WHEN the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex (TARC) opened in 2001, it raised a lot of expectations in the field of research with its array of sophisticated equipment and groups of skilled researchers.

Its opening was considered a big leap for the University as it affirmed UST’s status as one of the leading schools in research in the country.

But the lack of visible activity in the P150-million structure resulted in recent speculations that the TARC is producing very little. The construction of the TARC was expected to double the progress in research, but people began wondering if there was anything going on in the few offices under its roof.

But despite the problems and controversies hounding the structure, the research centers continue to publish research works.

According to the TARC’s official reports, the Center for Research on Movement Science (CRMS), Social Research Center (SRC), Center of Inter-Cultural Studies (CIS), Drug and Food Evaluation Center, and several research laboratories under the Research Center for the Natural Sciences (RCNS)—the Food Research, Material Science and Chemical Engineering, Microbiology and Pharmacology laboratories—all have published recent works that were even recognized internationally. (See sidebar)

Since 2002, reports show that the CIS has finished 82 research projects, the CRMS, 14, RCNS, 224 and the SRC, 56.

Other centers such as the Center for Educational Research and Development and the Research Center for Health Sciences have completed 70 and 83 research projects, respectively.

Chinks in the armor

Although it may seem that the TARC is enjoying local and international recognition, it has its problems.

According to Dr. Gloria Bernas, director of the Office of and Research Development and Assistant to the Rector for Research and Development, problems like lack of funds, lack of researchers, and lack of government support are the major factors that are affecting the TARC’s performance.

Bernas said that out of the more or less P2 billion budget of the University, only three per cent, or P60 million, is allotted for research. Also, only P20,000 to P30,000 are given to researchers for a project per year.

“Every time the government decides to slash the national budget, they first cut the budget of the Department of Science and Technology. As a result, it only gets the smallest slice of the budget and that affects the University as well,” Bernas said.”

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“Every research center is encouraged to look for outside funding agencies instead,” she added.

Bernas said the best thing to do is to be realistic and to work with what is available.

Elisabeth Hashim, a Food Technology professor and researcher, said the lack of funds may delay the publication of research works even if they were long finished.

“This is probably one of the reasons why people assume that there is no research being done in the TARC,” Hashim said.

Dr. Cynthia Rivera, CIS director, pointed out that the budget allocated may also reflect the magnitude of the research work.

“If, for example, we are given a P1,000 budget, then we will work around that budget. But do not expect us to give you the sun, the moon and the stars. Do not expect us to come up with something that is worth P1 million,” Rivera said.

Another problem, according to Bernas, is the low number of faculty members involved in research. Only an estimated 100 out of the 1,000 faculty members in the University do research at the TARC.

Rivera said research is “not a welcome idea” to most Filipinos and only a handful of “brave souls” are willing to get involved in it because research is a demanding job.

“If you are a faculty member and a researcher at the same time, you teach in the morning and study in the evening. And depending on how big your research is, it may take longer than usual,” Rivera said. “Not many people are willing to do that. It gives you stress.”

Bernas said research, especially in the field of science and technology, takes a lot of time, and is one of the factors that makes faculty members think twice before getting involved in it.

“It’s a wait-and-see and trial-and-error process,” Hashim said. “Like in Dr. Bernas’ study, which is on cancer cells, the incubation takes a year. So you can just imagine how long the research would take.”

Bernas added that the Rector has ordered the closure of the TARC during the summer break. She said starting last school year, researches may work at the TARC but they will not be given additional funding for their projects. This new policy, she said, slows down research projects.

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For what its worth

Research may not be a popular among Filipinos, but its contribution to education is significant, research directors say.

“Research enhances knowledge and raises the standard of education,” Rivera said.

She explained that information in textbooks as well as theories and principles taught in school come from countless hours of research.

“We might as well call ourselves a ‘college’ and not a University if we do not advance our research capabilities,” Rivera said. “One of the reasons why a university is called a ‘university’ is because it is involved in research.”

Bernas said more doors for learning will be opened through research.

“You just don’t merely repeat the things you teach. Somehow, you have to enhance them so that every year, new knowledge is passed on,” Bernas said.

Further, SRC Director Ernesto Gonzales explained that the main reason why UST lags behind other schools in Asia is because it is not advanced in research.

But in sharp contrast, UST is considered as the top school in the field of research in the University Belt, according to a report from university research heads.

“This is one of the reasons why we must not lose this research game,” Rivera said. “These other schools look to us for leadership.”

The Thomasian brand of research

For a research center to be more productive, it needs to establish its name nationally and internationally. This attracts external funding that would greatly help in the success of researches.

Starting this school year, the Drug and Food Evaluation center will be a separate entity from the TARC as it has already partnered with a private company. The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) recognized it as a regional center for food and drug evaluation. Also, the center is working out a deal with the United States Food and Drug Authority.

Meanwhile, the London School of Economics has recognized the SRC as its lead partner in the Philippines. The school gave the “Philippine Fellowship Award” to UST, affirming the University as one of the top social research centers in the country.

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For the CIS, its upcoming book on Philippine lighthouses, “Nacio Fallecio: The Art and Architecture of Spanish-Colonial Baptistery and Cemeteries in the Philippines”, which is authored by Manuel Noche, was recognized by a private Spanish business group and made a calendar out of the pictures in it.

Early this month, Edward Quinto, a Microbiology researcher and professor at the College of Science, was given the Tom Bergan memorial award in the International Congress of Chemotherapy at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), for his poster presentation of his research on certain species of lactobacillus bacteria that exhibit potent inhibition against harmful bacteria and fungi. In 2001, he also won the Asia Pacific Young Inventors Award which was given by the Far Eastern Economic Review, for his research on luminous bacteria that can detect toxicity in water.

According to Bernas, these international recognitions do not only benefit the TARC’s researches but the University as well.

“Because of this, there are more research groups, both international and national, that have expressed interest in UST,” Bernas said.

For Rivera, research is not entirely about commercializing the University, it is also about bringing prestige to UST

“It’s a very big thing when someone from the University publishes a book because in his or her success, he or she bears the name ‘Thomasian’,” Rivera said. “He or she carries the whole name of UST with him or her.”

Better things to come?

Bernas said the University is only beginning to “reap the fruits of long hours of work”.

“Research is a continuous process. And as long as it continues to enhance learning, I will not stop researching,” she said.

She said that her challenge to researchers is to “think of research topics that are responsive to the current needs of the country in all aspects.”

“I would like them to think of something that will really find application, especially in uplifting the deteriorating status of the country,” Bernas said. Jordan Mari S. de Leon

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