DOST Undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara reiterated the need to invest 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 for the 6th National Research and Development Conference (NRDC) held 10 November 2021, the undersecretary presented various developmental programs that 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. “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.)

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). 

“Sa nakalipas na limang taon, ay meron na tayong halos 500 na MS at PhD graduates kada taon,” elaborated Guevara. “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 also mentioned the 16 Philippine Science High School 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.

Aside from this, DOST maintains the Balik-Scientists program, which in 2018 was signed into law, the Balik Scientists Act, which sets in place the benefits given to returning Filipino scientists who share their knowledge and expertise to increase the local pool of scientists. The Balik Scientists Act is DOST’s answer to the prevailing “brain drain.”

Since 1975, we have 577 returning scientists who 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, has mentioned the approval of the Science and Technology Fellows program. The program will 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,” explained Guevara.

(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.)

According to her, 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. Usec. Guevara 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 Gross Domestic Product (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. “Napatunayan natin na kahit maliit ang pondong laan para sa agham at teknolohiya, kaya nating makipag-sabayan at manguna sa larangan ng innovation,” declared Guevara.

(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.)

Likewise, in the latest United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 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 measure 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. “Sa ngayon ay umaasa ang DOST na magiging polisiya ang paglalaan ng 2% ng General Appropriations Act (GAA) para sa R&D,” shared Guevara.  

(Right now, we are hoping that it will be the policy to allocate 2% of the General Appropriations Act for R&D)

This declaration was shared by DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña. “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,” said de la Peña. 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% of our GDP, still far below the UNESCO recommendation for a developing country,” de la Peña lamented. 

Sec. de la Peña hoped that the country can soon commit to invest more in research and development. He commended researchers for their efforts, thriving amidst the challenges in performing their duties. He, likewise, encouraged them to work hand-in-hand towards a better and safer future through R&D. 

The 6th NRDC is slated on 10 and 17 November 2021. It is an event that promotes 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. (By Joy M. Lazcano, DOST-STII)

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