Increasing adequate investments for basic research - a fundamental factor creating breakthroughs in science, technology, and innovation for national sustainable growth

Assoc. Prof, Dr. HUYNH THANH DAT
Member of the Party Central Committee, Minister of Science and Technology
Thursday, March 16, 2023 10:09

Communist Review - In December 2021, the United Nations General Assembly approved the resolution promulgating the year 2022 as the International Year of Basic Science for Sustainable Development. The resolution recommends that member States raise awareness of the importance of basic science for sustainable development, in line with national priorities, increase funding for basic science, and promote open science. Vietnam is one of the 10 countries that initiated and co-authored the International Year of Basic Science for Sustainable Development.

Politburo Member, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh visits the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology _Photo:

1. Basic research is a type of scientific research to improve scientific theories for a better understanding of natural, and social phenomena and thinking. Basic research, applied research and experimental implementation create a system of scientific research and technological activities, a crucial instrument in ensuring a balanced and sustainable development of countries in the world.

Trial and error is the elementary process in science which can be delayed even in decades until its successful application in real life and brings added value; the results of basic research are often published in the form of publications and most of them do not generate direct commercial benefits; therefore, the contribution of basic research is not easily observable. However, fundamental research is instrumental for the training of highly qualified human resources in science and technology, and for important technological advances. A wide range of popular products today, such as antibiotics, vaccines, electricity, led light bulbs, televisions, internet, smartphones, or treatments for COVID-19 originated from basic research findings decades ago.

In the world, normally in large countries, only the State can afford a stable and long-term investment in basic research. Investing in basic research is a strategic way to help these countries consolidate and improve their potential, knowledge, and scientific position to lead the world. It enables them to boost socio-economic growth and handle transnational issues of the future related to the safety and security of human beings, the environment, and the Earth.

For developing countries like Vietnam, due consideration given to investing in basic research is also investing in the future of national science and technology; It contributes to developing highly qualified human resources at the frontline of knowledge, especially at the graduate level; It helps to improve research capacity and nurture talented scientists working for universities and research laboratories; thereby increasing the capacity to anticipate, absorb, apply and develop new researches and global advanced technologies to achieve national sustainable development goals.

2- Since the 80s of the twentieth century, the Party and the State of Vietnam were aware of the importance of investing in basic research. Resolution No. 37-NQ/TW, dated April 20, 1981, on "Science and technology policy" (This was the first resolution of the Politburo on science and technology after the national reunification) mentioned that while focusing on applied research, it is crucial to pay full attention to oriented basic research that serves as the foundation of applied research and instrument to absorb contemporary technological advances in the world and ensure the steady growth of science and education in Vietnam. At the beginning of the renovation period, Resolution No. 26-NQ/TW, dated March 30, 1991, of the Politburo on "Science and technology in the cause of renovation" reaffirmed that the promotion of applied research and the rapid application of research findings into real life must go along with the investment in oriented basic research in order to create a premise for the future development of science and technology.

Since then, the cross-cutting viewpoint of the Communist Party of Vietnam in all stages of national development has always been to attach great importance to basic research as an investment in this field signifies an investment in the future of national science and technology. Resolution No. 02-NQ/HNTW, dated December 24, 1996, of the 2nd Central Conference of the 8th  term on "Strategy for development of science and technology in the period of industrialization, modernization and tasks toward 2000” reaffirmed this importance. This orientation was the most explicitly expressed in Resolution No. 20/NQ-TW, dated November 1, 2012, of the 6th Plenum of the 11th Central Committee on "Developing science and technology for the cause of industrialization and modernization in the context of a socialist-oriented market economy and international integration". Accordingly, the Party pointed out that in the vision for 2030, it is necessary to boost basic research; prioritize oriented basic research and some natural science fields in which Vietnam has advantages; to promote the application of basic research for socio-economic growth and national defense; to boost basic science in mathematics, physics, life science, marine science.

The 13th Party Congress continued to inherit this policy and reaffirmed that due attention should be paid to making adequate investment in basic research as well as core technology and digital technology”(1) and considered it as one of the important solutions to boost science, technology, and innovation in order to create breakthroughs in improving performances and competitiveness of the economy.

