To make the Philippines equipped to counter bigger challenges in the future, more investments should be poured into the country’s human capital and that the annual allocation for research and development (R&D) should be increased.
This was stressed by Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara in her welcome remarks during the first leg of the 6th National Research and Development Conference (NRDC) held on Wednesday, Nov. 10.
“Naniniwala kami na dapat tayong mamuhunan sa ating mga eksperto at innovators upang makamit ang mas matibay at matatag na tagumpay sa larangan ng siyensya at teknolohiya (We believe that we have to invest in our experts and innovators to achieve victory through science and technology),” she said.
During the virtual event anchored on the theme,“Pananaliksik at Pagpapaunlad: Daan Tungo sa Pagbangon (Road to Recovery through R&D)” , the DOST official presented various pro-people programs that the agency has implemented in the last eight years.
Major programs and technologies in support of the Duterte government’s whole-of-nation approach to recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic were showcased. These initiatives which are also in sync with the Harmonized National Research and Development Agenda (HNRDA) priority areas.
Seeking to provide innovative solutions to the pressing challenges hounding the country, the HNRDA zeroes in on the development areas of Basic Research, Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources, Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology; Disaster Risk Reduction at Climate Change Adaptation; and Health.
10,000 recipients of MS/ PhD scholarships
Guevara cited that to capacitate and strengthen the scientific community workforce, the DOST has implemented scholarship grants for undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate studies in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
“Sa nakalipas na limang taon, ay meron na tayong halos 500 na MS at PhD graduates kada taon. Mahigit 10,000 na ang nabigyan ng MS/PhD scholarships sa buong bansa at mayroong 4,000 scholars naman ang nakatapos ng pag-aaral (In the last five years, we have approximately 500 MS and PhD graduates every year. More than 10,000 received MS/ PhD scholarships while 4,000 scholars have already finished their studies),” she said.
She noted that the Philippine Science High School System has 16 campuses around the country that cater to high school students in different STEM tracks.
Since 1963, the PSHS has been offering scholarships to high school students who wish to pursue a career in science.
To address “brain drain”, the Balik-Scientists program has been implemented and it was on June 15, 2018 that the Balik Scientists Act was signed into law to grant benefits to returning Filipino scientists, Guevara said.
She said since 1975, the program has attracted 577 returning scientists who had 733 engagements and extended assistance to their 166 host institutions, mostly state universities and colleges, across the country.
S&T Fellows program
Guevara also cited the approval of the Science and Technology Fellows program, which aims to integrate experts in several DOST institutions to be part of the development, conceptualization, policy development, and monitoring and evaluation of various DOST programs.
“Ang pagkakaroon ng S&T Fellows sa iba’t-ibang ahensya ng DOST ay nakikita naming pangmatagalan at nais naming ma-institutionalize. Ito ang aming tugon sa hamon na masiguradong may sapat at kwalipikadong workforce ang Departamento, at mapanatili natin sa bansa ang mga MS at PhD graduate ng Science at Engineering (We see the S&T Fellows as the long-term solution to address the challenges in ensuring that we have enough number of qualified workforce and make our MS and PhD graduates in Science and Engineering stay in the country. We also hope to institutionalize this program),” she said.
She said the United States and Thailand adopted this model where experts and research fellows are tapped to work in various R&D institutions.
Higher R&D budget
Guevara said it is about time for the country to pour in additional funding for R&D programs to ensure a “robust innovation ecosystem” in the country.
The budget allocation will be used to increase the number as well as the capabilities of local experts and researchers in developing solutions to bigger challenges ahead.
The DOST official said for almost 30 years, the Philippines had only allocated 0.14 to 0.18 percent from its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for R&D programs as compared to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) requirement of 2 percent R&D spending.
She noted despite the meager budget allocated for R&D, the Philippines emerged as an “innovation achiever” as shown in its standing in the 2020 Global Innovation Index (GII).
The Philippines rose from rank 100 in 2014 to 50 in 2020 despite the pale R&D funding.
Published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the GII seeks to help countries evaluate the innovation performance each year and help stakeholders map out plans for economic improvements and developments.
The innovation ecosystem performance is ranked based on 80 key development indicators as its metrics.
“Napatunayan natin na kahit maliit ang pondong laan para sa agham at teknolohiya, kaya nating makipag-sabayan at manguna sa larangan ng innovation (We have proven that we can be at par and ahead with other countries in the field of innovation even with meager budget for science and technology),” Guevara said.
To further prove her point, she noted that in the latest United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Technology and Innovation Report 2021, the Philippines is considered an “innovation overachiever”, surpassing the rank 57 under India.
The Technology and Innovation Report measures the country’s readiness to frontier technologies such as artificial technology, 3D printing, and Internet of Things, among others.
“Sa ngayon ay umaasa ang DOST na magiging polisiya ang paglalaan ng 2 percent ng General Appropriations Act (GAA) para sa R&D (Right now, we are hoping that it will be the policy to allocate 2 percent of the General Appropriations Act for R&D),” Guevara said.
DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña echoed the same concern, saying that the Filipino researchers should be supported.
“As mentioned earlier, the Filipino researcher is considered an efficient innovator – that is, we deliver more innovation output compared to what is expected given our innovation input,” he said.
“Our potential will not be realized with a modest investment in R&D – averaging less than 0.20 percent of our GDP, still far below the UNESCO recommendation for a developing country,” the DOST chief lamented.
As he lauded the researchers’ efforts to assist the government in its COVID-19 efforts, de la Peña likewise urged them “to work hand-in-hand towards a better and safer future through R&D.”
The second leg of the two-day NRDC is slated on Nov. 17. It showcased the latest results of the country’s R&D programs and innovations organized by the DOST Office of the Undersecretary for Research and Development.
It highlights some of the ongoing and completed R&D projects and programs aligned with the priority areas of HNRDA that are geared towards inclusive socio-economic development, the DOST said.