Origins

 

EXPANDING THE MICROBIOLOGY WORKFORCE OF THE PHILIPPINES: THE BIRTH OF THE MICROBIOLOGY CONSORTIUM*

Asuncion K. Raymundo, PhD

Professor Emeritus
Institute of Biological Sciences
University of the Philippines Los Baños
College, Laguna

Chair, Microbiology Consortium
Academician, National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines

“Improving education is not a quick fix and it will be a struggle, but at least we know that we can’t lose.”

– Nelson Mandela

Introduction

The Microbiology Consortium, in a resolute aim to be of service, is transforming Microbiology education in the country. It is in the forefront of uniting institutions of higher learning in meeting challenges in the field and, lately, it is deeply preoccupied in searching for newer and more effective ways of delivering the learning process. One of these ways is Outcomes-based Education, a philosophy that is being  entrenched in most institutions of higher learning  It would seem appropriate, therefore, that in this very first publication under the Consortium, a history on how the consortium  emerged and metamorphosed be included.  

The field of Microbiology in the Philippines is relatively young compared to other areas of specialization such as Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. Microbiology started to be recognized as a field of endeavor between the 1960s and 1970s. It was during those years when the UP College of Agriculture offered a BS in Agriculture, major in Plant Pathology with specialization in Microbiology degree program under the leadership of Prof. William Fernandez. Subsequently, in 1972, the UP Colleges of Agriculture and Forestry became the autonomous component university, UP Los Baños. At this time, a BS Biology major in Microbiology degree program was instituted, paving the way for Microbiology to be recognized as a formal field of specialization in dairy, food, and soil sciences. A year earlier, the Philippine Society for Microbiology (PSM) was founded.

In April 1993, PSM organized a workshop on “Advances in Microbiology and Upgrading of Microbiology Education” at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City, the proceedings of which was subsequently published. The following year, a small grant from the International Union of Microbiological Societies facilitated a study entitled “Current Status of Microbiology Education in the Philippines,” the result of which was published in the fifth issue of the Philippine Journal of Biotechnology. The study revealed that, at the time, only four universities, namely, UP Los Baños, Cavite State University, University of Southern Mindanao, and Central Luzon State University were offering a BS Biology, major in Microbiology degree program, with the University of Santo Tomas as the only university offering a BS in Microbiology program.

In July 1993, the Philippine Academy of Microbiology (PAM), which was established in 1991, inducted the first batch of Registered and Specialist Microbiologists without an accreditation examination. It was in 2000 when this examination was deemed required and which led to the standardization of Microbiology syllabi. Thereafter, a workshop on “Standardization of Microbiology Curriculum and Basic Microbiology Courses in the Philippines” was held. Subsequently, PAM gave the first accreditation examination for Registered and Specialist Microbiologists on August 25, 2001. In 2004, another workshop to upgrade the standardization of Microbiology course syllabi was conducted.

Why is there a need to expand the Microbiology workforce in the Philippines? 

In 2013, during the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Annual Scientific Meeting, where the theme was on the manufacturing industry, a discussion dealing with the critical microbiological aspects of the field was sorely missing. This oversight was remedied by a symposium on the microbiological needs of the industry on January 27, 2014, with topics focusing on the food and pharmaceutical industries. The symposium accomplished the following: (1) determined the microbiological needs of the industry based on emerging challenges; (2) analyzed the current problems; (3) anticipated future microbiological challenges; (4) and devised strategies aimed at resolving problems and meeting challenges of the aforementioned industries. During this symposium, papers on crucial topics were presented by respected and experienced microbiologists from the food and drug industries, the Food and Drug Administration, PAM, PSM as well as from the academic community. 

The symposium proceedings, published as NAST Monograph Series 20 NAST of NAST (Raymundo, 2014), revealed two important findings about the status of Microbiology in the industries. Firstly, at that time, there were about 5000 companies from the food and pharmaceutical industries in the Philippines alone, and there were not enough microbiologists to serve the needs of these industries. Consequently, non-microbiologists were hired for positions requiring knowledge and expertise in Microbiology. Secondly, to meet the needs of the industries, the following challenges must be overcome, as identified by further analysis: (a) developing more microbiologists, (b) standardizing the microbiology curriculum, (c) accrediting more microbiologists, (d) forging closer linkage between the academe and the industries, (e) making Microbiology an attractive profession, and (f) utilizing research results.

With the various needs identified and challenges set as aforementioned, NAST and PSM, represented by Dr. Asuncion K. Raymundo and Dr. Franco G. Teves, respectively, conceived an umbrella program dubbed “Proposed Program for Enhancing the Microbiology Workforce and Practice in the Philippines: Meeting the Evolving Needs of the Manufacturing Industry

The program organized surveys and workshops in different regions of the country to obtain data on the status of Microbiology education in the Philippines. The surveys had the specific objective of determining which universities in the area were offering the BS Biology, major in Microbiology program or have the potential of offering Microbiology programs.  Further, it explored means of enabling graduates of BS Biology, major in Microbiology to satisfy the requirements of PAM for qualification as accredited microbiologists. Unfortunately, the response to the questionnaires was quite limited. 

Consequently, two workshops on “Meeting the Microbiology Education Needs of the Manufacturing Industry” were conducted. In Luzon, a workshop on this topic, organized by the University of the Philippines System on November 23, 2015, was attended by the six component universities of the UP System. A similar workshop, held at MSU-IIT in Mindanao on February 12, 2016, had participants from seven higher education institutions (HEIs). The output of these workshops consisted of the following: (1) consolidated information geared towards the   possibility of offering a Microbiology track in the BS Biology programs of UP Baguio and UP Diliman; (2) organization of a round table discussion on “Assessment of the Microbiological Needs of the Manufacturing Industries in Mindanao;” and (3) a possible establishment of a Consortium of HEIs.

