Government News Analysis

Education’s obligation

Global Innovation Index 2017, tertiary education
Global Innovation Index 2017: Tertiary education

For the most part, it’s from the tertiary education institutions – the post-secondary stage of colleges and universities – that the leaders of tomorrow will emerge. Whether they’re political leaders or industrialists, increasingly they’ll have passed through such a place.

But it’s not just tomorrow’s leaders which economies depend on from these institutions; they also expect them to supply the next generation of doctors and scientists and engineers. The need for governments to improve the stock and the quality of such seats of learning, therefore, is self-explanatory.

Higher education is an essential commodity for the production of human capital that will serve the future of economies, for without that supply of capital those economies will flounder and eventually perish. They’ll be swamped by those that produce greater sums of capital.

So how well is the Philippines doing in that regard? For some answers we return to the 2017 Global Innovation Index (GII) and the category ‘Human capital & research’. Here, there’s a sub-category which ranks 127 countries worldwide in terms of their ‘Tertiary education’ performance.

First then, the world ‘Tertiary education’ rankings on the index for eight Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) states – Laos and Myanmar were not part of the index. Singapore, 1st; Malaysia, 24th; Brunei, 27th; Philippines, 74th; Vietnam, 86th; Indonesia, 87th; Thailand, 90th; Cambodia, 105th.

This puts the Philippines a respectable 4th in Asean – though some way off the first three. But when it comes to what the index terms “tertiary level inbound mobility” – the overseas’ student population as a percentage of each country’s total tertiary student intake – the Philippines fares far less well.

Here are the global rankings of the Asean states for that measurement. Singapore, 1st; Malaysia, 26th; Brunei, 37th; Thailand, 66th; Vietnam, 103th; Indonesia, 104th; Philippines, 105th; Cambodia, n.a.

if the Philippines’ universities aren’t good enough for foreign students, why should they be for Filipino students? 
Effectively, then, the Philippines comes last in this group and 12th from the bottom of all the countries surveyed worldwide. What that represents in practical terms is that foreign students seeking a tertiary education abroad are less attracted to the Philippines than most other countries on the GII.

The uncomfortable question from that is, if the Philippines’ universities aren’t good enough for foreign students, why should they be for Filipino students?

The more immediate question though, is why do potential foreign students have that perception? There won’t be a single answer to that, but one reason is likely to be the low global rankings of Philippine universities.

Here’s a snapshot of what that looks like. Our source here is the 2017 Asia University Rankings, part of the 2016-2017 World University Rankings compiled by London-based Times Higher Education, a weekly publication and the UK’s leader in this field.

This is a comprehensive study and offers the only global university performance table to judge world-class universities across all their core missions – teaching (the learning environment); research (volume, income and reputation); citations (research influence); international outlook (staff, students and research), and industry income (knowledge transfer). It’s regarded universally as among the most reliable of all evaluators of higher-education performance.

Within the 300 universities listed as the best in Asia (for its purposes, a region stretching from Turkey across the Middle East to Japan), there’s only one Philippine university which makes the list – the University of the Philippines, which has an intake of just 1% of international students – and its ranked from 201st to 250th. 

And when did the Commission on Higher Education – the government body responsible for tertiary and graduate education – last do an audit of these institutions?

By comparison, Singapore has two universities on the list. The National University of Singapore ranked 1st and the Nanyang Technological University, ranked 4th. Each has a 32% intake of international students. Eight Malaysian universities made the list – the top one is the University of Malaya, ranked 50th – as did eight Thai universities, the highest ranked of which are Mahidol University, 97th, with 3% foreign students and Universiti Putra Malaysia, 121st to 130th, with 17%.

To view the list in full, go here:

This is a dismal performance by providers of tertiary education in the Philippines where there are literally hundreds of such institutions. How come all but one have failed to make any mark at all internationally?

And when did the Commission on Higher Education – the government body responsible for tertiary and graduate education – last do an audit of these institutions? For example, how is funding being appropriately used if there’s no independent recognition of excellence – if, as we’ve seen, foreign students give them a wide berth? What’s the business model; universities just for locals?

There are a number of other questions which also need to be asked, like where is their research output? What citations have they gained for it? And what’s their ratio of foreign to local professors?

Tertiary education is far more than a business; it’s a critical pillar of the economy. Don’t take our word for it, look around the world. The evidence of what happens to economies where education fails is painfully plain to see. We believe the purveyors of education have a lot to answer for in the Philippines too.