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[HANOI] Supported by a US$100 million loan from the World Bank, Vietnam launched a programme earlier this month (7 November) to promote the science and technology sector as a key driver of economic growth.

The project, Fostering Innovation through Research, Science and Technology (FIRST), aims to encourage market-driven and applied research to not only sustain Vietnam’s growth but also to reduce poverty.

This is the first time that the World Bank has extended such a significant loan to promote research and development (R&D). The Vietnamese government will also contribute US$10 million to the five-year project that will start in 2014.

“Vietnam has made tremendous progress in poverty reduction and economic development over the past 15 years. But Vietnam’s future growth is at risk, so it needs to become an innovative and competitive economy,” Suhas Parandekar, FIRST’s team leader, tells SciDev.Net.

The science and technology sector is the key that will drive innovation in Vietnam and sustain future growth, Parandekar says. To this end, the project encourages the scientific community to link up with private enterprises in developing and promoting new products to make it more competitive.

“A competitive economy has to improve its productivity. You need resources, new ideas, new products, new services and a more efficient way of doing things,” he says.

Parandekar foresees that the FIRST project’s financing will encourage the private sector to invest in R&D, which, he says, will serve as a catalyst that will build a culture of innovation in Vietnam.

The FIRST project complements Vietnam’s existing policies that promote R&D, such as the National Strategy on Science and Technology and Higher Technology Law, Parandekar says. He adds that these policies support the development of the state’s priority sectors such as biotechnology, manufacturing and information technology.

About 80 per cent of the new project’s funding will go to state-owned research agencies, universities, start-ups and private companies that invest in R&D.

The project also aims to support research in hydrology, meteorology, environmental protection and climate change. In addition, it will be used to build and maintain a laboratory to help in the automation of the manufacturing sector.

The rest of the funding will go to policy development and project management.

Phong Tran, technical lead in Vietnam for the US-based Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, says he hopes that the project will help cut the red tape that hampers R&D in Vietnam.

“Some researchers are frustrated dealing with the bureaucracy,” he says, adding that he hopes the additional funding will give more leeway for Vietnamese scientists to pursue their research.

Link to ‘The Strategy for Science and Technology Development for the 2011-2020 period’

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.