3- The wise guidelines of the Party have become a lodestar for policy making, formulating and implementing initiatives and programs to promote basic research activities at the national level. Along with social sciences and humanities, science and technology, basic science was invested comprehensively to improve the potential of science and technology, thus making practical contributions to the achievement of national development goals in each period.

As early as 1991, the Ministry of Science and Technology implemented the Basic Research Program in natural sciences and established the Council on Natural Science Research to identify priorities. The program was implemented until 2006, supporting thousands of scientists in mathematics, physics, chemistry, informatics, mechanics, earth science, and life science to conduct basic research and publish in prestigious domestic and international journals, contributing to strengthening the research capacity and improving the quality of graduate training.

In 2008, investment in basic research was made according to international standards with the establishment of the National Foundation for Science and Technology Development (NAFOSTED) - a financial institution founded by the Government, and managed by The Ministry of Science and Technology. It was highly appreciated by the scientific community for its transparency and efficiency. Besides providing grants for basic research, it also actively supports young domestic scientists to participate in international conferences and seminars as well as research institutes and universities to organize international conferences and workshops in Vietnam. It has greatly contributed to the increase of international publications in Vietnam in recent years and the improvement of Vietnam's scientific position in the international academic ranking.

In order to make adequate and inclusive investments in fundamental research, besides the NAFOSTED, over the past 10 years, the Government has paid attention to developing and implementing key national programs on basic research development toward 2020, 2025, and 2030(2) in fields of Vietnam’s strengths, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, life science, earth science, marine science. These programs cover many basic science development solutions in Vietnam, ranging from funding research to increase international publications, training and developing highly qualified human resources in each field; improving the quality of national specialized scientific journals to meet international standards, organizing international conferences and workshops in Vietnam; sending Vietnamese scientists to attend and present at international conferences and workshops abroad, to funding in modern equipment acquisition and upgrading shared laboratories, promoting bilateral and multilateral cooperation in basic research; attracting overseas Vietnamese scientists to participate in training and research activities in Vietnam.

Thanks to the active involvement of the Party and State, over the years, Vietnam's basic research has made remarkable progress, contributing to improving the research capacity and technology of the nation, and ensuring its sustainable development. Some significant results are as follows:

Firstly, Vietnam's basic science has made great progress and deep integration.

Before the establishment of the NAFOSTED, through the Basic Research Program in Natural Sciences, Vietnamese researchers began to publish in internationally influential journals indexed by the American Institute for Scientific Information (ISI, later Thomson ISI and WoS - Web of Science), but the number of published articles is still limited. In the past 10 years, especially since the establishment and operation of the NAFOSTED, the number of international publications in Vietnam has increased sharply, significantly improving the global research ranking of Vietnam. In 2009, Vietnam published 1,768 articles, ranked 65th in the world. By 2021, Vietnam has risen to the 45th position and belongs to the world's top 50 with 18,381 publications. The number of international publications by Vietnamese researchers increases by an average of over 20% per year.

Up to the present, most of Vietnam's basic research findings have been published under international practices, many of which have passed rigorous and highly competitive independent international peer-reviewed assessments to be published in the most prestigious international journals. This opens up opportunities for Vietnamese to work at tachnologically advanced institutions, exchange ideas at prestigious international academic conferences abroad, and organize international conferences in Vietnam with the participation of influential scientists around the world. What is more, the quality of Vietnam's specialized journals is increasingly improved; Some journals are indexed in Scopus or WoS, such as the Journal of Mathematics, the Journal of Physics, the Journal of Chemistry, the Journal of Earth Sciences of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology or Journal of Physics of Vietnam National University, Hanoi. Thanks to Vietnam’s advances in basic science, in 2017, two Vietnamese centers for mathematics and physics (the International Center for Physics and the International Center for Mathematical Research and Training under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology), which are in charge of conducting research and training activities for ASEAN and African countries were recognized and sponsored by UNESCO. This made an imprint that leverages Vietnam's basic research in the region and the world.

