Author Topic: Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education  (Read 15246 times)

florlaca

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Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education
« on: February 26, 2011, 12:07:29 PM »
Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education
By Flor Lacanilao 

Producing a bigger workforce and putting in more money have been the usual answers of the Philippine government to address the poor state of its science and education. An analysis of the situation, however, does not point to the size of the workforce and lack of funding as the major causes of this problem. It is the government’s failure to attend to the real causes of the problem that has led to the continued deterioration of our S&T and education situation.
 
To begin with, consider the predicament of the National Science Consortium, which has been put up by the country’s seven top universities and the Department of Science and Technology’s Science Education Institute to pursue the following objectives: (1) “enhance the capability of the Philippine higher education system to produce technically competent PhD and MS graduates” and (2) “address the persistent lack of Filipino scientists and researchers, who would enable our country to compete economically with its neighbors.” These objectives are actually similar to those of past programs that had failed.

Now, the Consortium gives figures that puts our 2009 researcher population density at 1 per 12,300 persons, which was far below that of Singapore at 1 per 164. This means that the Philippines had 7,500 researchers against tiny Singapore’s 28,000. With these benchmarks in mind, the Science Consortium aims to produce 250 PhD and 350 MS graduates per year. But the big question remains: Will this solve the problems of Philippine science and higher education?

Last year, at the international conference in Japan on teaching and research activities, a report of scientific publications of 10 Asian countries showed the Philippines with the least published papers. The Philippines had only 178 valid publications in 2005, whereas Singapore had 3,609, or 20 times more. Since Singapore’s 28,000 researchers were 4 times that of the Philippines’ 7,500, and Singapore’s research output was 3,609 against our 128, then Singapore researchers were 5 times more productive than their Philippine counterparts. How did this happen?

Failed programs

Data in the last three decades show that although the number of researchers in the Philippines has been increasing, publications per PhD even decreased; indeed, the national output hardly increased. A lot of the research funds went to unpublished or poorly published researchers who produced unpublished or improperly published papers—in short, gray literature. Gray literature is not taken seriously, of course, and it doesn’t count in international evaluations of research performance, as the above-cited study of publications in 10 Asian countries shows.

At UP Diliman’s College of Science, which is the country’s best, a reform program in 1983 had aimed at increasing the PhDs in the faculty. It succeeded in doubling the number to over 90 PhDs in 10 years. But the number of properly published papers decreased. It dropped from 24 to 15 percent of total publications, or from only 12 to 5 percent of the papers produced per PhD (See Celebrating the UP Centennial, Table 1). This means that for every 20 papers, only 1 counted in international evaluations of S&T performance.

Further, the DOST launched the Science and Technology Master Plan in 1990-2000. Its R&D budget had increased yearly in 1991-1995, a four-fold growth from P800 million to over P3 billion. In 1992-1998, it implemented the Engineering and Science Education Project (ESEP) with funding from the World Bank. This was to upgrade engineering and science through PhD and MS scholarships. “If one surveys local universities today, one will find that many of the leaders were ESEP graduates,” a report said.

Yet with all the money, effort, and years spent in those programs, the country's S&T hardly improved. The research output remained the same from 1981 to 1995. And the total of Philippine publications in leading journals even decreased in 2000 to 2005—from a mere 185 down to 178, according to the above-cited study of science publications in Asia.

The figures show that although the country’s researchers have increased to 7,500 during the past three decades, the total research output has even gotten worse; it increased in quantity but decreased in quality. Hence, the programs largely succeeded only in increasing the number of poor mentors and decreasing the general quality of graduates.

There are 764 PhD faculty members from our top universities that are involved in the Consortium program. Note that although they produced all of the country's 178 publications, their research productivity is only 0.23 per PhD. This is far below that of the Faculty of Science at the National University of Singapore, where its 154 PhDs produced 389 publications in 1994, or 2.5 per PhD, which is more than 10 times than the output of our best graduate faculties. (The world-class standard is 1 per PhD per year.) Ours can hardly be expected to properly mentor the projected 250 PhD and 350 MS graduates yearly, so how can we ever catch up with our neighbor countries that have left us behind?
 
The failed programs cited above have been the main reasons for the stunted growth of Philippine science and education. And the major culprit is the persistent practice of peer review or personal judgment by unpublished and poorly published officials and faculty members, who are the ones evaluating research proposals and publications, screening faculty applicants, and giving promotions, recognitions, and awards.

Effective systems

In contrast, objective and internationally accepted criteria for performance evaluation have been successful. When implemented with cash rewards for outstanding publications, these criteria greatly increased useful research output (See Renaissance section of “Celebrating the UP Centennial”). At the UP, where a PhP50,000 reward is given per published paper in an international journal, publications increased from 25 to 40 percent of the national total between 1997-99 and 2002. (The combined publication output of La Salle, Ateneo, UST, and San Carlos during the same period increased from only 7.8 to 8.0 percent of the national total; the rest was largely produced by IRRI in Los Baños.) At SEAFDEC in Iloilo, which offered a cash incentive of 50% of annual salary, publications of the 50 research staff—only 9 of them were PhDs—increased sevenfold in 1993 after only 6 years. In fast-developing countries like China and Brazil, other forms of incentives have significantly increased international journal publications.

The results of the above programs show that the stunted growth of science in the Philippines is rooted more in wrong research practices than in lack of researchers and funds, either of which is the convenient excuse given by many for their poor research output or outright failure to do research.

With an incentive system that uses objective, internationally accepted criteria, however, it would be possible for the Philippines to produce the desired R&D output, save on research funds, justify even higher R&D budgets, and find a viable way to really reforming its science and higher education. The National Science Consortium should therefore seriously consider granting research incentives, allotting a substantial portion of its program funds for rewards to properly published papers and providing support for proposals of published proponents.
 
Because its performance indicators are objective, the incentive system can minimize personal judgment of research proposals and publications by nonscientists, fix the other wrong research practices, allow fruitful use of development funds, improve the performance of the 7,500 researchers, and produce better-qualified teachers and mentors for undergraduate and graduate students.

For its part, the Commission of Higher Education (CHED) should do away with putting up research journals; instead, it should encourage researchers to publish in SCI-indexed journals. CHED is supporting 190 state universities and colleges where only 10 percent of the faculty members have PhD degrees. Worse yet, how many of them are published? How can they manage research journals or review manuscripts when hardly any one of them is qualified to do so? In fact, not a single Philippine journal in science to date has met the criteria for SCI coverage.

Further, it is commonly thought that it is more important to improve basic education than higher education, when experience shows it should really be the other way around—higher education first, basic educations second. As Carl Wieman, Nobel laureate in physics, has observed, it is doubtful that great progress can be made at the primary and secondary levels until a higher standard of science learning is set at the post-secondary level.

In sum, the Philippines should radically reform its approaches to ensure the achievement of the objectives of the National Science Consortium and to give itself a sporting chance of catching up with its more progressive neighboring countries in the science and technology arena.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

McNicholas

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Re: Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education
« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2011, 08:41:11 PM »
I feel it's high time to make major reforms in  the higher education system of Philippines.

vitalshop

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Re: Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2011, 08:04:44 PM »
Yeah i agree with that..