A glimpse into AIM and Ateneo’s data science graduate programs

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By Patrizia Paola C. Marcelo
and Robert A. Vergara, Jr.
Digital Reporters

WITH THE GROWING demand for data scientists in today’s time of big data, machine learning, among others, and demand pegged to continue to outgrow supply (as said by McKinsey & Co.), two educational institutions in the Philippines have kick-started their own data science graduate programs.

The Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) have launched their data science programs: both master’s degrees in data science. AIM is currently teaching its inaugural batch of 42 students, while ADMU is starting the program this year and will offer a dual-degree program joint with Queen Mary University London next year.

For AIM, the program is spearheaded by Christopher Monterola and Erika Fille Legara. Both have physics backgrounds and have years of experience in data science at the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), under the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Singapore, with competencies in big data analytics, data science, and advanced analytics.

Ms. Legara said they got on board when AIM President and Dean Jikyeong Kang was preparing a program on data science or analytics. Mr. Monterola already heads the School of Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, where the program is under, while Ms. Legara said she “liked the idea of starting the first data science program in the country.”

The current enrolees have a diverse set of backgrounds, especially chosen by the school through a set of educational and work experience standards, with nearly half of them are sponsored by their private employers. Also part of the program are employees from government financial institutions.

Fresh graduates applying to the program must have knowledge in linear algebra, basic calculus, and background in fields including computer programming, and probability and statistics. Those with at least two years of work experience must have had experience preferably in data analysis and software engineering and have had at least two years of work experience with analytical tools.

The professors said that the program combines the theoretical side of the field with the practitioner side, in order to prepare the graduates of the program to be able to communicate well what they have learned in a business or organizational setting, where some top management or leadership may not easily understand the need for understanding and using data.

“We made sure all the right technical things are there, it’s not half-baked…The math, the fundamentals are there, but at the same time, we wanted to make sure it’s not detached from the more practical side,” Ms. Legara said.

“In AIM, we combine the technical aspect and business management side. If you’re a data scientist and you can’t read their [companies’] language, it’s difficult to implement something that’s beneficial.”

Looking forward, the data science professors aim for something bigger so that organizations in the Philippines will not have to look for data scientists as they might have gone abroad.

“We want to propagate data science in Visayas, Mindanao, outside Metro Manila,” Mr. Monterola said. The current batch already bodes well for this plan, Mindanao State University (MSU)-Iligan Institute of Technology has already expressed their interest in forming a data science program of their own, having sent their own representatives to the program.

Mr. Monterola added that they want to spark a historically “weak” collaboration between academe and industry. This is especially applicable today when all sectors are getting huge amounts of data with the need to properly use them.

“The academe wants novelty, something new, companies want value, and government wants impact,” Mr. Monterola said. “But they can work together, and all of them need to understand data.”

Meanwhile, ADMU partnered with Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) to create master’s programs in data science or big data, as well as media and arts technology.

“In this digital age we will need programs like big data for digital innovation and we will need renewed competency to navigate such strange new world,” ADMU President Jose Ramon Villarin said in a previous interview with BusinessWorld during the launch of the partnership late last year at the university in Quezon City.

“The digital economy will run on many engines. In such an economy the most important engine will be creativity and innovation,” Mr. Villarin said.

The university will choose 10 scholars for the first batch for the programs, which will run for 18 months. Selected students will study in ADMU for 12 months, and then stay in QMUL for six months.

The launch of such programs marks the preparation of the country’s education sector for a digital economy, which according to Mr. Villarin is “data‑intense, algorithm‑driven, efficient, fast, hyper‑connected, and personalized.”

“[What will be] more crucial to the economy of the future will be intelligent and creative contents and the new connections that these kinds of content can make among people from all over,” he said.

“For instance the Internet of Things is all about software connecting devices, people, and services. Disruption and obsolescence are happening not because of brick‑and‑mortar structures but because of much softer things like creative software and the creative integration of systems,” Mr. Villarin added.

Citing a report by US‑based research and advisory firm Gartner, Inc., Francis del Val, founder and President of Cobena Business Analytics & Strategy, Inc., said the global business intelligence and analytics software market is set to grow to $22.8 billion by the end of 2020. By the same period there will also be a demand for 1.7 million data scientists in the world.

According to Del Val, the Philippines has a “huge potential” to be a source of the world’s best data scientists. In five to 10 years, he said, the country could have an industry of “hundreds of thousands or maybe even half a million” data scientists.

“Here in the Philippines it is already happening. You can see that a lot of more modern organizations can now find better, more efficient way of moving around because they get to transport data, but equally what we are seeing right now is that companies who adapt big data are able to make smarter decisions,” he told SparkUp during the event.

However, the integration of such technology in the country is “just at the tip of the iceberg” as many companies remain “very reluctant to share their data and the government still has a lot to do in terms of releasing data to the public.”

“It’s very difficult to come up with a figure right now, but what we do know, though, is that the future is immense because we have a lot of consumers and consumers, of course, generate a lot of data,” he said.


Parts of this article, particularly that of the Ateneo data science program, were previously published at sparkup.ph under the title “Ateneo is offering a Master’s in big data by 2018 and we got all the deets here.”