Internationalisation without loss of identity

A growing number of overseas students are attracted by the Philippines’ relatively low tuition fee levels, low cost of living and – for students from Southeast Asia – geographical proximity. The country has also been a popular destination for students who want to study English and is sometimes characterised as the home of the world’s ‘budget English teacher’.

According to the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) Memorandum Order #55 entitled “Policy Framework and Strategies on the Internationalization of Philippine Higher Education”, the primary goal of the internationalisation agenda is to improve the quality of education that would translate into the development of a competitive human resource capital that can adapt to shifting demands in the regional and global environment, to support and sustain the country’s economic growth.

In this article, we look at one public university, regarded as one of the most prestigious in the country, and one private university, which is one of the biggest and oldest private universities in the country.

Articulating policies of internationalisation

The vision and mission statement of the private university articulates its aspiration to produce graduates who are globally competitive and to promote values oriented towards national and global development. In its five-year strategic plan, the private university has included its aim to be more active in internationalising.

For the public university, however, it has not been easy to institutionalise internationalisation policies because of resistance from some academics. The university is known as one of the bastions of nationalism and activism in the country, so there are academics who are very cautious about how the university defines internationalisation – especially since there is a common notion that internationalisation would be oriented towards foreign institutions, Western education and a neo-liberal agenda.

To resolve some of these concerns, efforts were made to distinguish the internationalisation of higher education from the concept of ‘global education’.

“Global education can be understood in two ways,” one university leader had said. “It may refer to the ‘global education’ landscape or it may also refer to the economic aspect of education where foreign students are considered part of market forces. The internationalisation of higher education is a response to ‘global education’, but focuses principally on the academic growth of universities and institutions rather than on the economic aspect of growth.”


Major universities in the Philippines, such as the two case studies here, are increasingly giving more weight to research publications indexed by ISI and Scopus journals. The private university offers PHP40,000 (US$740), while the public university offers PHP55,000 (US$1,000) to academics who publish in such journals.

Both universities also encourage academics and students to attend and participate in international conferences, training sessions and workshops, with some financial subsidies offered. In the public university, there is a research dissemination grant –just one of many grants that are part of the university’s faculty development programme. Both universities also pursue research collaborations with foreign institutions.

Faculty mobility

The Faculty Exchange Programme of the private university aims to provide opportunities for faculty members to share their expertise and conduct collaborative research with faculty members of a partner university, whether locally or abroad.

Meanwhile, the Staff Exchange Programme provides opportunities for staff members of the host and home universities to share their best practice. This programme will include observation of the partner university’s day-to-day activities in the areas of governance and management and the use of learning resources. This also involves formal and informal dialogue with the stakeholders of the partner university.

In the public university, there is an institutionalised faculty modernisation programme where the university shoulders the expenses of faculty members who pursue graduate studies abroad. They pay for accommodation and allowances. The university also supports non-tenured faculty members, giving them the opportunity to take study leave or research leave.

It is also now easier for the university to invite visiting professors, artists and researchers to conduct and facilitate workshops, lectures, training, research and performances because of the lecture series programme of international experts that the university has institutionalised.

Student mobility

Some of the private university’s student off-campus engagements include short-term mobility programmes abroad, such as cultural immersion programmes, leadership camps, conferences and competitions. The international student apprenticeship programme, managed by the university’s colleges, is another form of student mobility initiative.

The university observes CHED requirements and guidelines on internships abroad. Longer-term mobility programmes are actualised through memoranda of understanding with its academic partners. For instance, the university organises on-site education fairs with New Zealand's accredited partners to encourage students to study abroad for their masters degree.

The public university faces a limit on the number of foreign students that it can accept since it is a state university whose mandate is to provide education to underprivileged, marginalised but deserving Filipino students.

Filipino language and culture

Foreign students in the country are encouraged to learn the Filipino language. In the public university, the department that teaches Filipino language and literature is raising the issue of requiring foreign students to take six units of Filipino language courses before they can enrol in other subjects.

The international linkages office has also prepared a Philippine studies module for foreigners; for two weeks they will study the Filipino language and the local history and culture. This also includes a cultural immersion programme involving trips to historical sites, museums and local communities.

One of the institutionalised and strong links of the public university is with a Japanese university, which has had an academic programme on Philippine studies since the 1980s. The programme offers courses on the Filipino language, literature, culture and society. It is a tangible example of the impact of the internationalisation efforts of a Philippine university.

Volunteerism and internationalisation experience

Not all students in the universities are given the chance to take part in an outbound internationalisation activity. However, there are other ways and avenues for students to experience internationalisation.

In the private university’s Institute of Tourism students are encouraged to volunteer for international activities. These include the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meetings that are hosted by the different government agencies in the country – such as the Office of the President, the National Youth Commission, the Department of Tourism and the Department of Foreign Affairs. These agencies usually need volunteers who are equipped with skills in hospitality management and foreign relations.

Community engagement as internationalisation

For a developing country like the Philippines, policies and initiatives implemented are always evaluated for their social impact. Universities, especially public universities, always look at how internationalisation initiatives can benefit the Filipino communities at home and abroad.

One mid-level manager identified the social relevance of the marine laboratories and marine science institutes being managed by the university, which attract many foreign partner institutions. These laboratories and institutes are situated in the different parts of the country, in which foreign scientists are trained by Filipino scientists to conduct research that is beneficial to the community.


The common notion is that internationalisation is contingent on the availability of sufficient funding. Many universities may be discouraged to take initiatives to internationalise because of costs. But what is important for internationalisation is contextualisation. The university needs to identify its strength and its resources, no matter how limited they may be.

As a reaction to the country’s long history of being colonised, the Philippines’ educational institutions have found a role in shaping national identity and in preserving its traditions and cultures, its language and its identity. With internationalisation, the Filipino national identity does not have to be compromised, as some academics have feared.

Rowell D Madula is associate professor at the Filipino Department, College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University in the Philippines. This article was first published in the current edition of Higher Education in Southeast Asia and Beyond.