NATIONAL  SCIENCE  COMPLEX:  A  STRATEGIC  INVESTMENT FOR  HIGHER  EDUCATION

MANILA, APRIL 25, 2009 (STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Caesar Saloma, Ph.D. - The appropriation of necessary funds to complete the infrastructure requirements of the National Science Complex (NSC) and to operate and maintain it properly will be viewed as one of the key strategic investments made by the Philippine government and the Arroyo administration for higher education in the first decade of the 21st century.

The NSC is built to provide a nurturing and enabling environment for Filipino scientists and researchers as well as students in the basic and applied sciences and mathematics. It is designed to bridge the gap between academe-based high-risk scientific research and development and the shorter return-of-investment horizon of the private sector and other government agencies. The NSC is operated by the College of Science (CS) and it is located in a 21.9-hectare area in the southeast part of UP Diliman.

Being an academic institution, CS has two main tasks: (1) To generate new scientific knowledge that improves the accuracy of our understanding of how Nature works (scientific research), and (2) To train the next generations of scientists and researchers of the country (advanced manpower training).

There is a strong correlation between per capita income of a country and the quality of scientific research produced by that country’s scientific community. Rich countries are also scientific powerhouses — they rely on the technical contributions of a large number of PhDs in the sciences and engineering to remain competitive in a knowledge-based economy. Between 1997 and 2001, there was one PhD per 3,316, 11,621, and 6,533 of population in Germany, Japan and the US, respectively. For it to attain the scientific manpower strength of Germany, Japan and the US, the Philippines (population: 87.9 million) needs about 26,500, 7,500 and 13,400 PhDs, respectively. In 2003, the total number of PhDs working in the Philippines was 1,374.

According to the highly respected university ranking system developed by the Shanghai Jiao Tung University (SJTU), 17 of the top 20 universities in the world in 2008 are based in the US. Only one made it from Asia (Tokyo University) — Japan is the only Asian country with universities that have produced Nobel Prize winners. No ASEAN-based university was able to qualify for the top 100. The SJTU ranking criteria are based on the principle that a great university is one that performs superbly in scientific research.

If UP is to achieve coveted elite status, then it must offer graduate programs that could attract the best minds of the world. The PhD degree is the final degree in the formal (matriculated) education system. It is a research degree that is granted to a student only after he or she is able to contribute something original and novel to the body of scientific knowledge. A PhD degree is a minimum requirement for hiring a faculty member of a research university.

The College of Science (CS) is the primary producer of PhD and MS graduates in the basic and applied sciences and mathematics in the country today. It is unmatched by any other local scientific/engineering institution in terms of number of PhD faculty members and scientific areas covered by its scientists and researchers. The ability of CS to fulfill its mission is vital to the future development of other scientific institutions in the Philippine higher education system. The experience that is learned from setting up and operating the NSC will be invaluable for those who are planning to set up similar centers in different parts of the country.

Yet CS only produced an average of 12.9 PhD and 46.2 MS graduates per school year between April 1983 and April 2008 because only a small percentage of the 150 or so PhD faculty members that CS employs every academic year, guide and direct the dissertation/thesis research of PhD/MS students. A reasonable yield would be 40 PhD and 70 MS graduates per year, respectively. The completion of the NSC is expected to improve the academic performance and research productivity of CS by enhancing the environment for interdisciplinary research collaborations between scientists and researchers from different constituent units and other schools and universities. Proven success in scientific research is also an effective way of attracting the best (young) minds of society.

The NSC is a strategic investment of our country in a knowledge-based global economy. Investment in education is one of the most important means of increasing the intangible capital — the other being a stable rule of law. The NSC will serve as the vital training ground for the talented graduates of our science high schools and other elite private schools. After years of investing in their own science and engineering departments, neighboring countries are in dire need of young scientific talents and Filipinos are an attractive target of recruitment for them. The NSC is a critical element for reducing the costly hemorrhage of young Filipino scientific talents to other countries.

The Philippine government needs to ensure that the NSC is appropriately maintained and operated. The NSC is a legacy of the present to the future generations of Filipinos who will continue working hard to improve the quality of life of those who remain in the homeland.

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Caesar Saloma has a Ph.D. in Physics, and is a professor at the National Institute of Physics, College of Science, University of the Philippines, Diliman. He is presently the Dean of the College of Science and is a member of the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines. He is the recipient of the 2004 Galileo Galilei Award of the International Commission for Optics and the 2008 ASEAN Outstanding Scientist and Technologist Award. He also received the Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Teacher Award (Higher Education category) in 2007. E-mail him at caesar.saloma@gmail.com.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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