Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 16 July 2014

 

Two months ago during the commencement period, I focused on the “University of the Philippines and the nation” (this column, April 30, 2014). Today, I continue this discussion.

UP is our national university. It has a unique role in the development of science and technology in our country. Our survival in this competitive world (apart from maintaining proper economic policies) depends on upgrading our scientific and technical capacity.

Ergo, the government must enhance its support in the most basic sense, upgrade faculty and research salaries and raise research, technological and scientific capacity.

In this age of global competitiveness, the Philippines has lagged far behind in tertiary education, and UP is one of our major cards for greatness – in the ASEAN, within East Asia and in the world.

Recently, my UP Economics colleagues, Ramon Clarete and Ernesto Pernia, finished a working paper on Philippine efforts in the field of science and technology that partly touches on UP’s role in the process and provides relevant statistical information.

A stark neglect. There has been weak government financial support for UP, our premier educational institution. We find this out by comparing with our prominent ASEAN neighbors.

Over the years, government funding of state-run universities in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia has outstripped that given to our premier state-supported institution. The comparative budget support to their premier universities speak louder than words.

Translating their budgets within a common framework gives a clear picture. The UP trails far behind.

Using a comparable recent period and converted to US dollars for all, the budget for the National University of Singapore was $868.5 million; for Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), $610.4 million; Mahidol University (Thailand), $325.9 million, and National University of Malaysia, $202.7 million. In comparison, UP’s budget was $178.2 million for the same period.

UP faculty salaries are very low and inadequate. We have to get into details.

Converting salary figures into comparable US dollars per month, Drs. Clarete and Pernia, in their study, find that the basic monthly salary for a full professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) is $14,051 versus $2,821 at the University of Malaya (UM) [both as of 2012] and $1,862 in UP as of 2013. UP’s full professor has a basic salary even lower than that of a lecturer in NUS with $3,910 and an associate professor’s $2,016.3 in UM.

We need to know also student enrolment numbers. The UP system has around 60,000 students. NUS has 37,000 students; Nanyang (Singapore), 27,000 students; Mahidol (Thailand) about 26,000; and University of Malaya around 30,000.

These numbers imply that UP teaches more students per dollar of expenditures. Since the pay of faculty is much lower, the faculty is not only overworked, but grossly underpaid.

Competitiveness within the nation. Salary statistics at the national level also shows that the UP faculty is poorly paid. La Salle University salaries – which are commensurate with those of Ateneo, a fierce competitor at the academic and other bragging points – have salaries which are generally far above those of UP.

Based on current UP pay scales and figures for salaries of La Salle University, I have looked at the raw data for salaries. In La Salle, there is a brewing complaint that salaries are low, yet they are far higher than those at UP.

The basic salaries in La Salle are, on average 1.6 times that of UP salaries for mid-range assistant and associate professors. The salaries of full professors are at least twice those of UP professors!

The result: UP suffers enormously from domestic competition in attracting talent. Many faculty members are forced to take consultancies and other types of engagements outside of their main duties in order to support a family. In some cases, this has led to a reduction in effectiveness in their service to the university.

The competition is a one-way flow: outward. UP’s intellectual resources and its products (the source of its rejuvenation for the future) is often from the UP to: (1) government; (2) private business; (3) other private universities; and (4) the world.

The first three flows of UP talent eventually help to enrich the nation. In fact, its graduates are supposed to fill the nation with talent. The fourth flow constitutes a serious brain drain to the outside world. Such a loss has a much wider negative repercussion on the nation that few understand.

Competitiveness within ASEAN. Over the years, we have been losing scarce scientific and technological manpower to ASEAN countries, in addition to the movement of skilled labor to their economies.

In part, our statistics on OFW remittances explains this story of human resource migration. One of the provisions of the ASEAN Economic Community which will start in full swing by 2015 is a free flow of professions within the community.

This means that our scarce intellectual human resources – so important to the education of our youth and for the strengthening of scientific and technological capacity – is most vulnerable to migration.

To minimize this, the government needs to pay attention most of all to the UP – its most valuable university.

Of the top universities in the Philippines, only the UP appears consistently in World University Ranking as monitored by Quacquarelli-Symonds, including the ranking of Asian Universities.

Of 38 universities in ASEAN that are included among the top 250 universities worldwide, only four Philippine universities are included. And UP though ranked 63rd is lonely up there because the next ranked Philippine univerisities are far down the list.

Competitiveness in the world. There is a world dimension to this outward flow of talents. It might be that critical talent lost within the country is lost forever. Some of these outmigration represent enormous intellectual capital.

Part of the loss of such talent is within the UP. But UP’s situation in general mirrors the problems of the whole country. It reflects a corresponding loss of scientific and technological manpower to the world at large.

Yes, UP’s shine has lost its glow because of poor government support.

Disclosure: As a retiree, I gain nothing from an increase in state support to the UP budget;

Reference: Ramon Clarete, Ernesto Pernia, A. Gaduena, and A. Mendoza “The Role of Science, Technology and Research in Economic Development,” UP School of Economics Discussion Paper 2014-