Building research in UP from the ground up
Building research in UP from the ground up
STAR SCIENCE - Gisela P. Padilla-Concepcion, Ph.D. (The Philippine Star) - January 16, 2014 - 12:00am

These are exciting, promising times for us in our country. While we continue to face challenges and suffer setbacks in many aspects of our national and community life, we are proving resilient in the face of natural disasters and other crises.  Our progress may not be in great strides, but cautious little steps are being made in the right direction and taking us to the next higher level of development. We are securing certain niches in the world market where we have a competitive edge. We are seeing prosperity grow in the cities and the countryside. More Filipinos are going to college, becoming technologically competent, and are being informed or educated through the Internet. We now seem to care more about preserving the environment and controlling pollution, and many of our youth go for a healthy diet and lifestyle. More of our citizens follow rules and fall in line in public places. We are enjoying greater peace and order in general. We have many more highly educated, well-meaning persons in government, and gradually, more money is being invested by the government and the private sector in the right projects. There are telltale signs of progress and a general marked improvement in our daily lives.

Still we lag behind most of our ASEAN and Asian neighbors. We see a higher quality of life when we travel to developed countries. We are avid users of many products and services that are imported to our country. Local products are mostly formulated or assembled from imported components. We find ourselves ranked low in terms of global competitiveness and innovative activities. We have very few registered inventions, approved patents and other intellectual property (IP) assets, and IP practice in our country is flourishing only because the patents on foreign products are being protected.

While our situation is improving, we still have a long way to go. Worst of all, we have not attained food self-sufficiency, and we continue to import food products, feeds and fertilizers, and are not able to produce these on our own. Our workforce cannot be productive with insufficient food and poor nutrition, and we cannot uplift the lives of the poorest of the poor. Filipino children suffering from malnutrition and disease will be disadvantaged physically and mentally at a very early age. Next worst of all, we have serious problems in basic education and higher education that are being addressed only now.

This brings me to why we need to develop a culture of research in the University of the Philippines (UP), our national university. We have the mandate and responsibility to be at the forefront of innovation and problem solving in the country, but we are still not able to do it very effectively, judging from the low number of peer-reviewed academic publications and patents we have been generating. And even if we are known to produce good public policy papers for government, there is a lot more that we should do to implement these policies.

UP has great potential to lead progressive change in our country. It attracts the best and brightest students from all provinces, and captures grassroots intelligence. UP’s entrance exam, the UPCAT, selects for students who have a high aptitude for math, science and engineering. UP has special entrance exams where students can demonstrate their talent and skills for the arts, music, and humanities. Bright, talented students from all walks of life have a chance to get a very good education at a reasonable cost. At the heart of the university are the dedicated, highly trained faculty who inspire and educate the students, and by their example become our youth’s models, imparting the knowledge, values, competencies and skills that allow a UP college graduate to perform well when employed after graduation.  As a Iskolar ng Bayan, a UP graduate knows that he must work with honor and excellence and devote part of his life to public service.

Every year, Asian universities are ranked for quality based on certain criteria, and our legislators always keep an eye on UP’s ranking because as the national university, UP receives substantial funding from the government. The QS Asian University Rankings (AUR) are based on: 1) research quality: 1.a) academic reputation (30 percent), 1.b) papers per faculty (15 percent), 1.c) citations per paper (15 percent); 2) teaching quality: faculty student ratio (20 percent); 3) graduate employability: employer reputation (10 percent); 4) internationalization: 4.a) international faculty (2.5 percent), 4.b) international students (2.5 percent), 4.c) inbound exchange students (2.5 percent), 4.d) outbound exchange students (2.5 percent) (Mandy Mok, QS Asia Pte Ltd., 2012).

