Producing world-class professionals in the Philippines

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By Dr Reynaldo Vea
President
Mapúa University

In embarking on a journey toward professional success anywhere in the world, a strong educational foundation proves to be invaluable.

In recent years, the Philippines has begun implementing two reforms for a positive uptake on the state of higher education in the country to become at par with its global counterparts. The first of these is the implementation of the K-12 programme in 2013, the country’s most massive education reform to date.

Under Republic Act No. 10533 or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, students are mandated to complete thirteen years of education, including Kindergarten, before they can receive their high school diploma. The country had a 10-year pre-university cycle prior to this.

The K-12 programme provides sufficient time, in addition to an enhanced basic education curriculum, for mastery of concepts and skills and prepares graduates for tertiary education, employment, or entrepreneurship. The implementation is expected to produce Filipino professionals who will be contributing for a more sustainable society in the future.

The first batch of senior high school students will graduate in 2018 giving higher education institutions (HEIs) a head start to prepare and adjust their respective programmes’ curricula.

Paradigm shift

In 2006, Mapúa University took a leadership role in the full implementation of Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) for its programmes’ curricula. Since then, there has been a paradigm shift in Philippine higher education as more schools followed suit when the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the governing body handling tertiary and graduate education in the Philippines, instructed HEIs to adopt their syllabi to the OBE format. This is the second major reform in the Philippine education system.

The OBE system is a learner-centred approach requiring students to validate their knowledge through measurable outcomes. The CHED defined it as: the approach that focuses on and organises the educational system around what is essential for all learners to know, value, and be able to do to achieve the desired level of competence.

The adoption of OBE for Philippine colleges and universities is a step towards successfully competing in the global arena. For the Philippines to become at par with its counterparts all over the world, degree programmes offered by HEIs need to be of world-class calibre. A way to measure is the international outcomes-based accreditations for offered programmes.

International accreditations

More and more Philippine universities and colleges have been pursuing accreditations for their respective programmes. The accreditation of these degree programmes recognises the Philippines’ ability to produce graduates that have the necessary skills and training for the global economy. This also manifests the successful implementation of OBE and the satisfactory attainment of desired student outcomes.

Aside from being a pioneer in the OBE implementation, Mapúa is also a trailblazer when it comes to international accreditations of degree programme offerings thus raising higher the bar of engineering education in the Philippines.

It first sought and received accreditation from the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the United States-based ABET (ABET-EAC) for three of its programmes. The accreditation of five more of its engineering programmes by EAC and two of its computing programmes by the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) of ABET followed soon after. These accreditations are under outcomes-based criteria.

Mapúa now holds the most number of ABET-accredited programmes in any single campus in the Philippines. The university enjoys accreditation given by ABET-EAC to 11 of its engineering programmes: biological engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, electronics engineering, environmental and sanitary engineering, industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, materials science and engineering, and mechanical engineering; and by the ABETCAC for three of its computing programmes: BS Computer Science, BS Information Systems, and BS Information Technology (www.abet.org).

Aside from ABET, schools are also pursuing accreditation of their programmes by the Philippine Technological Council – Accreditation and Certification Board for Engineering and Technology (PTC-ACBET), helping it transition from a probationary member to a full signatory of the Washington Accord. Being a member of the Accord will facilitate the practice of Filipino engineers in other member countries as the agreement recognises substantial equivalency of engineering programmes. Currently, the full signatories of the Accord are accrediting agencies in Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States.

Graduating from a PTC-ACBET-accredited programme, once it achieves full signatory status, is a formal eligibility requirement for Filipino engineering graduates to become a member of the International Professional Engineers Register (IntPER). Expanding the market for one’s expertise and gaining better employment are some of the advantages of IntPER membership.

As a proponent of the bid for Washington Accord membership, I believe PTC-ACBET membership in the Washington Accord will allow greater mobility of engineers in the ASEAN region, where a number of Washington Accord members are also located.

With such initiatives, programmes are certified to be at par with those of international colleges and universities and to have met global industry standards. Consequently, students gain equal footing with their foreign counterparts.

The best of the best

Filipino professionals have always been globally competitive, but the challenge now for future professionals is not just to be qualified but to be the best qualified for the job. The government, I think, should start meeting this challenge in schools.

The government will naturally have a large role to play in the education and the professional regulation sectors. The Commission on Higher Education will have to vigorously promote outcomes-based education and outcomes-based quality assurance. Our curricula and the manner in which they are delivered will have to be sharpened. With support from the Professional Regulation Commission, our professional societies must learn how to manage collective expertise and knowledge.

There is still quite a long way to go for various stakeholders to fully sustain the outcomes of the preparation. However, with the HEI’s initiatives and the important measures currently being taken by the government and local industries, the Philippines is seen to produce more globally competitive professionals and to greatly contribute to the progress of not only the Philippine society, but also the global economy of today.

Dr Reynaldo B Vea, president and chief executive officer of Mapúa University, graduated as magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines (UP) with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1978. He obtained his MS degree in naval architecture and marine engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981 and his PhD in engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1991 as a Fulbright-Hays scholar. Dr Vea worked as a naval architect and marine engineer in the US. He served in the academe and government sector contributing in significant reforms and projects to further raise the quality of Philippine education and to increase global competitiveness of Filipino professionals. He has been a member of various local and ASEAN science, engineering, and technology associations and commissions. He has also maintained close ties with the private sector in order to keep abreast of its needs.