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A Filipino Scholar’s Plight

Nov 10, 2009

This article should have appeared a long time ago, but I was not able to fix it because I was busy with graduate work for the past few weeks. Alex already created a post in this topic. Here’s my response.

When I first read this article, I can’t help but burst out laughing. Here is another politician saying things that the public wants to hear. Angara’s call to urge Filipino students abroad to go home and serve the country is a noble sentiment. But that’s all there is: sentiment. It might have worked for students who graduated straight out of college. But it takes more than sentiment to convince the graduate students and the postdocs to return. The Philippines can’t even offer proper jobs for college graduates. What more for returning MS, MA and PhD holders, eh?

I have short patience for people who say that after finishing graduate studies abroad, you should go back to the Philippines and be an entrepreneur or something. Hey, I am not pursuing a PhD in mathematics to be an entrepreneur. Money isn’t everything, you know. For die-hard academics like me, it is more important to be able to practice what I’m doing and interacting with people who are experts in the field I am studying. Sure, you can interact using the Internet, but nothing beats being able to knock at the doors of the experts if there is something you don’t understand.

Let me quote the last paragraph of the article. Angara said this:

Let’s make our students abroad feel they have the support and commitment of the government. Upon completion of their studies, we must provide them venues where they can put their expertise to good use, making sure that we adequately compensate their educational qualifications and international experience.

I’ve heard those lines before. In fact, isn’t it why we have the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) in the first place? They meet every year, discussing the problems of our country and trying to find scientific solutions to those problems. After the meeting, they write a report to recommend solutions and submit it (I assume) to the Office of the President. I once attended an NRCP convention, and at that time they were talking about alternative energy resources. If I remember correctly, they were advocating the use of biofuels at that time.

Now tell me, what happened to those proposals? Are they being considered in making government policies? Or are they filed in the shelf, just like every report that is submitted to a government office?

A few disclaimers are in order here. Yes, I do love my country. I would like nothing else but to go back and serve the country in whatever way I can. I dream of a country that could compete with other countries in terms of science and technology. But if there’s one thing I realized after teaching for several years, it is the fact that we have a long way to go. With people clamoring for a lower standard of education (see for example thisthis and this), I can’t see how a graduate degree would help. It’s like a double-edged sword: people look up to you because you are smart, but if they don’t understand what you are doing, they will say that you are too smart for them and ignore you completely.

My response to Angara? Give me something more concrete, then I’ll reconsider. Otherwise, I’ll just consider this as sweet talk to attract voters.

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