8 ways PH higher education can prepare for ASEAN 2015

Less than two years before the regional integration, most Philippine colleges and universities are still wary of internationalization

MANILA, Philippines – Eleven years ago, member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including the Philippines, envisioned an ASEAN University born from strong linkages of leading universities and institutions in the region.

This was back in a time when the ASEAN Economic Community 2015 was still unheard of. Today, less than two years before the integration, most Philippine higher education institutions still shy away from completely reaching out to its neighbors, wary of internationalization. 

Still, the country has seen in recent years great educational milestones, including the institutionalization of the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013.

Commission on Higher Education (CHED) regional director Catherine Castañeda in a recent conference even lauded the unity of the country’s trifocal system of education, namely, the Department of Education (DepEd), CHED, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). (READ: Senators ask: Are colleges ready for K to 12?)

The education sector, however, involves more than just the 3 government agencies. For Castañeda, only when the educational pros outweigh the cons will the country be ready for ASEAN 2015. (READ: The road to ASEAN 2015: Why are PH colleges lagging behind?)

Julio Amador III, an Asia Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, listed down in a policy brief 5 issues stakeholders must consider in the Philippine setting. He also came up with 3 issues the country must ponder on as a member-state of ASEAN.

1. Policy framework for ASEAN

Does the country have a higher education policy framework in relation to its ASEAN commitments? How are universities and colleges going to contribute to it?

2. Expansion of ASEAN University Network (AUN) membership

AUN is identified under the 2007 Charter as “one of the sectoral bodies responsible for the implementation of higher education commitments in the blueprint fo the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

With only the University of the Philippines (UP), De La Salle University (DLSU), and Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) as members, how can AUN membership be expanded even to other universities and colleges?

3. Mutual recognition of university degrees

Because of the country’s late shift to the K to 12 curriculum, “university degrees from the country are oftentimes not given equivalency in fellow member-states.” Since the K to 12 law was enacted, CHED has begun reviewing degree programs to complement the new curriculum. (READ: CHED to colleges: Rethink business model)

4. Synchronization of academic calendar

Two of the top universities in the Philippines, UP and AdMU, are “seriously considering” the shift of their academic calendars and starting the first semester in August instead of June.

“The lack of synchronization [in academic calendar] really hampers research – we’re not able to engage partners,” AdMU President Jose Ramon Villarin said.

5. State of ASEAN studies

If the country’s trade patterns are any indication, the Philippines has not integrated itself with other ASEAN countries, Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) president Melito Salazar said. (READ: ASEAN Economic Community: Are we ready for 2015?)

“The trade patterns in the Philippines is still US, Europe, and – to some extent – China-directed… Are the graduates coming out competitive? Are the graduates knowledgeable of ASEAN culture, [and the ASEAN way] of doing business?” he said.

Amador raised the concern of implementing courses and programs on ASEAN studies – necessary to inculcate a regional mindset early on. 

6. Student and faculty mobility

Dr Jose Cueto Jr, member of the board of medicine of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), said gradual changes in 2015 may see better implementation in mobility of capital and goods than professionals.

“Is student mobility encouraged now within ASEAN? For the professors, are there concrete exchange programs…regular conferences not only on ASEAN but also on other regional issues?” Amador asked.

7. Regional scholarships

If there are regional scholarships already in place for ASEAN students, how extensive are these and how could they be improved?

8. Collaboration in research and extension

Castañeda said CHED always has money for research. Despite this, research is not yet a strong suit of even the top universities in the country. Amador said once research consortiums have been established within ASEAN, they must be promoted so more Philippine universities could take advantage of them.

Will Philippine universities and colleges ever be ready for the ASEAN Economic Community? Salazar said there are still a lot of “ifs,” not only in the education sector but in other areas as well.

For Cueto, political will is needed to keep up with other member-states. “With or without ASEAN integration we need to fix our problems. Even without the integration, we need to move forward,” he said. – Rappler.com

ASEAN Economic Community in businessman hand image from Shutterstock