The Philippines has started to make headway in education thanks to policies that aim to expand access and improve quality. The need for human capital development has been the main impetus behind such educational reforms, as detailed in the current administration’s Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-22. Despite notable gains, work remains, especially in terms of academic performance, the number of educational facilities and participation rates. To address these issues, the government has significantly increased education expenditure over the years, initiated structural changes in basic and higher education, and intensified partnerships with the private sector and industry.

System Structure

The education system consists of the three components: basic education, higher education, and technical and vocational education and training (TVET). Basic education, which is directed by the Department of Education (DepEd), has undergone a major overhaul in recent years, with two laws extending compulsory schooling from 10 years to 13 years. The Kindergarten Act of 2012 introduced free pre-school and also added a mandatory year to the elementary curriculum, while the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 (EBEA), also known as the K-12 law, made attending secondary school mandatory and extended the curriculum by two years.

Public and private higher education is managed by the Commission of Higher Education (CHED), whose remit includes undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Meanwhile, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) oversees the management of TVET provision, which is classified according to three categories: company-based; community-based (within communities); and institution-based (within TESDA’s partner institutions).

The Philippines is one of the few countries where private higher education institutions outnumber state schools and enrol a greater number of students. Of the 3.59m undergraduate students enrolled in higher education institutions (HEIs) in the 2016/17 academic year, 1.95m, or 55%, were enrolled in private schools. Leading private universities, such as the University of Santo Tomas, were established hundreds of years before their public sector counterparts – although Filipinos were not allowed to attend until the 19th century – while the University of the Philippines, the archipelago’s leading state university, was set up in 1908, when the country was under US control. There were 1943 HEIs in operation in the 2016/17 academic year, according to data from CHED, of which 88%, or 1710, were private. The remaining 12% are public, with 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) and 107 local colleges and universities (LCUs). Similarly, almost 90% The university landscape is starting to change, however, which is leading to some challenges. “There are three major issues affecting the education sector,” Winston Conrad B Padojinog, president of the University of Asia and the Pacific, told OBG. “First, free tuition has prompted a shift in enrolment from private to public institutions. Second, the entrance of major corporations into the education sector has made it more challenging for less-commercial universities to operate. Lastly, digitalisation has brought about substantial additional costs in both the acquisition of technology and the retraining of staff.”


While private schools play a major role in the education system, it is compulsory for all institutions in the Philippines to be accredited by the government. The DepEd is responsible for monitoring basic education outcomes such as enrolment, completion and drop-out rates, while individual schools are in charge of internal quality assurance.

Accreditation for TVET programmes is conducted through TESDA, which assesses institutions based on strategy, products, services and performance, among other topics, and has four levels of accreditation: bronze (commitment), silver (mastery), gold (proficiency) and platinum (excellence). CHED regulates the curriculum, programme offerings, tuition fees and learning resources of HEIs, and then confers a centre-of-excellence status to HEIs that meet the highest standards of quality in education and research, and the centre-of-development status for those considered to have strong potential. There are also private accreditation bodies, although as of 2017, only 28% of HEIs had sought private accreditation.

Sector Targets

The Global Competitiveness Report 2017-18 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks 137 countries on national competitiveness based on a group of factors that determine the level of productivity, including the quality of the education system. The Philippines placed 66th in the quality of primary education category under the health and primary education pillar. To compare, this was behind fellow ASEAN members Singapore (3rd), Malaysia (23rd), Brunei (27th) and Indonesia (47th), but ahead of Laos (88th), Thailand (89th), Vietnam (93rd) and Cambodia (112nd). In terms of the higher education and training pillar, which includes secondary and post-secondary schooling, the country is ranked 55th, behind only Singapore (1st) and Malaysia (45th), and ahead of Thailand (57th), Indonesia (64th), Brunei (67th), Laos (105th) and Cambodia (124th).

Regarding research and development (R&D) indicators, the Philippines placed 65th overall, which represented no change on its 2016-17 standing but a notable drop from its 2015-16 ranking of 48th. To compare, in 2017-18 Singapore ranked ninth, followed by Malaysia at 22nd, Thailand (50th), Vietnam (71st), Laos (81st) and Cambodia (110th). Extensive efforts are under way to improve the country’s expenditure patterns, capacity for innovation, and the level of collaboration between industry and academia. The government has recognised the need to improve the R&D environment, with a number of initiatives implemented to this end (see analysis).

