Friday, August 5, 2011

U.P. President Pascual updates constituents on latest university developments

By Chanda Shahani

University of the Philippines President Alfredo E. Pascual talked today (August 5, 2011) about his vision for U.P.'s reinventing itself as a full-research university in light of massive budget cuts from the national government in 2012.

Speaking at the "Kapihan with UP President Alfredo Pascual," at 5:00 p.m. today at the Marine Science Institute at U.P. Diliman, with the overall topic, "Research for a better Philippines and ASEAN," Pascual said that he was at the House of Representatives yesterday when he received the bad news from Congressmen that not only would U.P.'s proposed budget be cut, but that it would be even smaller than in 2011.

He said that U.P.'s budget for 2012 would be cut by 800 million to PhP 5,149,619,000 from its figure of PhP 5,949,619,000 in 2011. U.P.'s budget, as well as the budgets of other state universities and colleges (SUCs) are currently lodged with the House Committee on Appropriations where they will undergo deliberations.

U.P.'s budget has been steadily shrinking over several years due to dwindling support from the national government and congress. For the Diliman Diary's analysis on U.P.'s budget cuts, please click here.

"We have ways of coping with this, but we will not sacrifice academic excellence," Pascual said, adding that "they cannot fault us if we contract our student body to retain excellence. I hope we will not reach that situation."

He said that in his original mission statement, he saw that U.P. had to strengthen its impact. In this regard, he said, research was a very important way for U.P. make itself a cut above the rest of the SUCs. However, U.P. had to strengthen its research capabilities, as development was uneven with some schools such as the Marine Science Institute (MSI) and other institutes in the sciences already well-experienced with research while others just remained as teaching schools, imparting existing knowledge without discovering new knowledge.

"Research and development (R&D) is primordial, he said, and acknowledged the ongoing online debate between former U.P. Visayas Chancellor Flor Lacanilao and former U.P. Diliman Chancellor Roger Posadas, both distinguished scientists, who have been debating what the national priority should be in terms of whether basic research will lead to technological progress (Lacanilao) or whether the selective acquisition of the chicken through the reengineering of existing technology as a way to jump start basic research (i.e., the egg) was the way to go (Posadas).

Pascual tacitly admitted that both scientists were correct in their respective arguments, and referred to U.P.'s collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to reverse engineer a monorail system within U.P. campus, while at the same time stressing that it was important for faculty and graduate students to get published in  ISI-referenced journals which were important as gauges of academic excellence.

He stressed that it was important for U.P. to start develop a strong cross-disciplinary capability such that different disciplines could work closely together. "If we just address the problem of the Philippines, we can still be globally relevant, because there are so many developing country and tropical issues that other countries will want to tap our expertise in," he said.

Dr. Edgardo D. Gomez, a Professor Emeritus of U.P. Diliman's Marine Science Institute (MSI) said in the open forum that “their experience could serve as a useful model for other units in the university”; even as U.P. struggles to retain its relevance amidst budget cuts from the national government. He said that President Benigno S. Aquino III is asking MSI to come out with a national coral reef protection program.

Being published in internationally-refereed journals by professors, researchers and graduate students will become the new norm in U.P.

Raul Suarez, a Canada-based Philippine researcher said in PhilScience, a group in Yahoo! Groups, that “The “push” for publication in ISI-indexed journals is a relatively recent phenomenon in the Philippines. As many are aware, the UP now gives its faculty a cash incentive for each ISI-journal article published and such publications are now required for tenure and promotion. In certain graduate programs, the publication of at least one paper in an ISI-indexed journal is a requirement for graduation with a Ph.D. degree.”

Dr. Gomez said that other units can learn from the early experiences of MSI where they learned early on to develop a “psycho-sociological mindset” that made publishing in internationally refereed journals quite natural. “In our case, it's not required to be published. Our experience is that “you come up with the data, you analyze it, and then you publish it,” he said.

The consensus among the forum participants was that the more U.P. research is published in internationally refereed journals, the better known U.P. will become internationally, and the more successful U.P. will be in attracting  funding for its proposals.

The open forum with President Pascual also revealed the following important insights:
  •  U.P. can continue to remain relevant by simply focusing on the broad themes of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) such as food security, nutrition, health, infectious diseases and climate change.
  • President Pascual said that an example of U.P. remaining relevant within the context of MDG was a proposal he received from Dr. Rex Victor O. Cruz, the dean of the College of Forestry and Natural Resourcesat U.P. Los Banos for Mt. Makiling to become a laboratory and a regional center for climate change.
  • U.P. is now working on a comprehensive communications plan, Pascual said. "U.P. has to get to be known to the rest of the country, as it has so many gems. We should also popularize our research findings in a language that the common man can understand," he said.
  • Undergraduate programs result in student enrollment in U.P. where undergraduates constitute 80% of the student population and graduate students constitute 20% of the student population. Pascual said that in more progressive countries, the ratio is 50% to 50%. Pascual said that he would like to see the ratio of graduate students reach 30% by the time his term ends.
  • More research is the only way for U.P. to distinguish itself. He said that he was in favor of putting up a research hospital in U.P. Diliman with a capacity of 300 beds which would differentiate itself from the historic mandate of Philippine General Hospital (PGH). The proximity of the research hospital to the colleges such as the U.P. College of Engineering would enable the efficient interaction of the different disciplines in the testing of Philippine-made artificial heart valves or prosthetics, for example.
  • Pascual also said that the national government kept on asking U.P. to do research for it, but that U.P.'s overhead charge was only 5% to ten percent of the overall charges. He said that a more appropriate charge was 50%, which is what Harvard and other universities charge. He said that the funds collected from this would go to a pool of funds to support U.P.'s research projects.
  • While U.P. would still create "public goods" or the dissemination and creation of knowledge for the good of the community, U.P. also had to engage in commercialization. "Ultimately is the creation of new industries in the country from the creation of research output," Pascual said.
  • Some examples of successful commercialization was the PhP 100 million in revenues U.P. Los Banos dervied from its biofertilizer project and PhP 45 million which U.P. Manila will receive in partnership with Pascual Laboratories for its Lagundi project.
(Chanda Shahani is the editor of the Diliman Diary. An A.B. Comparative Literature graduate from U.P. Diliman, he also has a Master's degree in Entrepreneurship from the Asian Institute of Management and is a former business page reporter for the Philippine STAR).

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