Education and skills are important policy levers for sustainable socio-economic growth. With the right economic fundamentals, a highly educated population with the right skills is a powerful tool for economies to move from low-income to middle income, or for those who are already in the middle income category, to avoid the middle-income trap, and move to the high-income category. While much progress has been made in the last few decades, many countries in Asia are still struggling to respond to the skills needs required for competitiveness, productivity and jobs which are related to issues of quality and access which, in turn, are related to insufficient government funding and the high cost of education.
ISSUES IN PHILIPPINE HIGHER EDUCATION: QUALITY, AFFORDABILITY AND FUNDING
The Philippine government admits that there are long-running weaknesses of higher education that include lack of overall vision, framework and plan, deteriorating quality, and limited access to quality higher education by those who need it most and have potential to maximise its benefits. The specific flaws in higher education include weak oversight and quality control, curricula misaligned with international norms and labour market demands, rote-based teaching, inadequate teaching materials and poor quality of facilities.
Recommendations by many scholars include the need to improve quality via better funding and inputs into the education process such as faculty and facilities (laboratories and libraries), improve pre-college preparation, systematise accreditation and closure of nonperforming institutions, to foster greater university industry linkages, and to undertake graduate tracer studies to learn lessons about relevance of education, among others.
Affordability of college education is also an issue, and there is still a big disparity in educational achievement across socio-economic groups. College education has become a luxury good for many Filipino families, given increasing tuition fees and a high incidence of poverty. Private college education in the Philippines is expensive, costing about Php 150,000 (US$3,190) to Php 300,000 (US$6,380) annually as compared with the average family income of only Php 235,000 (US$5,000).
Even for students in state universities with relatively cheaper tuition fees, it is not uncommon
that students skip classes and meals due to lack of transportation and lunch money; not surprisingly, some of these students fail to complete. School drop-out in the Philippines is mainly due to poverty as students need to work to support family and take care of siblings. To expand accessibility, funding mechanisms need to be considerably improved, and address the other causes of dropping out or entirely not pursuing higher education must be addressed.
An insufficient government budget for education also raises other issues. It could mean increasing tuition fees, allowing facilities to run down, and freezing faculty hiring which all negatively contribute to student learning and welfare. Though there were budget increases more recently, issues in education such as quality and drop-out rates were not properly addressed mainly because the increase in budget did not match the increase in population or enrolment. The per capita overall education budget had actually decreased through the years 2000 to 2009; and in the recently approved budget of 2016 for state universities and colleges, the increases go to personal services or salaries while reducing the maintenance and operating expenses and capital outlay which means less improvements of facilities and the building of new and often much needed infrastructure.
SKILLS MISMATCH, UNEMPLOYMENT AND UNDEREMPLOYMENT
The Philippines’ workforce has become increasingly better educated over the last 20 years as the demand for education has been growing overall. With the changes in output and employment structure across and within sectors, the skills demand has been growing and changing, too. With these structural changes, skills issues have become more evident.
According to the Philippines Skills Survey of 2008, difficulty in finding the right skills for the jobs were observable in the service and manufacturing sectors particularly in the export sector and subsectors like chemicals, trade and finance. Using the 2009/2010 Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics Survey, the occupations and industries that were experiencing a shortage of suitable workers are those related to science and technology, and professional workers at the high-end category such as managers, supervisors, professional and technical and associate professionals including specialists. An example of this in the health services are pharmacists, medical technologists, and medical doctors in different specialisations. In terms of surplus of suitable workers, nurses are the most evident group, but ironically, many parts of the country receive minimal or isolated health services, which is due to limited funding for public health care and hospitals.
Youth unemployment in the Philippines is high, with 50% of the unemployed in the 15-24 age group and 30% in the 25-34 age group. In terms of educational attainment, the unemployed individuals were comprised of 22.2% college graduates, 7.7% college undergraduates, 33.3% high school graduates, and 5.9% elementary graduates. In terms of under-employment, the April 2015 data showed a rate of 17.8% or about 7 million under-employed persons. Of the 7 million underemployed, 41.6% worked in the agriculture sector, 39.8% were in the services sector and 18.6% were in the industry sector.
Another skills issue that Philippines faces is the brain drain phenomenon due to Filipinos going overseas to work for higher pay. Filipino workers overseas are more skilled but tend to accept less skilled jobs abroad due to big wage differences and limited employment opportunities in the Philippines. Between April and September 2014, there were an estimated 2.3 million overseas Filipino workers with an estimated total remittance of Php 173.2 billion (US$3.67 billion). In the same year, about 487,176 new hires left the country to work abroad.
The problems and issues related to Philippine higher education, skills and employment are not new. Many of these issues together with corresponding policy reforms have already been identified by many studies of both local researchers and international organisations. Sadly, these excellent studies with policy recommendations and well-crafted educational reforms were not fully translated into successful outcomes, due to implementation issues, which, most of the time, involved corruption or institutional inefficiencies. The problems of skills and employment is not only a problem of the education system, but it is also related to economic growth, industry development and other social institutions. Thus higher education in the Philippines needs enlightened leadership and high quality institutions for policy implementation to be effective.
Catherine Ramos is Research and Publication Manager at The HEAD Foundation, Singapore.