During the 2016 PSM Annual Meeting, a special session focused on the current status of Microbiology education in Mindanao, Visayas, Bicol, NCR, and Northern Luzon. Concerns and issues that arose during the discussions included the following:  (1) how the number of universities offering Microbiology programs can be increased;  (2) how the Microbiology programs currently being offered can be improved; (3) whether there are universities planning to offer Microbiology programs; and (4) whether the curricula of the Bachelor of Science on Public Health and related degrees can be streamlined to enable graduates to qualify  for  the PAM accreditation examination. The greatest challenge identified was how to produce more microbiologists. What can be done?

The unequivocal answer: Establishment of a Microbiology Education Consortium. A consortium committee, comprised of specialists and authorities in Microbiology education from different universities across the country, was formed. Between the last quarter of 2016 and the 2nd quarter of 2018, a series of meetings, conducted to plan for the establishment of the Microbiology Consortium, was hosted by different universities in NCR, Northern and Central Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. This series of meetings resulted in the following: (1) UP Visayas revised its curriculum so its BS Biology graduates will qualify for the PAM accreditation examination; (2) Central Philippines University offered the BS Biology, major in Microbiology program starting the 1st semester of AY 2017- 2018; and (3) UP Diliman and UP Baguio submitted their proposals to offer BS Biology major in Microbiology programs. Perhaps, of utmost importance, the meetings gave rise to the possibility of an inter-university collaboration to expand the Microbiology workforce in the industry and the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding between HEIs in the country and the Microbiology Consortium Committee.

The Microbiology Consortium was formally launched during the 47th Annual Convention of the Philippine Society for Microbiology on July 19-20, 2018. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was approved in a ceremonial signing that included 5 HEIs from NCR, 11 from other parts of Luzon, 7 from Visayas, and 8 from Mindanao. This event signalled the birth of the Microbiology Consortium in the country.

Activities of the Microbiology Consortium

Prior to the formal launching of the Microbiology Consortium, a series of regional workshops, aimed at benefitting the regional HEIs, with teachers targeted as beneficiaries, has been organized. One of these workshops, in line with the mandate of the Commission on Higher Education on Outcomes-Based Education, a learner-centered approach on teaching, focused on imparting the right contents for the Microbiology track program and on how these contents can be delivered successfully.

 A subsequent series of workshops on the Harmonization of Microbiology Courses Syllabi was held in August 2018. Its aim was to ensure that graduates of the BS Biology, major in Microbiology program possess similar capabilities, skills, and/or knowledge of Microbiology, notwithstanding their being graduates of different higher institutions across the country.  Harmonized syllabi on General Microbiology, Microbial Physiology, Microbial Ecology, Food Microbiology, Industrial Microbiology, and Medical Microbiology emerged as a result of the workshop.  To further support the HEIs in developing their Microbiology programs through training of their faculty members, a short course was conducted by the Microbiology Division, Institute of Biological Sciences, UPLB. Faculty representatives of HEI Consortium members were trained from January 7 to February 1, 2018 on Basic Microbiology, Microbial Ecology, Microbial Genetics and Food Microbiology. The training was made possible through a CHED grant titled “Capacity Building of Tertiary Educators in the Teaching of Selected Microbiology Courses for the Members of the Microbiology Consortium in the Philippines.”

By 2017, an updated study on the status of assessment of Microbiology education in the Philippines revealed that among the higher education institutions (HEIs) offering a BS Biology program, only nine has a BS Biology major in Microbiology degree program. Only one institution offers a BS Microbiology degree program in the whole country (Raymundo et al., 2017).

In recognition of its efforts in promoting Microbiology education in the Philippines, the Microbiology Consortium, through PSM, was adjudged winner of the Outstanding Project Award under the People Empowerment Category by the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives. The recognition was bestowed on November 23, 2018 in Subic, Zambales.

The proposed Microbiology Bill of 2018 is indeed a very timely and much welcome news that would benefit efforts in expanding the Microbiology workforce in the country. The bill, which was introduced in the House of Representatives by Cong. Joaquin M. Chipeco, Jr. under HB 2320 and in the Senate by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri under SB 1630, is An act regulating the practice of Microbiology in the Philippines and for other purposes and appropriating funds thereof. The bill will go a long way in the accreditation of microbiologists and is seen to make the field of Microbiology more appealing to students.

The Microbiology Consortium is committed to continue to organize workshops, like Outcomes-Based Education, with the objective of contributing to the transformation of Microbiology as a profession in the Philippines into one that is imbued with a renewed sense of professionalism and an emboldened interest in cooperation and collaboration. Consequently, it is hoped that all of these will redound to the enhancement of the Microbiology workforce in the country. 

References

Raymundo AK, FG Teves, EB Geronimo, and WL Rivera . 2017. Assessment of Microbiology education in the Philippines. Philippine  Agricultural Scientist 100:592-599 (Special Issue).

Raymundo, AK. (Ed.) 2014. Assessing the microbiological needs of the food and pharmaceutical industries. Proceedings of a roundtable discussion held on January 27, 2014, Acacia Hotel, Alabang, Muntinlupa City, National Academy of Sciences 20. 90 pp.


* Reprinted from:

Raymundo, AK and GT Pawilen (Eds.). 2020. Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) in Microbiology. National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Philippines, Monograph Series  23. 76 pp.

Address

SEARCA Hotel Residence Business Center, Juan V. Pancho, Los Baños, 4031 Laguna