Letters to the Editor

Should Philippines position itself as a regional education hub in ASEAN?

The Philippine Star

The Philippines is positioned to transform into a regional education hub of the ASEAN, thanks to its excellent command of the English language and the quality of its higher education system. This is according to a report that assessed the Philippine higher education system’s readiness to engage internationally. However, it adds that significant reforms in the regulatory and legislative environments must be put in place first before this potential could be realized.

“The excellent command of the English language in Philippine schools creates the perfect environment to attract international students to the country beyond their immediate need to learn English skills,” highlights the report, entitled Opportunities and Challenges in the Internationalization of the Philippine Higher Education Sector. It points out that since English is the official language of instruction in Philippine higher education institutions, international students are able to choose from all higher education courses taught in the country. The quality of the country’s education system is another advantage of the Philippines, ranking 29th in the 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Index.

However, data shows that the Philippines has the least number of international students among ASEAN countries, which means that it has yet to make the most of its English language advantage in the region.

The report notes that one reason is that international students wanting to study in the Philippines have to go through a lengthy and bureaucratic visa process. For instance, applications require approval from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) before being processed by the Bureau of Immigration. Then this is sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which informs the Philippine Embassy in the applicant’s country of origin to issue the visa.

Moreover, student visas are only issued to individuals over 18 years of age. Non-degree students may also be granted a visa that is valid for up to 59 days only and must be renewed every two months. According to the report, there is huge potential for the country to attract more international students after more suitable visa policies are put in place.

Foreign higher education institutions also face barriers in operating in the Philippines, such as limitations to ownership, the need to operate through local higher education partners, and the visa and immigration requirements and labor law restrictions. The report says the Philippines may need to address all these should it decide to take the path towards becoming a regional education hub.

Nonetheless, in relation to ASEAN peer countries Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, the Philippines compares favorably in areas of transnational education strategy, as it has the most comprehensive guidelines with regard to regulating foreign higher education institutions setting up operations in the country. It also performs well in quality assurance of programs and accreditation of higher education providers, ranking second after Malaysia.

Ways forward for Philippine higher education

The report states that the Philippines can explore looser regulations imposed on foreign higher education providers operating locally as a way to respond to local demand for higher education. This can be an opportunity for “internationalization at home” for Filipino students who don’t want to go overseas but want to obtain a global education that would allow them to compete with their ASEAN counterparts.

The British Council is currently supporting CHED on updating the policies and regulations on transnational education in the Philippines, and will produce a guidebook this year for foreign and local higher education institutions.

On the other hand, more Filipino students can be encouraged to pursue higher education overseas. However, this could pose a risk to the Philippines’ pool of high grade students, researchers, and faculty. A favourable environment where foreign higher education providers could operate may potentially open more opportunities to the Philippines, says the report.

The report also looks at the experiences of countries like Malaysia, and assesses that by becoming an education hub, the Philippines can attract a flow of talented faculty and students through its universities. This can mean potential benefits to its research and development base, which in turn could spur economic growth for the country.

It could then also improve its retention of talent and address the issue of overseas skilled workers, many of whom are college graduates and possess excellent English language skills, the report adds.

“The Philippines should recognize that the opportunity to become a regional education hub is time-bound, and should the country decide to pursue it, must seize the opportunity while it still retains its advantage in the English language,” says Pat Killingley, author of the report and director of Higher Education for British Council. “The chances are decreasing over the long-term as other ASEAN countries continuously invest to develop their student populations’ English proficiency.”

“Within a growing and evolving ASEAN region, the Philippines is faced with opportunities as well as risks, giving the country different paths to choose from in order to develop a robust Philippine higher education system,” notes Nicholas Thomas, British Council Philippines Country Director. “The level of its commitment and scale of its ambition will largely determine the path that it chooses to take, and we will continue to support the country’s goal to increase employment and economic growth through education.”

(About the British Council. The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organization for cultural relations. The British Council creates international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and builds trust between them worldwide. We build trust and understanding for the UK to create a safer and more prosperous world. In terms of our reach and impact, we are the world’s leading cultural relations organization. We use English, Arts, and Education and Society – the best of the UK’s great cultural assets – to bring people together and to attract partners to working with the UK. The British Council has over 7,000 staff working in 191 offices in 110 countries and territories.)


For more information about this press release, please contact:

Pam Oñate-Cruz/Janis Escaño

Ogilvy Public Relations Manila

Tel: (632) 238 7000 loc. 7020 or 7123

Email: [email protected] or [email protected]

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