Q: How ready is higher education for ASEAN 2015?
What policy reforms are needed to make HE competitive in an ASEAN regional community?
The readiness of Philippine higher education for Asean 2015 can be assessed in terms of the competitiveness of the country’s higher education institutions (HEIs) as institutions of choice for students from other countries in the region. Come 2015 our HEIs must increase their competitiveness in attracting international students, at least 300,000 of them, from the region (http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/international-student-flow-viz.aspx).
We need to be able to compete with Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia who capture more than 20,000 international students within the region. Latest estimates show that we only have about 5,000 international students in 2014, of which less than 500 are from Asean countries.
One of the vital elements of competitiveness is the kind and quality of programs. To be attractive, programs need to be responsive and relevant to the current and emerging national, regional and international development goals. These include food security and safety, sustainable and green energy, biodiversity conservation and natural resources, technological innovations, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, use of English as a medium of business transactions, and increasing appreciation for the contribution of culture and arts to sustainable development.
Equally critical is the quality of teachers (i.e., top caliber multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural and multi-national faculty and staff), teaching and research facilities, and research programs. The quality of living conditions, including cost of living and peace and security; language(s) spoken; quality of environment; and access to basic services are also important factors to insure the competitiveness of our HEIs.
On paper many of our older and established programs such as agriculture, forestry, veterinary medicine, environmental management, natural and life sciences, engineering, and medical sciences along with some of our newer programs such as computer science, biotechnology and information technology, are decent enough to compete with those of other ASEAN HEIs. These programs also boast of competent professors and researchers who are highly regarded locally and internationally. We also have a distinct advantage with English as our medium of instruction.
The affordability of education in the Philippines could outweigh the deterring effects of peace and security issues in some parts of the country and the unnecessary inconvenience arising from red tape in transacting business with government agencies.
The competitiveness of our programs and teachers notwithstanding, in reality, we lag behind our Asean neighbors in attracting international students. It is conceivable that by 2015 the competitiveness of our HEIs will continue to be limited by the state and quality of our physical and infrastructural assets for teaching and research. Government subsidy to HEIs over the past two years is still insufficient to significantly modernize teaching and research facilities that are largely dilapidated, ill-maintained and inadequate. We might lose some of our best professors and researchers to our Asean counterparts if we are unable to provide a competitive package of remuneration and incentives to keep them.
Obviously we have a lot of ground to cover to catch up with our ASEAN neighbors. Instituting several policy reforms will be key to improving the competitiveness of our HEIs. These are:
- Substantially increase government investments in strategically selected centers of excellence for modernization of teaching and laboratory facilities as well as accommodation, connectivity and other vital support facilities; upgrade salaries and other incentives for faculty and support staff.
- Rationalize accounting and auditing policies to suit the needs of HEIs for swift and prompt procurement of vital equipment, supplies and services. Current regulations continue to impede the procurement process for research, usually impinging on the timely implementation of research activities.
- Strengthen and strictly implement policies on accreditation and monitoring of HEIs and programs to insure quality and competitiveness.
- Create a policy to facilitate the accreditation of HEIs and programs by international bodies. Sufficient support must be provided to HEIs to accelerate their compliance to all requirements for accreditation.
- Remove policy impediments for hiring foreign nationals as regular members of the faculty to enable HEIs to recruit high profile international professors and researchers.
- Review credit transfer policy to increase the flexibility of accepting international students as transferees and for credit of units earned by local students in foreign HEIs through exchange, joint, dual and sandwich degree programs.
- Revise immigration policies and procedures governing international students to reduce red tape and significantly shorten the period of processing visa and related documents.
Chancellor Rex Cruz earned his BS and MS in Forestry from UP, and PhD in Watershed Management from the University of Arizona. Email him at [email protected]
To make ASEAN Member States’ national higher education sectors and the region’s whole higher education system ready and competitive for ASEAN 2015 and beyond, a lot of efforts has been made by ASEAN Member States individually and as a region.
