ASEAN integration to push Phl academic institutions to become more globally-competitive

ASEAN IN Focus interview of University of the Philippines Vice-President for Public Affairs Dr. Prospero De Vera.  The interview focuses on some of the concerns and issues of the country's academic institutions in preparing for the ASEAN integration. (Eagle News Service)
ASEAN IN Focus interview of University of the Philippines Vice-President for Public Affairs Dr. Prospero De Vera. The interview focuses on some of the concerns and issues of the country’s academic institutions in preparing for the ASEAN integration. (Eagle News Service)

(Eagle News Service) — The following is a transcript of part two of the ASEAN IN FOCUS interview  (aired on Oct. 30, 2014) with University of the Philippines Vice-President for Public Affairs Dr. Prospero de Vera.

In this interview, De Vera continues to tackle the preparedness of the country’s academic institutions for the ASEAN integration.

This series and the program ASEAN IN FOCUS of NET 25 (Monday  to Friday, 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., with replays 11:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.) is part of Eagle Broadcasting’s advocacy to promote awareness about the ASEAN region and the 2015 ASEAN integration.

Question: Sir, in preparing for the ASEAN integration, some sectors in education worry about our preparedness.  What can you say about the fear in some academic groups?

De Vera: The fear emanates from several sides.  There are those who fear internationalization itself.  They are worried that if you internationalize you are going to sacrifice national interest, you are going to sacrifice the interest of the Filipino people, you become globally integrated to the disadvantage of the country.  There are those who are afraid of internationalization.  There are those whose fear is really about change.  It’s easier to go about your regular ways just repeating what you do.  And any disruption or change, especially competition, threatens a lot of people, and worries a lot of people.  So sometimes, the fear comes from fear itself, not so much not being able to compete, but afraid that you might not be competitive.

Question:  With the current status of the Philippines, do you think that by becoming more internationally-oriented this will make or push the country to improve?

De Vera:  There are several things going for the Philippines.  Number one, Filipinos are successfully competitive as individuals.  You see that in all your relatives who migrate.  You really see them to be successful.  The reason why there’s a lot of overseas Filipinos is because Filipinos can survive, actually survive, wherever they go in the world.  So that’s a character that we must recognize as good for internationalization.

Second, Filipinos have the facility of the English language which is the language of international education. Imagine the other nationalities in the region who are trying so desperately to speak  good English and yet Filipinos already speak good English, which means our schools — we use English as a medium of instruction – should be attractive as destination for students and faculty members to come over.  And when we go and compete in the region, the fact that we speak good English is also a plus for us.

The third is I think all Filipinos who study abroad realize how good they are, and recognize how Filipino they are, only when they go abroad.  Even I myself recognized how good I was when I studied in the United States.  Because you’ll find out that Filpinos can compete with the best in the world.  I think those characteristics of Filipinos should allay the fears of many that when you open up for international institutions, for international students, that you will be at the losing end.

Question:   So you say that we need to internationalize not just because of the ASEAN integration in 2015, but because of globalization itself?

De Vera:  When you talk of internationalization, you are really talking about policies and programs that governments and higher educational institutions adopt to respond to globalization.  So you are internationalizing, not just because there is integration in the region, but because education is already globalized now.  The demand for higher education continues to increase all over the world.  Unfortunately, the resouces that are available for government is either slack or sometimes weak.  And there is rapid student mobility all over the world, and the demographics of the world changes the need for students, etcetera.  For example, a lot of the developed countries have very aging population, so their schools will need students.  Where will they get their students?  They will come from developing countries.  So there’s  a pull.  Student mobility could go there.  If the population is aging, they need human resources for their economy.  Who will produce these human resources?  It could be the developing countries if their human resources are well-educated.  So it’s really the global demographics that is really changing the character of education now.  So as a nation, the challenge is will you be able to tap the international or global market for your human resource?  And what do you need to do in your educational system to make your graduates and human resource internationally competitive so that they can practice their profession all over the world.  So that is really what internationalization is all about.

Question:  is there a paradigm shift that we have to go through in preparing for globalization?

De Vera:  Yes, part of the paradigm shift is to recognize  that the world is a global village now, that one cannot isolate itself from what is happening with the rest of the world.  That is difficult for some individuals particularly because of ideological beliefs.

We must also be able to recognize that we first have to be nationalist to be internationalist —  meaning we have to understand and define what is national interest first and that becomes the basis for you to internationalize.   Meaning, that when you design your educational program, of course the primary consideration is national interest, and only when you are able to define national interest can you start changing your program and curriculum to compete with the rest in the world.

So internationalization does not mean that you will adapt your programs only to the international manpower needs.   You have to develop your pool of human resources to support both what is needed domestically, and also what is needed internationally.  For example, we used to be fixated with nursing programs.  They said so many jobs are available for nurses, etcetera.   What our educational planners did not say was that that market for nurses is not just market exclusively for the Philippines, that’s for the whole world.  So everybody produces nurses.  Now we have a glut of about 175,000 nursing graduates  who cannot find jobs because the global market has contracted already.  So when you develop your nursing programs, you must design it both for domestic needs, as well as international needs.   Don’t design your educational system simply to cater to global demands.  It must  cater to both domestic demands, regional demands and global demands.  So that is what I mean when you say you have to have a paradigm shift.  Because before all of our programs, their design was just domestic or sometimes fixated with what is international.  That is the problem.

Question:   What is your take on the Philippine school system adjusting to the international system?

De Vera:  I’ll give you a specific example.  In the Philippines, one of our strengths in the educational system is our degree programs on agriculture.  We used to be very strong, and UP Los Banos is the center of education or degree program (0n agriculture), and the Thais and the other nationalities used to study in UP Los Banos for their forestry and agriculture needs.  That has changed.  Enrollment in B.S. Agriculture has declined by more than 70 percent over the past decades.  It’s declining because there are no jobs in the agricultural sector.  Because the country has a lot of people.  In the study that we did,  we found out that only two regions in the country are competitive  in terms of having agricultural programs.  The question is do you now close your agricultural program?  Because if there is no demand domestically, then you should start phasing it out.  My answer is no because if you look at the region, you have emerging economies of Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam who are agricultural.  So now we have to harness our strength in agricultural programs, and our target now is to get the students in those countries, or the agricultural officials there, to study in our university.  Because our degree programs in agriculture are much better than most of the countries in the region.  That is what I mean by thinking both national and regional.  You don’t design your programs exclusively for domestic needs, if you are competitive, because there is a whole new region there open to attract students, to attract professionals to train.

There are several other good programs.  (For example), we’re very good in animation.  Filpinos are very creative.  They’re doing the animation for the top companies in the United States.  That’s a niche that we have versus the other countries in the region.   That’s a niche that we can expand.  That’s a niche where our professionals can practice all over the region.   The key is how we find those niches that are both domestically needed, and also regional and global.   (Eagle News Service)