Secondly, highly qualified human resources for basic research are rising sharply, and many internationally influential research groups have been created.

Along with the increase in international publications, the number of scientists who lead the research and the main authors of publications is also growing. Before 2009, this number was still modest and most of them came from three big research institutions, namely the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, Vietnam National University, Hanoi, and Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City. However, 10 years later, almost universities and research institutes across the country have researchers who publish in international journals as the main author. In addition, the number of young scientists funded by the Government (3) or foreign institutions as well as researcher members of the editorial board of reputable international journals is on the rise. Many young Vietnamese scientists have received prestigious national and international awards.

The participation of university lecturers in basic research has enabled the quality improvement of undergraduate and graduate programs. In the basic research program granted by the NAFOSTED, on average, each project has trained one Ph.D. student so that he/she can publish in prestigious international journals, thus making a practical contribution to the training of highly qualified human resources and the Vietnam integration into the world. The number of university lecturers and scientists with doctorate degrees in recent years has increased rapidly and been rejuvenated, the number of doctors under 40 years old accounts for nearly 50% in some key universities and research institutes. In 2021, five Vietnamese higher education institutions have entered the top 500 universities in emerging economies, including Vietnam National University, Hanoi, Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, Ton Duc Thang University, Duy Tan University, and Hanoi University of Science and Technology.

Thanks to the appropriate investment of the State, Vietnam has also gradually created a strong academic environment in the country, attracting young scientists who studied abroad to return home to develop pioneering research, create qualified research groups that meet international standards (such as the Institute of Mathematics, the Institute of Physics, the Institute of Materials, the Institute of Biotechnology under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, International School of Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, University of Natural Sciences - Vietnam National University, Hanoi, International Training Institute for Materials Science, Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Institute of Technical Physics - Hanoi University of Science and Technology).

Thirdly, basic science contributes positively to national socio-economic growth.

Over the years, basic research and application-oriented basic research have made several significant contributions to socio-economic development. Basic research in earth and environmental science has been instrumental in understanding the history of formation, and geological evolution of the territory and territorial sea of ​​Vietnam, contributing to affirming and safeguarding national sovereignty, forecasting, and zoning geological resources, natural phenomena, and disasters, rationally planning the territory, and protecting natural resources and the environment; improving forecasting capacity, mitigating the impacts of natural hazards and climate change in Vietnam. Basic research findings on species biodiversity, ecosystem diversity, and geology have provided convincing scientific evidence for UNESCO to recognize biosphere reserves (Nui Chua, Kon Ha Nung, Lang Biang, Cu Lao Cham, Cape Ca Mau, western Nghe An, coastal and sea islands of Kien Giang, Red River Delta, Cat Ba, Dong Nai, Can Gio mangrove forest), global geo parks (Dong Van Karst Plateau Geo-park, Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark, Dak Nong Geo-park). These will be potential tourist destinations, attracting a large number of domestic and foreign tourists, and also a place to conserve biodiversity, develop people's livelihoods, and ensure sustainable development for localities. Application-oriented basic research has also achieved outstanding results in physics, chemistry, mechanics, information and computer science, agricultural biology, and biomedicine. Many businesses have established a partnership with universities and research institutes to apply the outcomes of basic research to develop their key products and successfully commercialize them. For example, Phenikaa Construction and Development Group (Phenikaa Group) cooperated with scientists from Hanoi University of Science and Technology to develop Vicostone product; Rang Dong Group cooperates with researchers from Hanoi University of Science and Technology, Institute of Physics, Institute of Materials Science, Institute of Tropical Technology under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, and the Academy of Agriculture to develop agricultural lighting products...

4- Besides these performances, Vietnam's basic research still faces challenges, such as inadequate and scattered research funding, lack of focus; facilities and infrastructure for research are quite modest; the productivity and quality of international publications of Vietnamese scientists are still low; the rate of scientists with doctoral degrees on the total number of full-time researchers at research and higher education institutions is still low; there is a lack of qualified leading staff to conduct research at the international, large-scale and transdisciplinary level. This situation poses great challenges to the science and technology force, including basic research, when the country enters a new stage of development with global integration and increasingly harsh international competition based mainly on national capacity in science, technology, and innovation.

