The Philippines’ top science officials raised the need for an increase in the investment in the country’s human capital and increase the annual budget for research and development (R&D) to help the country counter bigger challenges in the future.

In a video presentation at the recent sixth National Research and Development Conference (NRDC), Science Undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara presented various developmental programs that the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has implemented in the last eight years.

The virtual conference dubbed “Pananaliksik at Pagpapaunlad: Daan Tungo sa Pagbangon (Road to Recovery through R&D)” showcases programs and technologies in support of the government’s whole-of-nation approach to recovery from the pandemic that are also in-line with the Harmonized National Research and Development Agenda (HNRDA) priority areas.

The HNRDA aims to provide innovative solutions to the pressing challenges of the country. It focuses 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.

Guevara underscored the need to invest in the human capital. “We believe that we have to invest in our experts and innovators to achieve victory through science and technology,” she said in Filipino

Currently, DOST supports capacitating and strengthening the scientific community workforce by implementing various programs, such as scholarship grants for undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate studies in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

“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 studie,” she elaborated.

She also mentioned the 16 Philippine Science High School (PSHS) campuses around the country that cater to high- school students in different STEM tracks. The PSHS was established in 1963 and since then has been offering scholarships on secondary education, focusing on science to prepare students for a career in science.  Its first campus was in Diliman, Quezon City.

Besides this, the DOST maintains the Balik-Scientists program, which in 2018 was signed into law, the Balik Scientists Act.

The DOST’s answer to the prevailing “brain drain,” the Balik Scientists Act sets in place the benefits given to returning Filipino scientists who share their knowledge and expertise to increase the local pool of scientists.

Since 1975, 577 returning scientists had 733 engagements and about 166 engagements and assistance to their host institutions, mostly state universities and colleges, across the country.

Although the pandemic has slowed down a bit the momentum of the Balik Scientists from performing its duties, DOST, however has arranged limited, remote engagements through virtual platforms.

Additionally, Guevara, a product of the University of the Philippines Diliman, mentioned the approval of the Science and Technology Fellows program, which will integrate experts in several DOST institutions to be part of the development, conceptualization, policy development, and monitoring and evaluation of the department’s various programs.

“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 explained.

According to Guevara, this model was adopted by the United States and Thailand where experts and research fellows are hired to work in various R&D institutions.

Increased R&D budget makes sense

To make our dream of a robust innovation ecosystem in the country a reality, investment in research and development (R&D) must also be given priority, Guevara pointed out.

She expressed her hope to get additional budget allocations for its R&D programs to complement the R&D initiatives of the DOST and create strategic mechanisms that will ensure the increase in the number and capabilities of local experts and researchers in developing solutions to bigger challenges ahead.

It was also mentioned that for almost 30 years, the country had only allocated 0.14 to 0.18 percent from its GDP for R&D programs as compared to Unesco’s requirement of 2 percent R&D spending.

In recent years, the Philippines performed well when it improved the standing in the 2020 Global Innovation Index (GII) as it rose from rank 100 in 2014 to 50 in 2020 despite the meager budget allocated for R&D.

The GII is an insightful data published by the World Intellectual Property Organization to help countries evaluate the innovation performance each year and help stakeholders map out plans for economic improvements and developments. It ranks the innovation ecosystem performance based on 80 key development indicators as its metrics.

She said that the country, in fact, is considered an “innovation achiever” as evidenced by the rise of the country in the innovation index report.

“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,” she declared.

Likewise, in the latest United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Technology and Innovation Report 2021, the country is considered an “innovation overachiever” as it was able to surpass 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.

Moreover, Guevara pointed out the need to increase the country’s R&D enablers and support especially in funding research in anticipation of difficult challenges ahead.

“Right now, we are hoping that it will be the policy to allocate 2 percent of the General Appropriations Act for R&D,” she noted.

Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña shared Guevara’s concerns.

“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,” de la Peña said.

He also added that these strengths could not be maximized. “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 Science chief lamented.

De la Peña expressed hope that the country can soon commit to invest more in research and development.

He commended the researchers for their efforts, thriving amid the challenges in performing their duties. He, likewise, encouraged them to work hand-in-hand towards a better and safer future through R&D.

Joy M. Lazcano/S&T Media Services

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