For the Commission, the ASEAN Economic Community 2015 Strategy and Action Plan for Philippine Higher Education (HE-SAP) will be the main instrument in determining necessary policy reforms for the Philippine HE system in light of AEC 2015.
The Action Plan has three dimensions: (1) macro-economic policies, (2) the HEIs, and (3) the industry. Below are the initial considerations for drafting the HE-SAP:
- The presence of a compelling need to ensure that the country benefits from the integration process;
- The changes economic integration will bring to the way we deliver higher education;
- The status of the Philippine HE sector vis-à-vis its fellow ASEAN members;
- The imperative to determine strategies for participation in the AEC initiatives for HE aligned with the national strategy; and
- The importance of consolidating and enhancing present HE reforms in the context of the AEC.
Private institutions from NCR that are members of the University Mobility for Asia and the Pacific (UMAP), ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS), and the ASEAN University Network (AUN) were invited to the first Focus Group Discussion (FGD). For the second FGD, state universities and colleges (SUCs) were represented by the Regional Philippine Association of SUCs (PASUC) chairpersons. Organizations building industry-academe linkages were invited to the third FGD. CHED aims to consult government offices for the fourth FGD.
Meanwhile the following are ASEAN’s initiatives in HE. Supported by CHED, they address challenges faced by the ASEAN higher education sector:
- ASEAN University Network- AUN was established as a response to ASEAN Member States’ vision for integration by helping in “hasten(ing) the solidarity and development of a regional identity through the promotion of human resource development to further strengthen the existing network of leading universities and institutions of higher learning in the region.” AUN is a network of 30 HEIs from 10 ASEAN countries. This network has a lot of components that make up its system, as well as various sub-networks which deal with specific fields. The most prominent sub-network will be the AUN Southeast Asia Engineering Education Development Network (AUN/SEED-Net)whose aim is to promote human resources development in the ASEAN engineering field and promote collaboration and solidarity between academics and professionals. One of the most important components of AUN is the AUN Credit Transfer Scheme (ACTS). Its objective is “to create common mechanisms in facilitating the recognition of qualifications and increasing student and academic mobility in ASEAN.”
- ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework – the AQRF is currently being designed to accommodate and support the various National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) of ASEAN countries to promote the recognition of qualifications, facilitate lifelong learning, credit transfer and learner mobility, among others. The AQRF is currently a work in progress but is close to completion.
- ASEAN International Mobility for Students Program – the AIMS Program is a platform for education cooperation among ASEAN countries. The fields of study/priority disciplines of the AIMS are: agriculture, hospitality and tourism, language and culture, international business, food science and technology, engineering and economics.
- For student mobility programs like AIMS and AUN, credit transfer systems are essential. While AUN uses the ACTS as mentioned above, the AIMS Program utilizes the University Mobility for Asia and the Pacific (UMAP) Credit Transfer Scheme.
- ASEAN Quality Assurance Network – the AQAN Project is currently overseen by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency. AQAN is open to accrediting agencies or agencies responsible for quality assurance of higher education.
AQAN concentrates on building the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework for higher education through discussions and sharing of QA best practices and experiences.
Considering the aforesaid ASEAN-centered programs and networks, the main factors which significantly affect national HE sectors and the regional HE system are credit transfer schemes for student and professional mobility, qualifications referencing and compatibility, and quality assurance. These are where reforms are concentrated. AIMS, AUN, and AQRF all complement the region’s efforts to enhance quality assurance systems in the long run. QA is important in the achievement of a regional higher education space and thus, the importance of a regional QA framework is on the spotlight.
As to how ready the ASEAN HE system is for 2015, readiness can be measured by how close ASEAN is to accomplishing the establishment of these QA and Qualifications Referencing systems.
Atty. Lily Freida Milla earned her political science and law degrees from UP. Email her at [email protected]
For more articles on the ASEAN Integration from the UP Forum, please click here.