Along with the orientation of synchronous development of science and technology, on May 11, 2022, the Prime Minister signed Decision No. 569/QD-TTg promulgating the "Strategy for development of science, technology, and innovation until 2030" by which it is required to build a modern basic science, give priority to application-oriented basic research to move forward innovation, self-reliance and increase technological competitiveness in key areas of Vietnam’s needs and strengths. To achieve that goal, in the coming period, due consideration should be given to making an adequate investment, improving mechanisms and policies, and creating a favorable environment for Vietnam's basic research to continue to strengthen its foundation and create breakthroughs and make worthy contributions to national science and technology as well as long-term development goals. Specifically:

First of all, it is crucial to give adequate attention to basic research to provide theoretical knowledge and enhance research capacity for the development and application of future advanced technologies. The State must be the main actor in funding and investing in facilities, major equipment, and laboratories for basic research; promoting national science and technology databases, and high-performance big data processing centers. Applied research must go hand in hand with basic research.

Second, continue to promote the role of the NAFOSTED in funding basic research according to the world's advanced model. Assess and improve the process of evaluation, research topic selection, and quality of researchers under the principles of quality, impartiality, and transparency. Defining methods and criteria for measuring research performances according to international practices. Promote fixed-price contracts and financial post-audit, accept risk-taking, and delay in scientific research.

Third, persist in restructuring the scientific and technological system, improve the autonomy of research institutions, and create a favorable environment (administrative procedures, finance, infrastructure, equipment, working conditions, academic exchanges) for top-notch research; apply international practices in recruiting and appointing scientists; combine the training and salaries and wages of basic scientific researchers with the obligation of international publication. Adopt adequate compensation policies as a motivational tool on researchers and research managers’ performance to "retain" them and foster their talent.

Fourth, provide resources to effectively implement basic science programs in areas of Vietnam’s strengths toward 2030 (in mathematics, physics, chemistry, life, and earth science, especially marine science) and to comprehensively and synchronously deploy solutions to improve Vietnam's basic research capacity, and make practical contributions to national sustainable development.

Fifth, promote international integration and cooperation in basic science through multilateral institutions such as UNESCO, the European Union (EU), and technologically advanced countries. Promote connections, and academic exchanges, and organize international conferences and workshops in Vietnam. Develop a network of Vietnamese and international scientists, especially in top-notch research. Keeping pace with evolving open science trends in the world to exploit and apply appropriately, bringing benefits to Vietnam.

In conclusion, as a developing country with insufficient financial resources, Vietnam, on the one hand, should pay attention to maintaining pure research activities and gradually increasing the proportion of financial investment in line with the development of the economy, gradually rising the knowledge level, scientific and technological potential, especially qualified human resources to solve practical problems of the country; on the other hand, identify some priority applicable research that can create rapid and strong impact on socio-economic growth in order to focus investments and create breakthroughs. In the further future, Vietnam strives to boost its science and technology that is capable of carrying out global missions and solving global challenges, such as climate change, security energy, exploitation of outer space, ocean bed, and sustainable development of the common home – the Earth./.


(1) Documents of the 13th National Congress, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2021, vol. I, p. 228

(2) National key program for mathematical development from 2011 to 2020 (Decision No. 1483/QD-TTg, dated August 17, 2010, of the Prime Minister) and from 2021 to 2030 (Decision No. No. 2200/QD-TTg, dated December 22, 2020, of the Prime Minister); The physical development program between 2015 and 2020 (Decision No. 380/QD-TTg, dated March 24, 2015, of the Prime Minister) and the period 2021 - 2025 (Decision No. 1187/QD-TTg, dated August 4, 2020, of the Prime Minister); Basic science development program in chemistry, life science, earth science and marine science from 2017 to 2025 (Decision No. 562/QD-TTg, dated April 25, 2017, of Prime Minister)

(3) The number of basic research project leaders under the age of 40 funded by the NAFOSTED has increased significantly; In 2009, this rate was only 30% and in recent years it has reached nearly 60%

This article was published in the Communist Review No. 997 (November 2022)