAID/ANE, EEB/TPP/BTA/ANA, OES/STC
USAID/ANE/EAA FOR FRANK DONOVAN
STATE PASS USTR FOR BISBEE
USDOC FOR 4431/MAC/AP/OPB/VLC/HPPHO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ETRD TBIO SOCI PGOV PREL VM
SUBJECT: AMIDST MUDDLED POLICIES, STAFFDEL ATKINS FINDS SOLID SCIENCE
RESEARCH IN PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS

HO CHI MIN 00001002 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary. Bureaucratic mismanagement, insufficient and
misdirected funding, and lack of university autonomy have
stymied both scientific research and science education in
Vietnam, according to government officials, non-government
organizations and private sector experts. Nevertheless, House
Science and Technology Committee Staff Director Chuck Atkins
found that targeted public-private partnerships in Ho Chi Minh
City have already created centers of research and teaching
excellence. While Vietnam's leaders call science and technology
the 'shortcut to development', unless the governance and funding
reforms these centers of excellence represent spread nation
wide, Vietnam will not produce enough knowledge workers to
support the big new hi-tech investors (such as Intel) or to
modernize Vietnam. End summary.

Crisis in Science Research and Education
----------------------------------------
2. (SBU) Vietnam produces exceptionally low numbers of patents
and international scientific papers, even for a developing
country. Several interlocutors told staffdel Atkins that in
2006, international patent offices did not grant a single patent
to Vietnamese researchers, in contrast to 26,292 patents awarded
to China researchers and 158 patents awarded to Thai
researchers. Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology
researchers published just 41 articles in international journals
while Shanghai's Fudan University researchers published 2,286
articles.

With Main Street Consequences
-----------------------------
3. (SBU) Vietnamese universities also fail to educate scientists
and engineers to the level of proficiency required by most
top-flight multinational high-tech companies. Intel is in the
process of investing $1.3 billion in an assembly and test
facility under construction in HCMC. The Intel Vietnam General
Manger told the staffdel he was only able to identify 45
candidates meeting Intel standards, despite interviewing 2,000
engineering graduates from Vietnam's top technical universities.
Although Intel still hopes to hire over 700 Vietnamese
engineers at salaries of $500 per month, the GM said Intel will
bring in expat engineers at a cost of $300,000 per year each if
the local talent pool proves insufficient.

Reshuffling Does Not Equal Reform
---------------------------------
4. (SBU) Higher education in Vietnam was based on a Soviet-like
model, with scientific research being conducted at state
institutes, as opposed to universities. The Ministry of
Education and Training (MOET) is attempting to overcome this
stove-piping by strengthening academic research and assigning a
greater teaching role to the nation's research institutes. The
Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) is Vietnam's
primary government research organization, with more than 3000
scientists at 28 research institutes. VAST officials described
to staffdel a MOET proposal to create an elite research
university -- to be named the Hanoi University of Science and
Technology -- staffed with VAST researchers as a positive first
step.

5. (SBU) Not everyone agrees. Vice-Minister Tran Quoc Thang of
the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is responsible for
national science policy and administers over $400 million in
science and technology funding. Thang told the staffdel he
thought creating a new university from VAST, which would
significantly enhance MOET's jurisdiction and resources at
MOST's expense, a "very bad idea". He instead proposed
transferring responsibility for science education to MOST from
MOET "as it is done in France in Germany" as the best way to
improve the quality of science education.

6. (SBU) Many outside the GVN consider MOST to be a much more
capable organization than MOET, and believe granting it more say
over science education would improve quality. Others remain
skeptical. One education specialist stated that since most
Vietnamese research institutes appear incapable of conducting
meaningful research (as shown by lack of publications and
patents) and Vietnamese universities are unable to effectively
train scientists, bureaucratic reshuffling promises little in
the way of actual reform.

New Agency to Hopes to Break out of the Rut
-------------------------------------------
7. (SBU) On a brighter note, the GVN recently established a
small but independent Vietnam National Science Foundation (VNSF)
to competitively allocate a portion of Vietnam's research

HO CHI MIN 00001002 002.2 OF 003


funding. In Vietnam, research funding has largely been
allocated on the basis of seniority, said VNSF director Phan
Hong Son, adding that his priority is to reach young university
researchers through a publicly announced, competitive,
peer-reviewed process open to all universities or research
agencies. Son also highlighted the contributions of the U.S.
National Science Foundation, which has offered to review grant
proposals, and the University of Missouri which will conduct a
research proposal writing workshop for Vietnamese scientists in
January.

