STAR SCIENCE By Caesar Saloma, PhD (The Philippine Star)
Updated February 17, 2011

The National Science Consortium was organized in 2009 by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in line with its Accelerated Science and Technology Human Resource Development Program (ASTHRDP). Its aim is to enhance the capability of the Philippine higher education system to produce technically competent PhD and MS graduates by providing ample graduate scholarships to promising Filipino scientists and researchers, and by promoting resource sharing and information exchange through collaborative academic and research activities among Philippine universities with established PhD programs in the basic and applied sciences and mathematics, including forestry and agriculture, animal science, fisheries and public health. The current school year, SY 2010 — 2011, is the first year of implementation of the Consortium.

The Consortium was initiated during the term of Secretary Estrella Alabastro and implemented today with the full support of current DOST Secretary Mario Montejo. It presently consists of 10 colleges and schools from seven Philippine universities, namely University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, University of Santo Tomas, Central Luzon State University, Visayas State University and Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. The Science Education Institute (SEI) of the DOST found that only seven universities in the country have established PhD degree programs in the basic and applied sciences and mathematics. The four Consortium colleges from UP are based in UP Diliman, UP Los Baños, UP Manila and UP Visayas.

Available CHED records reveal that in 2009, the Philippine higher education system was made up of 1,758 universities and colleges, of which more than 88 percent were privately owned. Thirty-nine percent (1.081 million) of all undergraduates were enrolled in 190 state and local government-supported universities and colleges during SY 2009-2010. In SY 2004-2005, less than 10 percent of faculty members had PhD degrees implying that only a few institutions of higher learning are capable of offering viable (advanced) graduate programs particularly in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.

The Consortium is managed by the Steering Council that is composed of the deans of the 10 member colleges together with the DOST-SEI executive director. The Council serves as a policy-making body that also closely monitors and evaluates the performance of the Consortium program. In October 2010, a total of 764 full-time PhD faculty members worked for the Consortium with the UPLB Graduate School and the UP Diliman College of Science employing the largest numbers at 244 and 147, respectively.

Before the Consortium was organized, the chosen colleges produced an average total of 74.7 PhD and 247.4 MS graduates per school year with UPLB Graduate School and the UP Diliman College of Science producing 97 and 48 MS graduates, respectively. The formation of the Consortium is expected to increase collective production to around 250 PhD and 350 MS graduates per year by creating an enabling environment wherein a PhD faculty member is able to graduate successfully one PhD and one MS student every three and two years, respectively.

The Consortium is the third advanced manpower development program formed by the DOST in partnership with selected Philippine universities in the last thirty years. In the mid-1980s, the UP-Ateneo-De La Salle PhD Consortium was organized for the breeder sciences, followed by the World Bank-funded Engineering and Science Education Program (ESEP) in the 1990s that included the acquisition of research equipment and facilities. Both programs produced a number of PhD graduates who are now holding key academic, research and administrative positions in local universities and research centers.

The National Science Consortium is established to address the persistent lack of Filipino scientists and researchers who would enable our country to compete economically with its neighbors and generate prosperity for its rapidly increasing population. According to the UNESCO Science Report 2010, the researcher population density of the Philippines (with one per 12,345 population in 2009) is incontestably lower than those of Singapore (one per 164), Thailand (one per 3,215), Indonesia (one per 6,172) and Vietnam (one per 8,695). 

The demographics of the PhD faculty members who are presently serving in the Consortium are also a cause of great concern. More than 55 percent of them are 51 years old and above, which means that our current and already limited national capability to train the next generation of scientists and researchers will be critically diminished toward the end of 2025 if our scientific enterprise system is unable to replace those who are retiring from service. In the UPLB Graduate School, almost 69 percent of PhD faculty members are at least 51 years of age. The demographics in other Consortium schools do not also fare any much better. The desirable age distribution is one in which there are more young assistant professors than associate professors who would also outnumber the senior full professors. A graduate student needs to earn his or her PhD degree before the age of 30 to have a better chance of contributing something significantly new to the body of scientific knowledge during his productive professional life.

The Consortium awarded a total of new 69 PhD and 322 MS scholarships in SY 2010-2011. This is in addition to the 212 PhD and 868 MS scholarships that were already allocated under ASTHRDP in the previous years before the Consortium was put into place. The more difficult challenge is to graduate these scholars in due time.

Human capital is the equivalent economic value that is placed on the skills and know-how of the available labor force. Together with stable rule of law, human capital plays a vital role in achieving national prosperity especially in a knowledge-based global economy. Despite the fact that it has no natural resources, Singapore became the richest country in the ASEAN due to its highly successful ability to generate and utilize intangible human capital.

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