Upholding excellence: Building a culture of research

Art by Yanni Kaye Wingarts/ THE FLAME

IN AN effort to meet the demands of higher education institutions, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) is geared toward providing quality education and promoting excellence in different fields and disciplines.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) recognized these efforts and gave prestigious seals of Center of Excellence (COE) and Center of Development (COD) to 24 programs of UST. In 2015, UST received the highest number of accredited academic programs among private institutions.

Four of these programs were from the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB). The philosophy program was recognized as a COE, while the literature, journalism, and communication arts programs were accredited as CODs.

These recognitions are a good indication of the quality of the program. However, not all disciplines acquired this status. What are the challenges in achieving the CHED’s accreditation?

Challenges in meeting CHED’s criteria

Before a program becomes recognized as a COE or COD, it must attain a certain number of points in the following criteria: instructional quality, research and publication, extension and linkages, and institutional qualifications.

Asst. Prof. Jose Arsenio Salandanan, chairman of the Department of Communication and Media Studies, explained that in order to be accredited, the program needs to acquire the required points for each criteria or else it will be disqualified.  

“It’s just like an entrance exam. If you did not make it in one area, there’s a probability that you will not make it,” he said.  
Mr. Felipe Salvosa II, journalism program coordinator, also stated that one of the problems in the CHED instrument is it is tilted towards full-time professors. It is a challenge for journalism and communication arts departments to meet the criteria as they have a lot of part-time faculty members and practitioners.

For Dean Michael Anthony Vasco, different programs of AB meet the standards in instructional quality as around 30 percent of the tenured and full-time faculty members have doctoral degrees while 70 percent have master’s degrees.

The extension and linkages criteria is not a problem as AB is one of the colleges in the University that has vigorously pursued internationalization. It is only in the research and publication aspect that the Faculty needs to improve more.

This year, there are more than 80 full-time faculty members who have research loads. But for Dean Vasco, this number is not enough.

“I think we need to have more faculty researchers. If we really want to make a dent in the research world, 50 percent of the total population of the faculty must be doing research. So far, it’s only one-third,” he said.

However, faculty members said they are having a hard time doing research because of heavy teaching loads. Compared to other universities like De La Salle University which has 15 units or 15 hours a week of teaching, UST has a full-time load of 21 units.

“[Faculty members] are usually bogged down by the teaching loads because it is really quite difficult to do research when you are teaching seven classes. Mahirap ‘yun talaga,” Asst. Prof. Chuckberry Pascual said.

Prof. Camilla Vizconde, chairperson of the Department of English, echoed the same sentiment on the difficulty of having both teaching and research loads.

“It’s really hard to balance the preparation for teaching with so much loads and the number of research. […] So if you’re going to have 15 units for teaching and you only have 6 units for research, there’s not enough time to do especially the data gathering,” she explained.

Aside from classroom work, professors need to prepare for their lessons, check requirements, and allot some of their time for leisure and other activities.

There are also professors who have administrative positions that require spending office time on campus, thus taking away some time for teaching and doing research.

“Having more time is of course always better. Kasi on top of [the] research agenda of the department, we also have to contend, of course, with our faculty duties, ‘di ba? Parang kailangan mo pang mag-mentor. Kailangan mo ring magturo and be part of different committees,” Pascual said.

However, Vasco said faculty members have the choice to deload teaching units and replace them with research units instead.

There are also some faculty members who do research of their own accord.  

“If there are faculty members who [are] not given a research load or aral loads producing research, despite the absence of [research loads], the more that those with research loads would be able to produce research, hindi ba?” Vasco said.

Developments in the research field

However, Vasco acknowledged that there has been strong research consciousness among the faculty members.  

“The good thing is meron na na strong element na conscious na ang mga faculty to do research. That is the reason why, if you see the profile of the faculty, year in year out, pataas nang pataas ‘yung dami ng faculty members na nagiging faculty researchers,” he said

In the journalism department, there is also a good sign of research consciousness now compared to the last 10 years when research was “almost nonexistent,” Salvosa said.

In addition, AB produces the greatest number of academic journals in the University such as Kritike, the online journal of the Department of Philosophy. The Department of English has its Asian Journal of English Language Studies (AJELS), while the Department of Literature has its Unitas.

“Journal is one of the first venues where you could disseminate your research. In other words, the journal is an important tool for knowledge production,” Bolanos said.

Through the initiative of the University through the Office of the Secretary-General, a committee was established to support the maintenance of journals and bring them together under a single online portal, www.journals.ust.edu.ph.

“It’s a good move din for secretary-general to have made a decision to finally make all of our journals open access. Thank you Lord, ‘di ba? Meron na tayong website. Malaking bagay ‘yun, kasi up to now there are some academe-based journals that remain for subscription,” Pascual said.

Vizconde also acknowledged the advantage of having online access to journals for the dissemination of knowledge as it does not only invite students and teachers, but also the international audience, to contribute to AJELS.

Moreover, having research centers in the University—the Research Center for Culture, Arts, and Humanities and Research Center for Social Sciences and Education—is a big help to fostering research.

“Now there is more opportunity for research, there are more research centers […] There’s a lot more space, a lot more slots that have yet to be filled up by research,” Salvosa said.

Full-time faculty members who are affiliated with UST research centers are deloaded of teaching units. In the case of Pascual, he was deloaded 12 teaching units, which means he would not teach four classes, but in exchange, produce research output at the end of the year and get paid for it.

However, there are still higher demands for the departments to produce quality research outputs. Ideally, every department in AB should have its own journal to foster research13 academic journals for the 13 disciplines. But sustainability and the quality of publication are put into question.

“We do not want to have a journal per department because the question of sustainability will be the big problem. […] Magsimula ka ngayon, after 2 years wala nang issue,” Vasco said.

He also pointed out that there was a need to recognize the fact that the academic advancement of each department varies because some departments started their research agenda earlier than the others.

UST’s commitment to excellence

Despite these challenges, the goal is to give better quality education to students. But all the departments must have continuous work effort.

“Kasi ang goal kasi dito [ay] hindi lang makuha ‘yung title, ‘yung recognition. Ang focus dito is to improve the craft of teaching [and] improve research kasi ang number one question is sino ang mag-be-benefit dito kung ‘di ang estudyante,” Vasco said.

Asst. Prof. Dennis Coronacion, Department of Political Science chairperson, said every recognition they achieve is a milestone for them. Receiving accreditation helps the department to improve.

“[F]or us, it’s a source of prestige. It’s [the] government’s way of telling this University that you have acquired such title because you are doing a good job. So keep it up, you are the institution that sets the standards. In a way, ‘pag nakuha namin ‘yun, we would be proud,” he said.

Salvosa agreed, adding that COE and COD accreditations are “prestigious seals of good housekeeping,” which means the government recognized the quality programs in educational institutions.

However, for Bolanos, although recognition can be an indication of a quality program, the problem is “the universities today are more focused on rankings, accreditations, and so on as opposed to whether the research that you produced actually will impact the society or not,” he said.

“The problem is that we think that our goal is to become accredited or to get that recognition or this recognition. You only become COE when you are already COE. […] Hindi ka puwedeng maging COE if you’re not excellent in the first place,” Bolanos added. F

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Vol. 54, Issue No. 3 of the Flame. View the entire issue through this link: https://issuu.com/abtheflame/docs/pages_-_the_flame_issue_3

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