8. (SBU) The young, energetic head of this newly created
foundation said he hopes to begin distributing the first grants
from its initial US $13 million budget later this year. Son
added that the sum involved is insufficient to set up
laboratories or purchase instrumentation, but indicates that
some in the GVN understand that the inefficient resource
allocation system currently in place is holding back research in
Vietnam.

Public Private Partnerships Power Centers of Excellence
--------------------------------------------- ----------
9. (SBU) At a gleaming facility set among the wide boulevards of
Saigon Hi-Tech Park (SHTP), the head of SHTP Research
Laboratories described cutting edge research in nanotechnology,
precision mechanics, and biotechnology being conducted by the 14
Vietnamese researchers there. The lab's state of the art
instrumentation, ranging from nuclear magnetic resonance
spectrometers to scanning electron microscopes -- worthy of any
major U.S. research university -- was funded by an $11.5 million
start-up grant from the HCMC People's Committee. Operating
funds are provided by the corporate tenants of the park as well
as U.S. venture capital funds that have invested in specific
projects with high commercial potential.

10. (SBU) The HCMC Department of Science and Technology (DOST)
told the staffdel that the city devotes two percent of its
annual budget to support 200 R&D projects in 16 areas,
prioritizing information technology, materials science,
industrial automation and biotech. In contrast, MoST estimates
Vietnamese companies spend one to two percent of their revenue
on research and development. The city also provides major
laboratory funding to those grantees that generate especially
promising initial results, such as USD 10 million recently
allocated to a stem cell research group at the city's University
of Natural Sciences. (Comment: While HCMC has been doing so
since 1985, allocating two percent of provincial budgets to
support science became a national mandate in 2000 under
Vietnam's Science and Technology Law -- another example of HCMC
pioneering national policy. End comment.)

The Solution Starts with the Schools
------------------------------------
11. (SBU) Across town, in a spartan classroom adorned with
posters warning students to communicate in English or risk a one
dollar fine, Chancellor Van Sau Nguyen of the Saigon Institute
of Technology (SIT) explained to staffdel that although HCMC
authorities provide the school with rent-free facilities, SIT
supports itself primarily by charging USD 45 per credit hour
tuition fees for IT, marketing, and accounting courses (taught
in English) that are identical to those offered by their
affiliate, Houston Community Colleges. He noted that although
the bill for a three year Associate of Applied Sciences Degree
adds up to a hefty US USD 3000, almost quadruple Vietnam's
average per capita income in 2007, SIT receives many more
applicants than it can enroll. Also crucial, SIT is not
required to teach Marxist philosophy, which comprises 25 percent
of the curriculum in most Vietnamese universities.

Tight GVN Control Stifles National Universities
--------------------------------------------- --
12. (SBU) In contrast to the relative autonomy enjoyed by
foreign-affiliated technical colleges such as SIT, HCMC
University of Technology (HCMCUT) Vice-Rector Phan Dinh Tuan
described his institution as tightly controlled by the central
government, unable to promote professors, compete for students
or raise tuition above the current level of approximately USD 9
per credit hour without MOET approval. The vice-rector noted
that low tuition fees, along with regulatory strictures that
made it difficult for a national institution such as HCMCUT to
accept funding from the local government or corporate donors
left the university unable to upgrade its research laboratory
infrastructure. This, along with the increasing availability of
stipends to study overseas, made it difficult to attract Ph.D.
candidates to its 11 doctoral programs: the 16,000 student

HO CHI MIN 00001002 003.2 OF 003


university expects to confer only seven PhDs this year.

Comment:
--------
13. (SBU) Staffdel Atkins' visit highlighted the systemic
misallocation of resources and bureaucratic mismanagement that
hinders the development of the S&T sector to the point that it
is difficult for even high-tech U.S. investors such as Intel to
contribute to Vietnam's continuing modernization. More
encouraging is the existence of discrete centers of research and
teaching excellence such as the SHTP Research labs and the
Saigon Institute of Technology. At these institutions policies
that provide merit-based resources (from a mix of all available,
including private, sources) and functional autonomy are yielding
international quality research and training. By pioneering such
policies in Vietnam, HCMC has again adopted the role of national
trend-setter. End comment.

14. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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