Opening educational doors

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2015 - 9:00am

What happens if a top-ranked school like California Institute of Technology, Oxford, Stanford, Cambridge, or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (to name only the top five schools in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings) suddenly decides to open a branch in Manila?

This is not farfetched, because we now have the Yale-National University of Singapore College, the Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia, and the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

Well, a top-ranked foreign university cannot set up a campus in Manila because of three issues, namely, our Constitution, our economy, and our mindset.

First, our Constitution says, in Article 14, Section 4.2, that “Educational institutions, other than those established by religious groups and mission boards, shall be owned solely by citizens of the Philippines or corporations or associations at least 60 per centum of the capital of which is owned by such citizens. The Congress may, however, require increased Filipino equity participation in all educational institutions. The control and administration of educational institutions shall be vested in citizens of the Philippines.

“No educational institution shall be established exclusively for aliens and no group of aliens shall comprise more than one-third of the enrollment in any school. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to schools established for foreign diplomatic personnel and their dependents and, unless otherwise provided by law, for other foreign temporary residents.”

There is no way that Caltech or any of the top five (or even top hundred) schools will allow themselves to be outvoted in a board meeting of the Philippine branch. (Of course, they can always put in dummies on the board, but that’s not really the way the top schools operate.)

Perhaps there is some reason to limit foreign ownership of schools (although somebody has to explain to me what that reason is), but there is absolutely no reason to limit the number of foreign students in a Philippine school to “one-third of the enrollment.”

We are gung-ho about ASEAN integration and only a little bit less gung-ho about APEC integration, but we cannot have any kind of integration if we limit our schools only to our own citizens.

If we are convinced (whether factually based or not) that our education is at par with or even better than education in other countries, we should market our schools to foreigners. We should allow an unlimited number of foreign students into our schools, in order to spread our (real or imagined) gifts to as wide a portion of humanity as possible.

Clearly, if we are to take advantage of ASEAN and APEC integration, we have to amend at least this part of our Constitution. (There are other economic provisions that other Filipinos want amended, but this one about education is what I want changed.)

Even if (when?) we remove that Constitutional hindrance, we still have to admit that our students cannot afford the high tuition fees that a branch of a foreign university will surely impose. After all, when a local Higher Education Institution (HEI) raises tuition nowadays, there are lots of student protests, even if our tuition rates are ridiculously low.

One solution involves the growing number of Filipinos who actually have a lot of spare income. If we change our laws to make all contributions to educational institutions similar to those given to the Department of Education (DepEd) under the Adopt A School Law (150% tax deduction), we should be able to attract a lot of our wealthy citizens to place their money where our mouths need it (excuse the mixed idiom). Most excellent foreign universities receive huge donations from their alumni. Only a handful of those in the Forbes list of Filipino dollar billionaires have given their schools billions of pesos.

Finally, our mindset. As a nation, we have a bloated ego. We join basketball tournaments even if we are hoop dwarfs. We bask in the glory of Filipinos who have left our country and made their names elsewhere. We pretend that people with Filipino blood are completely Filipino. We even say that our universities are excellent ones, even if we are always left out of world rankings. (Think THES, not QS.)

If we really think we have a good educational system, why have we limited our sights only to our own citizens? Why are we recruiting college students only from Philippine high schools, rather than foreign high schools? (Basketball players, needless to say, are the exception.) Why are our schools not opening branches in other countries? (At the moment, we have only the Philippine schools abroad of DepEd.)

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) took a major step forward when it recently removed the 10% restriction on foreign enrollment in medical courses, but it still cannot do anything about the 30% restriction in the Constitution. CHED, however, can do a lot more, particularly in opening up online course offerings, working with the Bureau of Immigration on removing obstacles to foreign students, and urging schools to benchmark not with our top schools but with the top schools in the world.

As Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, it is 2015. Our schools and our government authorities have to stop thinking that this is still the 20th century.

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