In 2012, UP’s overall ranking in QS AUR was 68, and in 2013, 67. Remarkably, when broken down by criteria, in 2012, UP’s rankings were: 1.a) academic reputation (30 percent): 34 and 3) employer reputation (10 percent): 29 — much higher than UP’s overall ranking, and 1.b) papers per faculty (15 percent): 300+ and 1.c) citations per paper (15 percent): 136 — much lower than UP’s overall ranking. Clearly, tertiary education in UP is perceived to be very good, UP enjoys a high academic reputation, and our graduates are highly appreciated by their employers. However, our research output is poor and pulls down our overall ranking. (UP is the only Philippine higher education institution ranked by QS AUR in the top 100 in Asia. In the 2013 QS AUR, National University of Singapore ranked second, University of Malaya 33rd, Mahidol University 42nd, University of Indonesia 64th, and UP 67th. In these rankings, there is a strong correlation between the ranking and the country’s GDP per capita.)

With all the above indicating the need to focus on research and innovation to contribute to productivity in the country, UP has established its own research program known as the Emerging Interdisciplinary Research or EIDR program, even as UP researchers continue to pursue research projects with funding from external sources such as the DOST, DA, and foreign funding agencies. The main goals of EIDR are to provide “seed” research funds to enable UP researchers to produce high quality publications, e.g., in ISI- and SCOPUS-listed journals, and other academic output quickly and regularly; to lay the groundwork to establish a research culture in UP by having UP’s research experts mentor the present and future generations of UP researchers in the best practices of research; to promote interdisciplinary and intercampus research interactions and activities as “one-UP”; and to support the creation of “value” networks from basic to applied research to produce discoveries and innovations that can be developed and packaged into useful, patentable and marketable products and services. This would involve integrated teams of researchers in the natural, engineering and computational sciences, as well as in business economics management and development, and of arts, culture and lifestyle creators, that would contribute to our growth and development as a UP community and as a nation.

Why “emerging” and why interdisciplinary research? Emerging — because there are new opportunities to pursue, problems to solve, and natural phenomena to understand, that keep emerging;  Emerging — to underscore an anticipatory (several-steps-ahead) approach to interventions; for example, disaster prevention and mitigation. “Anticipation” studies would include computational modeling, projection and prediction based on previously gathered data and information. Very importantly, interdisciplinary — because with the breadth and depth of knowledge available today, we realize the need to have experts in various disciplines working together to provide the long-term (not short-sighted), multi-faceted (not simplistic), more effective solutions to the complex problems we face today.

To carry further the argument for an interdisciplinary, complex systems approach to problem solving, and recognizing the need to work with more experts in various disciplines, we are encouraging collaborations among units of a UP campus and across UP campuses; collaboration with external local and foreign agencies, primarily leading foreign universities with whom UP has existing linkages; collaborations with leading HEIs (higher education institutions) and leading SUCs (state universities and colleges) identified by CHED, and public service-oriented NGOs and foundations in various regions of the country.

We have had five cycles or calls for proposals for EIDR so far and several projects have been approved and are ongoing. The grants are competitive with the evaluation and ranking of proposals performed by an EIDR Evaluation and Monitoring Team which sends out proposals to external expert reviewers under proper confidentiality agreements. (This is not a “tayo-tayo,” “pat your back/pat my back” review, or a conflict-of-interest review). The major evaluation criteria are: 1) innovation and intellectual merit, 2) significance and broad impacts, 3) investigator competence in the proposed area of research, and 4) feasibility of completion in two to four years. The project is awarded a reasonable budget and requires a project manager who takes care of project operations, procurement of equipment and supplies, submission of semi-annual and annual technical and financial reports and other requirements. At the beginning of the project, the project leader and project manager participate in a project management and orientation meeting where key persons from the accounting, procurement, personnel hiring and IP offices of UP explain the guidelines and procedures. A one-month grace period is given to hire personnel and get started. Requests for budget reallocation are readily granted based on good justification.  In short, we are trying our best to create an enabling research environment and a culture of research in the university.

