Is old wine in a new jar or an innovation?

Our common perception is that we do not have high quality science and technology as we wish, and funding to support researches over the past few decades has not been effective in helping the development of the national science and technology. That’s why it is understandable when people have a lot of hopes in the new NAFOSTED, especially the scientists who have been spending major portions of their life dedicating to scientific researches. They now wish the government will provide adequate financial supports so that they can continue their important researches. Many scientists who have been working for universities or research institutes but have never carried out any researches or produced any high international quality publications… surprisingly concern about this new development, and are waiting for what are really going to happen. Will it be old wine in a new jar or a real innovation in research funding? Unfortunately, NAFOSTED is the only funding mechanism that supports basic scientific research, and the government does not have any funds available to support other kinds of researches such as development. That’s why, many scientist groups, even the ones who do not carry out basic scientific research, are also rushing to prepare proposals to submit to NAFOSTED as “there are no other sources”.

The responsible person must have high quality international publications

A requirement is that researchers must publish their findings in international journal. This led to a long debate, and is considered a major step forward. The fact that NAFOSTED confirms again the criteria that have been published in magazines and ranked in accordance to ISI standard over the past five years is an “event” itself amongst the scientific community. To meet these criteria, Ho Chi Minh National University, and Vietnam Institute of science and technology collect information about international publications. This requirement also forces researchers to learn about SCI and SCIE, and how difficult to meet their requirements. In my opinion, it is the initial success of the Funds. Basic research has a lot of risks, so the selection process is very important and more difficult in comparison with evaluating final results (mainly depending on the evaluation of journals or international workshops). There are two criteria that help reduce the risk of failures: 1). Ensure the quality of the content and research plans which are assessed by NAFOSTED evaluation committee, and 2). Ensure the feasibility based on the past accomplishments of researches. If members and project managers have published their worked in leading international journals, as listed in SCI/SCIE, especially in recent years, will have high possibilities of receiving supports for two or three year, and vice versa. In my opinion, in the initial stage of this new development, it is very important to announce SCI/SCIE conditions by project managers.

Professional committee is the deciding factor

Many individuals who are interested in NAFOSTED believe that the quality of professional committee is the most important factor that will make the Funds success or failure. If the committee consisting of experts who are not bias will make the Funds success, and vice versa. Bias attitudes and favoritism have existed in Vietnam for a long time. The committees of NASFOSTED should include outstanding scientists, and ages, titles and regions should not be matters. Members of committees should be scientists who are carrying out researches, unbiased, knowledgeable, and understand international development of knowledge. Specifically, committee members must have much higher qualification than the criteria set by NAFOSTED. It is even better if they have earned international recognitions for their work (such as editors of international journals, speakers at international workshops, organizers of important international conferences. In the area that we lack of expertise, we need to ask help from international experts.

Some of above thoughts are the results of my discussions with many researchers. We all hope that the management of the Funds will hold on to innovative criteria to help push forward the development of national science and technology.

By: Ho Tu Bao