LAST OF 2 PARTS: PHYSICS IN THE PHILIPPINES TODAY
MANILA, October 28, 2004 (STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Caesar Saloma, Ph.D. - (Conclusion) For researchers in the physics community, the most important source of research grants for personnel and equipment is the Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development (PCASTRD) of the Department of Science and Technology. The PCASTRD provides research funding in the areas of biotechnology, electronics, instrumentation and controls, information technology, materials science, photonics, and space technology application.
Within a 14-year period (1989-2002), the PCASTRD has released a total amount of P164,909,776.42 in research grants, of which P67,340,254.11 (40.83 percent) and P15,524,343.04 (9.41 percent) went to the materials science and photonics sectors, respectively. The biotechnology sector received 27.45 percent of the total financial disbursements for research and development. In 2002, Intel Philippines gave an equipment grant to NIP in the amount of 155,000 euros.
Physics research in the Philippines has never been in a better state than it is today. ISI Essential Science Indicators revealed that after the 10.17-year period, from January 1992 to February 2002, the Philippines had been able to enter into the rank of countries with the highest citations in physics.
Filipino physicists are acquiring the competence and confidence to recognize more interesting research projects and publish in high-impact scientific journals. This is critical if the number of available Ph.D. supervisors is to increase in the country. Noticeable improvements in research infrastructure and facilities and in the number of publications in ISI journals have turned the NIP graduate school into a viable option where young talents can pursue advanced careers in physics. As a consequence, a slowdown is happening in the migration of valuable B.S. Physics graduates leaving for abroad.
The quality of college freshmen who are entering NIP has been improving steadily. The number of B.S. graduates is also increasing – more than 40 were produced in the academic year ending May 2004. A steady stream of B.S. graduates is crucial for the continued growth of the NIP graduate school. The physics community is also relatively young – about two-thirds of the current SPP members are below 40 years old.
The semiconductor and electronics industry in the Philippines is recognizing the indispensable element of R&D for survival in a fiercely competitive environment. The high cost of conducting R&D, in terms of equipment and manpower requirements, leads to the conclusion that it is best carried out in the universities, and there is now a conscious effort in both industry and academe to interface with each other. The primal need to thrive and prosper is forcing the industry to financially support R&D efforts in the academe. On the other hand, the private sector’s obsession with the bottom line is certain to reduce if not eliminate, boondoggling in the academe.
The Philippine physics community must capitalize on its current gains to bring its scientific capability to greater heights and enable a majority of Filipinos to enjoy the benefits of science and technology. Success in R&D depends not only on talent, technical capability and determination on the part of researchers, but also on infrastructure and financial support mechanisms in the environment.
There is a pressing need to improve state auditing and customs regulations governing R&D expenditures. Regulations should be designed to promote urgency and efficiency in R&D activities (rather than to curb corruption in government). Conscious effort is also needed to heighten public understanding on the true nature of the scientific inquiry. Among those who are literate, many still harbor the misconceived notion that scientific knowledge is static and that all information is already available (for free) on the Internet. To them, investment in science is not essential.
An overhaul of the system of incentives in the academe is overdue to make successful scientists abroad to even consider working in the Philippines – the basic salary of a UP professor is lower than the US federal minimum wage of US$10,712 per annum. To make ends meet, a typical UP faculty member has to take extra workload that inevitably jeopardizes his performance as a teacher and researcher.
At least in the near future, the state will remain to be the main sponsor of scientific R&D. There is a clear need for the state to increase its level of R&D funding if only to match deleterious effects of inflation (six percent in July 2004). Between January 1990 (US$ = P24.46) and June 2004 (US$ = P55.98), the Philippine peso had depreciated by about 129 percent against the US dollar. In the 12-year period (January 1990-December 2003), the R&D budget (in US$ terms) of PCASTRD had increased by only 7.31 percent – an average rate of less than one percent a year. To put things in perspective, the 2003 budgets of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health in the United States increased by five percent and 17 percent (year-to-year), respectively. In 2001, the Philippines spent 0.15 percent of its Gross National Product on R&D, while the US, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia devoted 2.58 percent, 3.09 percent, 2.96 percent, 2.16 percent, and 0.49 percent of their respective GNPs. In 1992, the Philippines spent 0.22 percent of its GNP on R&D.
In the Philippines, the odds of encountering a Filipino with a Ph.D. in physics is one in a million (literally). However, there are signs that this rarity is going to change for the better.
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Caesar Saloma is a professor of physics at the National Institute of Physics, University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City (http://www.nip.upd.edu.ph). He is the director of the institute until 2006. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax at +632 928 0296.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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