Interview: Alfredo Pascual

How are universities working with private industry to teach the skills demanded by the labour market?

ALFREDO PASCUAL: Against the current backdrop of credit rating upgrades and job creation from foreign investment, links between academia and industry have become increasingly important. Connections that are bilateral and sector- or locale-specific are forming to ensure that graduates have the skills needed by industry partners.

Given the challenge of matching jobs to skills, industry associations are now getting involved in quality assessment and improving school curricula. Universities are inviting industry personnel to lecture on skills gaps. Philippine Business for Education recently established the National Academe-Industry Council, of which I am a member, to provide a longer-term perspective on human resource planning, promote investment in promising industries and support national progress. A recent initiative to integrate analytics into school curricula, undertaken by IBM and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), is a concrete example of public-private collaboration in human capital development.

As the world moves toward analytics, having the manpower with the needed technical skills can lead businesses to move or expand their operations here. Besides reading, writing and arithmetic, graduates need better skills in communication, problem solving, decision-making and critical thinking. The curricula for K-12 will help students and parents decide whether a high school graduate should pursue an academic track, vocational or technical skills, or a career in sports or the arts. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority is persuading people to stop seeing a college degree as the only passport to a good job, and instead recognise the need for technical skills.

How do local universities benefit from seeking international partnerships or accreditations?

PASCUAL: In general, universities seek international partnerships or accreditations to improve their quality positioning as they compete for students and teachers. CHED is helping with quality differentiation by identifying centres of excellence in different universities. Still, universities in the Philippines should subject themselves to international assessments and accreditations in order to compete globally. The same is true for all South-east Asia as it moves towards regional integration. Such assessments are just getting underway through the ASEAN University Network, which is laying down a standardised system of quality for universities.

These developments will bring shared credibility and mutual recognition of professional qualifications, thus improving students’ mobility across ASEAN. They will also render domestic universities more attractive to students from neighbouring countries, especially when the ASEAN Economic Community comes into being in 2015.

In what ways should universities prioritise the development of their research output?

PASCUAL: Research output is a very important factor when assessing university performance for rankings. This is why the government is supporting the UP financially: to strengthen its capacity for research. UP is building new facilities and laboratories, and expanding faculty development through doctoral studies and post-doc fellowships abroad. The government is also providing funds through CHED to upgrade research capability through a major programme called the Philippine-California Advanced Research Institute. This programme involves collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco and the University of California, Berkeley in two key areas: health innovation and translational medicine, and information infrastructure.

Implementation of the K-12 programme will reduce enrolment in universities owing to the lack of new freshman choosing not to go to college for two years after the programme starts. For an institution such as the UP, however, it is a welcome development. The slowdown will allow faculty members to focus on research, as well as on developing teaching materials that can raise the quality of higher education in the country.