The new doctoral training regulations spark a heated public debate



A recently published regulation on doctoral training – Circular 18/2021 / TT-BGDT (Circular 18/2021) – was approved by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training on June 28, 2021. It sparked a debate stormy among academics and policy makers.

More specifically, Circular 18/2021 dismantled the requirement of international publication as a prerequisite for obtaining the doctorate that existed in the old regulation of 2017.

The old regulations required doctoral students to publish two articles in peer-reviewed publications before the final defense of their thesis. One should be published in a national journal, while the other should be published in an internationally indexed journal such as Clarivate Web of Science (WoS) or Scopus. The WoS / Scopus indexed article could be replaced by either a book chapter or two international conference articles written in a foreign language.

Under the new regulations, the international publication requirement has been removed; this means that doctoral students can now only publish in Vietnamese journals before graduation.

Severe criticism

Since its publication, the new regulations have come under heavy criticism from academics. Several top scientists, in the hard sciences and social sciences, have appeared on local media and social networks to voice their opposition to the new regulations.

According to these researchers, the new regulations could slow the ongoing internationalization of the research system in Vietnam.

Talk to local media Vietnamnet, Professor Ngo Viet Trung, president of the Vietnamese Mathematical Society, asserted that “requiring doctoral students to have an international publication as a prerequisite for graduation is the most objective indicator of a ‘real’ doctor. », Given the current low quality of supervisors. and local newspapers.

Along the same lines, he and Dr Le Huy Bac, professor of literature at Hanoi National University of Education, argued that the new regulations “halted the growing development of [Vietnam’s] social sciences ”in particular.

Professor Bac acknowledged that when the old regulation was promulgated in 2017, he had not published any articles in international publications – but the old regulation had motivated him to publish internationally since then.

Other notable academic figures have also appeared in local media to voice concerns about the new regulations, including Associate Professor Huynh Van Chuong, President of Hue University, Associate Professor Phan Ha Duong of the Institute. of Mathematics from the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, and Professor Nguyen Dinh Duc from the National University of Vietnam-Hanoi, among others.

The official explanation

In response to this criticism, representatives of the Ministry of Education and Training explained that the new policy aligns with the program to improve the framework of autonomy defined by the amendment of the law on education. higher of 2018.

Talk to Laotian dongWork – Dr Nguyen Thu Thuy, director of the ministry’s higher education department, said the new regulations only set a minimum bar in terms of publications for doctoral students. Higher education institutions had the discretion to set a bar higher than the ministry’s requirements.

Vice Minister Hoang Minh Son, who spoke with Tien PhongThe pioneer – argued that the requirement for doctoral students to have an international publication, in a national policy document, is not a common practice. For example, the University of Malaysia in Malaysia had to withdraw the obligation to publish WoS / Scopus articles for doctoral students in the social sciences in 2017.


To fully understand the current debate, it is necessary to understand the context in which the old regulation (Circular 08/2017) was published. Specifically, in 2016, the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences (VASS), the largest social science graduate school in Vietnam, raised great concerns about its doctoral training.

At that time, the VASS was accused of having welcomed too many doctoral students who had only a limited research capacity. In 2016, local media in Vietnam revealed that there were around 350 VASS doctoral graduates, which equates to almost one doctoral graduate per day. Meanwhile, from 2011 to 2015, nearly 1,000 full-time VASS researchers published just 22 articles indexed on WoS.

These numbers stunned the public and subsequently led to a scandal with VASS called the “doctoral incubator” or “doctoral hatchery”. Due to the scandal, the Ministry of Education and Training promulgated the 2017 regulation as part of an effort to improve the quality of doctoral training.

Effect of old regulation

The old regulation gave rise to two trends.

The first trend has been a decrease in the number of newly enrolled doctoral students in Vietnam since 2018. According to the Ministry of Education and Training, the number of newly enrolled doctoral students in 2017 was 3,074. In 2018, the number fell. at 1,496 and in 2019 the figure continued to decline to 903.

The second trend has been an increasing number of WoS / Scopus articles published by Vietnamese academics. According to the SCImago database, in 2017, Vietnamese academics published 7,034 Scopus indexed articles. The respective figures in 2018, 2019 and 2020 were 9,182, 13,068 and 18,886.

On average, the annual growth rate of Vietnam’s Scopus publications between 2017 and 2020 was 39%, which is among the highest growth rates in the region. This growth is not only observed in the hard sciences but also in the social sciences.

Political dilemma

The current debate around the new regulations on doctoral training, as well as the context of that of 2017, implies confusion in the vision of the Ministry of Education and Training regarding doctoral training.

This confusion stems from the dilemma of balancing quantitative and qualitative research and balancing national and international research. The problem of having too many PhD graduates with low quality qualifications has been identified as a chronic concern for over a decade.

The 2017 regulation appeared to be an attempt by the Ministry of Education and Training to focus on quality and internationalization. It is obvious that the new circular 18/2021 means a U-turn.

Hiep Pham is an education researcher. He is currently research director at the Edlab Asia Center for Educational Research and Development, based in Hanoi. He is also the director of STAR Scholars Vietnam. His research focuses on the renewal of education and Scientometry.


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