Every semester, I get the op-portunity to lecture about national industrialization and its relation to science and technology development at several Science, Technology and Society classes in the University of the Philippines in Diliman. I discuss about the need to develop domestic industries, not only to provide local employment and goods, but also to push for local science and technology to flourish outside the academe and have an impact on a larger part of Philippine society.
In preparing my slides for each term, I usually share with the students several points related to the state of science and technology. One of these is the number of research scientists and engineers (RSEs) that are directly engaged in research and development here in the country. In 2005, when we wrote a short pamphlet with the same title as this column, the number we quoted was 150 RSEs per million. According to the Asean secretariat website, 83.3 percent of them are in higher-education and government research institutes. This roughly translates to slightly more than 12,000 RSEs all in all. In 1982, according to a UN University book, the number was 17,992. Sadly, this trend has not reversed yet as the latest data from the DOST (2007) show that there were only about 8,800 RSEs in the country at that time.
Since most of these RSEs are in government research institutes and in higher-education institutions (mostly in state colleges and universities), it is also worthwhile to look at the budget allocated to research and development in the country. In the 2009 World Competitiveness Yearbook, the Philippines ranked 54th, with R&D expenditure of around at $123 million (0.1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP). This is half the amount of Thailand (0.2 percent GDP, $498 million) and one fifth of Malaysia (0.64 percent GDP, $1.06 billion). The US still has the highest R&D spending in the world at 2.67 percent GDP ($368.8 billion), with Japan ($148.4 billion, 3.4 percent GDP) and Germany ($83.8 billion, 2.53 percent GDP) following suit. The Unesco pointed out that developing countries like the Philippines should be spending around 1 percent of its GDP in research and development.
For 2010, the nominal budget for science and technology for the DOST was around P5.33 billion, which makes only about 0.35 percent of the total budget and 0.07 percent of the 2009 GDP. Of course, the Department of Agriculture and state colleges and universities would also have their own allocations for research and development within the national budget, but this shows how much the government prioritizes the main department that coordinates science and technology-related activities in the country.
Things have not turned around even with the change in government leadership. Next year’s proposed budget under President Benigno Aquino 3rd has asked the House of Representatives for around P6.0 billion for the DOST out of the proposed P1.645 trillion budget. This accounts for a slightly higher 0.36 percent of budget and 0.085 percent of the 2009 GDP figures. That is still scraping the bottom of the barrel compared to other departments like the Department of National Defense.
To address the supply side of personnel, the DOST has a lot of scholarships available in its program. It has the Accelerated Science and Technology Human Resources Development Program for graduate school, DOST SEI study scholarships for college, and even the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) system. In the proposed budget, around P1.33 billion overall is given to incentives and scholarships. What is surprising is that the PSHS system budget decreased by P20 million. Does this signal a reduction of support of the national government to state science high schools such as the PSHS, much like its reduction of the UP budget this year?
Yet even with this sum (relatively small as it may be), we still face the reality that these fledgling scholars and graduates would have nowhere to go unless we also address the demand side of things. In an economy that is based mainly on the export of raw or semi-processed agricultural and mineral products and the import of finished manufactured goods, what use is a highly trained scientist or engineer? Most of our domestic industries do little or no research and development and the only industrial activity here in the country is mainly foreign-owned and targeted for the export market.
It is in this vein that we can link the building of domestic industries to science and technology development. These industries aiming for domestic consumption would need scientists and engineers to stay here and figure out the intricacies of production. Without this national industrialization policy, local scientists and engineers cannot be fully absorbed by the academe and would be easily lured to migrate elsewhere.