HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam -- Vietnam's old elite spoke French or English and boasted of degrees from the Sorbonne and Harvard. But future leaders of the new society will speak Russian and display honors from the University of Moscow.
Thousands of young Vietnamese students are studying in the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries to ensure themselves good jobs in their country's communist bureaucracy.
Miss Thu Hang, 26, recently returned to Vietnam after spending six years at a teaching institute near Moscow.
'I'd like to go again,' she said. 'People who have higher education have better opportunities.'
Vietnam sends 15,000 to 20,000 students a year to technical schools and universities in COMECON countries. More than 100,000 will go in the next five years as part of the 1981-86 economic plan. Most of them are selected for short-term bilateral technical training programs in the Soviet Union, East Germany, Bulgaria, Romania and Czechoslovakai -- even in Cuba.
But many receive four- to six-year university scholarships and, Western diplomats said, Eastern European countries have graduated about 3,000 Vietnamese doctors in the last decade.
Since Vietnam has only two universities -- one in Hanoi and one in Ho Chi Minh city -- clever and ambitious high school graduates compete keenly for thelimited places at home and abroad.
Smartly dressed in beige slacks and a plaid shirt, Miss Hang said students qualify for foreign scholarships on the basis of their biographies and a comprehensive examination. The tough exam covers both the physical sciences and humanities.
'You must pass the test,' explained Miss Hang, 'but family history is very important.'
Miss Hang, who looks as preppy as a Smith College senior, has a revolutionary background as impeccable as her smart, Western-style outfit.
Her father, a southerner, joined Ho Chi Minh in the struggle for independence in 1945 and worked for the North Vietnamese throughout the war with the American-backed south. Based in the jungles of Cambodia, he sent his daughter to school in Hanoi when she was 7. Children whose parents, like Miss Hang's, have faithfully served the revolution get to go abroad. Others do not.
In the Soviet Union they study the same subjects that earlier generations of Vietnamese studied in France and America -- engineering, mathematics, biology, physics and foreign languages. They return to Vietnam as doctors, chemists, accountants and teachers.
But instead of struggling to learn the Western principles of Montesquieu and Jefferson, they cram for exams on the equally alien dictums of Marx and Lenin.
Miss Hang majored in languages at the Pedagogical Institute of Varonesh, near Moscow. She also received a heavy dose of communist ideology.
'Of course,' she said, 'I also studied politics and the history of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party.'
The Vietnamese government decides where and what the students learn. 'We have no choice,' said Miss Hang. 'It depends on the state.'
Miss Hang really wanted to become a scientist. 'But,' she said, 'in 1975 there was a shortage of teachers so they sent me to the Pedagogical Institute.'
Nevertheless, the government can be flexible. Miss Hang disliked teaching, and the Ministry of Education reluctantly agreed to let her transfer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 'It is difficult to change careers,' she said, 'but I was not capable of teaching so they let me go.'
Vietnam sends thousands of low and middle-ranking cadres to COMECON countries for 3- to 12-month training courses. Russian and East European experts teach them everything from road-building to radio-announcing.
The Soviets have even trained a Vietnamese cosmonaut. During the Moscow Olympics, the Kremlin scored a propaganda coup by launching a Vietnamese into outer space along with a Soviet comrade.
In addition, the Soviet Union trains an unknown number of army, air force and navy officers. Vietnamese pilots learn to fly MIG-21s while ground troops study maneuvers in Soviet-built tanks.
The Soviets are concentrating on education inside Vietnam as well. Many of the primary and secondary schools in Vietnam teach Russian as the second language. Moreover, local radio stations broadcast Russian language lessons.
The Soviet Union also exports movies -- mostly documentaries about the Russian revolution and cultural features with a socialist tilt -- to Vietnam. Theaters in Ho Chi Minh city frequently show these films free of charge, but the city people complain they are too boring and rarely go to see them.