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September 13, 2019

From 15 To 64: DOST To Create More Niche Research Centers

From 15 To 64: DOST To Create More Niche Research Centers

With three years remaining for the administration, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) will push for the establishment of more niche research centers to help realize President Duterte’s thrust for regional development.

This is what DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña reiterated during the 68th annual convention of the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (PhilAAST) in Pasay on Wednesday, Sept. 11, which focused on the theme, “Science for the People: Fostering Centers of Excellence in the Regions.”

“We want to increase the number of niche research centers in the country, not just those that are located in big universities that have traditionally submitted proposals and been given financial grants by the DOST,” Dela Peña told The Philippine STAR in an interview during the convention.

“Right now, there are over 2,000 colleges and universities in the country, but those that have received grants from us in the last 10 years were only 83. So what we want is to increase the number of people who are doing research and spread them all over the country. We know that there are plenty of universities with good capabilities and expertise. We want to be able to develop even if their expertise is just in a specific area,” Dela Peña added.

Founded in 1951, PhilASST is an organization of scientists, researchers, technologists and other stakeholders in the field of science and technology in the country, with the aim of promoting the value of science in the community.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles, who was a keynote speaker at the convention, said the development of niche research centers in the regions is key to Duterte’s agenda of rural development.

“We want regional development, and if we want development, science and technology and research and development are very important,” Nograles told The STAR in an interview during the convention.

“That’s why we are very happy to see an increase in the budget of the DOST, so that all of their programs will be supported. For example, with the establishment of Philippine Science High Schools all over the country, these schools will be able to supply scientists in every region. What we want is for them to stay in their region so that they can push science and technology and research and development to supply the needs of the different industries in those regions,” Nograles said.

 He also emphasized that Duterte’s signing into law of key science and technology bills such as the Balik Scientist Act and Philippine Space Agency Act shows how important it is for the President that science and technology be given proper and ample attention.

“If we want to push our country forward, this is the way to do it, and this goes along with the Philippine Development Plan of 2017 to 2022. At least, before the President steps down, we’ll be able to push for these innovations and programs to really push our country forward. We cannot move and accelerate development in our country without innovation. That’s key. That’s very important,” Nograles said.

In a lecture during the convention, DOST Undersecretary for Research and Development Rowena Cristina Guevara stated that there are currently 15 niche research centers in the country under the DOST’s Niche Centers in the Region (NICER) program, each with its own field of expertise.

According to her, these centers stimulate cooperation in science, technology and innovation with higher education institutions such as public and private colleges and universities to spur regional development.

She also encouraged higher educational institutions in the regions to apply for funding as a niche research center. For 2019, the NICER program had a budget of P528 million for research and development, distributed to the 15 niche research centers, according to Guevara. By the end of Duterte’s term in 2022, the DOST envisions having 64 niche research centers in operation, with at least one for each region, she said.

The NICER program, Guevara emphasized, helped the Philippines improve its recent ranking in the Global Innovation Index, from 73rd last year to 54th out of 129 countries.

She added that the establishment of the 15 niche research centers is the result of the DOST’s budget quadrupling in the last 20 years, from P5 billion in 2010 to P20 billion in 2019. This may increase even further next year if the hike in the DOST budget for 2020 is approved.

 According to Dela Peña, the Department of Budget and Management has earmarked P20 billion for the DOST next year just half of the P40 billion that the agency proposed. But lawmakers in the House of Representatives are pushing for an additional P5 billion for the agency’s top five priority projects.

Of the 15 niche research centers nationwide, eight are in Luzon. These are the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in Health Research and Development Center at the University of the Philippines-Manila, the Tamarind Research and Development Center at the Pampanga State Agricultural University, the Sweet Potato Research and Development Center at the Tarlac Agricultural University, the Potato Research and Development Center at the Benguet State University, the Freshwater Fisheries Center at the Isabela State University, the Citrus Research and Development Center at the Nueva Vizcaya State University, the Center for Astronomy Research and Development at the Rizal Technological University, and the Pili Research and Development Center at the Bicol University.

The remaining seven are distributed in Visayas and Mindanao. These are the Crustacean Center at the Samar State University, the Center for Environmental Informatics at the University of the Philippines-Cebu, the Center for Mollusk Research and Development at the University of the Philippines-Visayas in Iloilo, the Research and Development Center for Biodiversity at the Cebu Technological University, the Sea Cucumber Research and Development Center at the Mindanao State University in Naawan, the Renewable Energy Research and Development Center at the Ateneo de Davao University, and the Industrial Tree Plantation Species Center at the Caraga State University in Agusan del Norte.

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