Last November, the first Annual EIDR Symposium was held in UP Los Baños. Cycle 1 and Cycle 2 awardees gave oral and poster presentations, respectively: Oral presentations were: 1) Social-Ecological Resilience on Different Spatial and Temporal Scales (Emphasis on the Coast), by Dr. Maria Helen Yap, UP Diliman; 2) Paleoenvironmental and Biodiversity Study of Mindoro Island: An Archeological Science Initiative, by Dr. Armand Mijares, UP Diliman; 3) Toward Good Water Governance for Development: A Multi-Case Analysis, by Dr. Agnes Rola, UP Los Baños; 4) HULLUBATON: Putting Together the Mandaya Dawot, by Dr. Genevieve Quintero, UP Mindanao; and 5) Computer-Aided Discovery of Compounds for the Treatment of Tuberculosis in the Philippines, by Dr. Junie Billones, UP Manila.

Posters presented were: 1) Versatile Instrument System for Science Education and Research — Sensors and Modules (VISSER:SM), by Dr. Giovanni Tapang, UP Diliman; 2) Wood to Energy: Use of Fast Growing Plantation Tree Species as Fuel Pellets in the Philippines, by Dr. Menandro Acda, UP Los Baños; 3) Exploring a Theory of Engaged Collaboration Across Borders Among Transnational Advocacy Networks, by Dr. Ma. Larissa Lelu Gata, UP Los Baños; 4) The Use of Ethylene Antagonist 1-Methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) to Prolong Shelf-Life of Minimally Processed Fruits and Vegetables, by Dr. Katherine Ann Israel, UP Los Baños; 5) Clinical and Autoimmune Characteristics of Early Onset Diabetes in Young Adult Filipinos, by Dr. Elizabeth Pacheco, UP Manila; 6) One UP Health Benefits Action Research: Toward a Gendered Universal Health Care Sectoral Model Utilizing an Information Technology System, by Dr. Sylvia Claudio, UP Diliman; and 7) Drug Use and Behavioral Health Among Young Populations in Metro Manila: A Baseline Cum Intervention Study, by Dr. Leonardo Estacio, UP Manila. Of these awarded projects, many are inter-UP campus and interdisciplinary.

In Cycle 5, the call for proposals indicated the following priority areas: 1) projects to strengthen proof of concept (POC) and claims of existing patents and patent applications of UP to improve prospects for technology transfer and business development; 2) pervasive, progressive, dynamic pedagogy; 3) development of Philippine culture, creative arts, mass communication, humanities and national identity; 4) data analysis and modeling of complex dynamical systems as basis for social and institutional change; 5) policy and advocacy papers; 6) poverty alleviation: family and community development; 7) fundamental technologies to support food, agriculture and light manufacturing industries; 8) development of biomaterials; 9) basic biomolecular and medicinal chemistry research capacity building; 10) immunology for human health, agriculture, livestock and aquaculture; 11) food and nutrition; 12) health, wellness and lifestyle diseases. The list covers a broad range of research areas, giving all UP faculty, researchers and creative workers the opportunity to submit proposals. In previous cycles, other priorities were found on top of the list.

EIDR is UP’s way of trying to build research from the ground up. With limited resources, we are counting on the dedication and expertise of our research leaders to generate research output that advances knowledge and has the potential to produce new useful products, processes, information, services, and policies that will benefit Philippine society. Aside from academic/scholarly publications, we encourage EIDR awardees to produce public dissemination materials about their work, such as primers, popular articles, and manuals for the general public, where applicable, while making sure to safeguard their intellectual property. We would like EIDR faculty awardees to enrich their courses with their research and prepare e-learning materials such as audios, videos to share with students. Most of all, we hope EIDR will contribute to creating research groups or a critical mass of researchers in the university and the country, with research leaders mentoring graduate students, providing them research topics and funding to pursue their MS thesis and Ph.D. dissertations.

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GP Padilla-Concepcion is a professor at the Marine Science Institute, UP Diliman, where she team-teaches graduate courses and co-leads research on bioactive marine compounds and related biomedical research. She is an academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology and is currently the vice president for academic affairs of the University of the Philippines System. E-mail at

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