The research efforts of De La Salle University (DLSU) were under the spotlight recently with the University’s inclusion in the annual Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, landing in the 801-1000 bracket of the world’s top academic institutions. DLSU is the only private Philippine university who made it into the list and one of only two Philippine universities who made the cut; University of the Philippines, the other entrant, made it into the 501-600 bracket.
The metric used by THE heavily favors research; it reserves 60 percent for research alone—30 percent for research volume, income, and reputation, and another 30 percent for research influence—while the remaining 40 percent is spread out to the quality of the learning environment (30 percent), international linkages (7.5 percent), and industrial income and linkages (2.5 percent).
The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation (VCRI), headed by Dr. Raymond Girard Tan, along with four other offices and 12 research centers, oversee and coordinate the multiple research projects in the University.
DLSU’s research progress
Universities listed on World University Rankings must publish 1,000 research outputs every five years, and at least 150 research outputs must be made every year. From 2013 to 2017, DLSU had exceeded that minimum requirement and aims to continue doing so.
Since the 1970s up until the middle of 2013, 1,000 outputs were found listed under the University on Scopus, which Tan shares is the “largest curated database of research literature in the world.” However, between 2013 and 2016, DLSU managed to generate double that amount, publishing almost 2,000 research papers in the span of three years. The numbers are still steadily increasing; as of 2018, the University has 3,000 outputs to its name on the database.
Aside from THE, other rankings have also relied on Scopus as a source of research output, such as the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Rankings that also included DLSU in their world rankings last May 2018 and on the Asian rankings last October 2018.
Tan acknowledges that DLSU’s stepping up in the world rankings help its marketability abroad, elaborating that they “want fewer people to be saying ‘Saan ‘yang La Salle?’, and this is where the rankings help.” In turn, he adds that it helps students and faculty get better academic opportunities, especially in obtaining doctoral and postdoctoral placements.
Maintaining productive research
In order to maintain this productivity, researchers in DLSU are rewarded for their efforts. According to Dr. Feorillo Demeterio III, Director of the University Research Coordination Office (URCO), an environment of productivity is encouraged through awarding the best departments with monetary incentives for additional research budget.
Demeterio also shares that an annual productivity index is maintained internally in the University, which identifies the most productive departments in terms of output. Based on the tentative listing for 2017, the four most productive departments are the Chemical Engineering Department, the Chemistry Department, the Manufacturing Engineering and Management Department, and the Behavioral Science Department. In addition to recognition garnered, the chart also provides other departments a sense of where they currently stand, pushing them for improvement and encouraging a more productive year of research.
Aside from incentivizing research, Tan identifies central aspects of the research process which ensure that the University comes up with substantial outputs. Manpower tops the list, with faculty and students both composing the research teams. May it be in economizing a research project, or training its proponents, Demetrio assures that faculty who are both experienced or new in the process are supported in their research endeavors. Along with faculty leading the team, Tan mentions that students are also involved as mentees who are “supposed to not just sit passively in a research team but [also] actually participate.”
Depending on the project, DLSU financially compensates student researchers. Exhibiting substantial work can provide greater recognition to students by allowing them to co-author a piece. Isabel Sedano (IV, AB-LIM), is one of the many student research assistants working under the Research Assistant Program (RAP), which recruits undergraduates for research assistantship work. “I wanted some job experience a little early on in college, apart from OJT. So someplace familiar, inside La Salle was accessible and ideal,” says Sedano. She consequently endorses the experience as work that is both accommodating to a student’s schedule and advantageous for an undergraduate’s portfolio.
DLSU has an entire office for research currently overseen by Tan. Other offices such as URCO, the DLSU Innovation and Technology Office, the Intellectual Property Office, and the Research Ethics Office, work alongside the VCRI to ensure smooth operations. Improvements in the University’s infrastructure also play an essential role in progressing DLSU’s research output. This includes the recent acquisition of a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometer for the Laguna Campus to further chemical research, as well as the upcoming Research Commons to be established at the campus in the future.
Looking past internal developments, Tan also stresses the importance of external linkages that bring diversity to a research output. “People see things from slightly different angles, and you get more well-rounded results and brighter ideas if you work in such teams,” he explains. One way his office expands its research connections is through international conferences that faculty and students participate in.
Funding for a research project
A big chunk of this effort comes from monetary expenses, funded either by the government or an independent organization. Internal assistance is stipulated through overhead expenses such as salaries of research management units, among others.
In terms of direct funding, the bigger percentage comes from independent groups. Tan says that he actively looks out for external opportunities, so that when there are calls for proposals with appropriate funding, he disseminates this information immediately. “A lot of the support we’re providing is to enable us to get the external funds and make sure we finish the projects on time,” he adds.
Demeterio affirms that one of the primary roles of the University’s research centers is looking for funding opportunities for their respective fields. “We are able to do so much research in De La Salle because of this external funding, so the task of a research center is to look for external funds and to manage its external funds,” she adds.
Faculty members who are dubbed Research Fellows handle the activities of the research centers, making sure that there is a constant stream of substantial projects. “Some centers especially the sciences, they more or less have this quota; they have to earn a certain sum of money in order for them to continue to exist. So far, in my past 10 years here, I have not seen one center close down,” Demeterio narrates.
Another project underway is additional scholarships and stipends for doctoral students. While these scholarships are already supported by the government, only particular disciplines benefit from this arrangement. With this, Tan aspires to expand the reach of governmental support to other disciplines as well.
“The important thing is, when we say higher education, I think we need to think more beyond bachelors’, think of masters’ [or] PhD’s. It’s part of [the] human capital development, I think that’s the mission of DLSU and in general, the Lasallian family,” Tan shares.
Repercussions, effects on student workload
Banking on a unified effort from the University, The LaSallian was able to get insights from students regarding the effects of integrating research in courses and degree program workload.
For Patricio*, the greatest effect of such is “forcing students to learn mostly on their own” in his program’s department, which he cites as “being known for its efforts in producing tangible research.” “The department tends [to focus more on] research that the workload of some of its courses are not proportional to the learnings,” Patricio points out.
When asked about effects on him as a student, Patricio explains that it actually presents both positive and negative effects. “[There is an impact] because most of the learnings are done outside the classroom setting since each research [study] is different,” he shares. He further reasons that the nature of the fast pacing of the University’s trimestral system is what students have to endure to “produce quality output” in both paperworks and physical projects, and further adds that such is “sometimes impossible to do.”
This was seconded by Jason*, citing that finishing requirements is not achievable in one sitting. “It entails multiple weeks of minor but constant adjustments, and talking and dealing with sometimes unmotivated groupmates. They are paralyzing to do sometimes, [especially] when you want progress but circumstance does not permit,” he explains. He continues that the effect of the workload “gently haunts” him even after school.
On the other hand, Patricio sheds light as well on the reality that students manage to accomplish such tasks despite the pacing in academic workload. “Students will be forced to learn how to work together and manage their time wisely,” he notes.
Highlighting the positive effects of the integration of research in academic workload, Jason speculates that such practice is “how things are done in the professional world.” “Like you always have to work with other people in a group, and it is important to properly delegate tasks to meet deadlines,” he states. The student further asserts that research should be approached strategically, and warns, “Tame it part by part or else it will swallow you whole at the end of the term.”
*Names were changed for anonymity.