VIETNAM: Persuading overseas students to return
In the past year, the number of higher education students studying in the US increased by more than 46%. While 87% of these are undertaking undergraduate or postgraduate courses, the remainder are involved in other types of study or training programmes that are not readily available in Vietnam or are not of a sufficiently high standard.
A conference attended by 900 Viet kieu, or overseas Vietnamese, was recently held in Hanoi aimed at persuading the diaspora to return. The conference, the first of its kind, was sponsored by the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese and focused not only on improving young people's knowledge of their own country but also on attracting the overseas educated Vietnamese back home.
Overseas Vietnamese are a valuable asset to their country even though they live in other countries. Because of their close ties to their families and their country, many are working to improve the situation back home. As Dr Lynn McNamara, acting Executive Director of the Vietnam Education Foundation, says: "Vietnam will always draw them back."
Many Viet kieu are making their own mark, not only in their adopted countries but, like Professor Do Dinh Chieu, in their home country as well. The professor, a physicist from the north of Vietnam, divides his time between lecturing in France and Vietnam, as well as working with Vietnam's science institutes, the Ministry of Education and Training, and, increasingly, with the Vietnam Physics Institute in preparation for the construction of Vietnam's first nuclear power plant.
Although the Hanoi conference was a first, it is not the first time the government has tried to encourage overseas Vietnamese to return or, at least, participate in helping build the country indirectly. In 2007, an amended Nationality Law meant that a greater number of overseas Vietnamese were able to hold dual citizenship.
A visa exemption scheme also came into law making it easier for overseas Vietnamese to purchase houses in their adopted countries and, as well, government offices were established overseas to continue supporting citizens. Yet, while many young people expressed their desire to return home, this has not occurred.
During New Year celebrations this year, State President Nguyen Minh Triet declared the Viet kieu were "an inseparable part of the Vietnamese nation and that the Party and State create the best possible conditions for them to return and contribute to the homeland".
Dr Bui Kim Hai, a Vietnamese-born Belgian citizen and family doctor who has been living and working outside Vietnam for 40 years, says: "Most Vietnamese overseas want to make a contribution to the development of their homeland. The younger generations of Vietnamese overseas are acting as a bridge between Vietnam and the outside world."
Bui returns frequently to Vietnam to work with the poor and has also been responsible for implementing many assistance programmes with the assistance of the Belgian government.
Not all overseas Vietnamese, however, are staying away. Children born to Vietnamese parents living overseas are gradually coming back to discover their roots. Curious to know where their parents came from and what kind of life they led in their country of birth has long drawn the second generation back to their parents' homeland.
Some may not enjoy the experience, others say they find it strangely comforting and stay on. Nhan Nguyen, born in America to Vietnamese parents, is a case in point. A lecturer at the RMIT International University in Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen originally came for six months but, liking what he saw, decided to stay on.
* Dale Down is a postgraduate student in international education at Monash University in Melbourne.