Retaining scientific talent is one of the biggest challenges facing the Vietnamese Agricultural Genetics Institute (AGI) today. That challenge could become even more onerous if new legislation is passed that makes it more difficult to fund researcher salaries from core funds. Placed under the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science (VAAS), AGI is involved in biotechnology and plant breeding. Its main research crops are rice, fruit trees, vegetables, flowers, and soybeans.
All VAAS agencies, not just AGI, face a similar hurdle. Researcher salaries are extremely low--around US$250 per month for mid-career scientists. Young researchers are attracted to AGI early in their career because they can benefit from government-funded MSc training. By mid-career, better pay elsewhere prompts many to move on. Agricultural research in the country is now largely dependent on government funds. Since reaching middle-income status, Vietnam has become less attractive to foreign donors (though some remain on board, like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Sweden, and Denmark).
The Vietnam government would like to make its national R&D agencies more independent, competitive, and commercial. To do so, it has introduced legislation to change the structure of public-sector research funding. If ratified, Decree 115 would greatly reduce core funding for salaries. This has caused a wave of uncertainty among R&D agencies. Managers fear they might be forced to lay off staff. “It is not good for the future of science in Vietnam,” said one.
Pictured: Prof. Dang Trong Luong, Vice Director of the Agricultural Genetics Institute in Hanoi.