Combating Challenges

Ongoing challenges have contributed to the mid-level rankings of the education sector, but the government’s efforts to boost spending, ensure enrolment and improve its global standing have not been without some success. The Philippines has worked to make sure a greater number of children are attending school to positive effect. Between 2008 and 2015, the net enrolment rate rose from 88% to 95% in primary school, from 60% to 66% in secondary education and from 29% to 36% in tertiary education. A number of policies and programmes have significantly decreased the number of out-of-school children, as well as addressed shortages in terms of classrooms and learning resources. As a result, the youth literacy rate in the 15-24-year-old demographic reached 98.1% in 2013, according to the latest data from the World Bank.

In addition, in 2000 the Philippines was one of 164 countries to sign on to the global Education For All (EFA) movement led by UNESCO to provide basic educational outcomes for every child and adult. While UNESCO reported that the country missed a number of targets in 2015, citing gaps in student completion, underdeveloped school infrastructure and overstretched technological resources, the organisation named the Philippines as one of those most likely to achieve its EFA targets in the coming years.

Philippine Development Plan

President Rodrigo Duterte reaffirmed his commitment to improving learning via his administration’s medium-term development plan, PDP 2017-22, which specifies a number of programmes and strategies the government intends to implement in the next five years to meet its objectives, including the reduction of inequality through universal access to learning opportunities.

At the primary and secondary levels, the government has intensified its efforts to expand alternative learning systems to provide skills-based learning opportunities to out-of-school youths, strengthen early childhood care and development programmes, pursue full implementation of the K-12 system, continue curricular reforms and make efforts to enhance the quality of teachers. Changes have also been implemented at the post-secondary and TVET levels. These include emphasising the need to expand collaboration between academic institutions, government and industry; expanding access to SUCs, LCUs and vocational training centres; attracting reputed professors and researchers; and promoting excellence in higher education institutions.


To better implement the goals of the PDP 2017-22, sizeable increases in education spending were allocated in 2017 and 2018. The DepEd received a 31% increase in financing, bringing its budget to P543.2bn ($10.7bn) out of the P567.5bn ($11.2bn) allocated to the education sector overall in 2017, with the remaining going to CHED and TESDA. These funds were allocated for the hiring of 53,831 new teachers, the construction of 47,000 new classrooms and the implementation of free tuition reforms at SUCs.

In 2018 the DepEd received P553.31bn ($10.9bn), with CHED getting P49.43bn ($976.5m) and TESDA P7.46bn ($147.4m), bringing the total to P610.2bn ($12.1bn). According to the Department of Budget and Management, the money will be used to maintain and repair educational infrastructure, hire new teachers and staff, and develop resource materials. State colleges and universities will also receive P62.12bn ($1.2bn) to support free higher education.

Spending on Education

Looking ahead, the country’s rapid population growth is expected to place considerable pressure on educational infrastructure. As of the beginning of 2018, the population of the Philippines totalled 106.5m people, according to figures from the UN, and the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) forecasts it will hit roughly 141m by 2045. The increase in population has implications for the amount of government spending that will be needed to ensure PDP 2017-22 education goals are met. The most recent data from the UN Development Programme shows that in 2012 the country was spending the equivalent of 2.7% of its GDP on education, below the 6% recommended by UNESCO and the 4.9% global average. That figure has risen over the past few years to around 3.6% in 2017, according to figures from the PSA, but the Philippines continues to spend far less on education as a proportion of GDP by global standards.

Republic Act

With the augmented budget, new policies to improve educational outcomes are emerging as are the number of support programmes. One of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in 2017 was the Republic Act No. 10931 of 2017, also known as the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act. It initially started out as a bill that covered free tuition at SUCs, but has now been expanded into a law that provides tuition and other school fees to all students, including those enrolled in private HEIs, CHED-recognised LCUs, and all duly registered TVET programmes. Under the law, full tuition subsidies will be provided for students at 112 SUCs and 78 LCUs nationwide starting in the 2018/19 academic year.

Despite the overwhelming popular support for the bill, some lawmakers expressed concern about its potential impact on public finances, as the economic team of President Duterte estimates that the new regulation will cost approximately P100bn ($2bn) per year. The bill was nonetheless approved in the legislature, as some of budget intended for other departments was appropriated. CHED set aside P40bn ($790.2m) for the programme’s first year.

Extended Curriculum

The Philippines implemented the EBEA in 2016, roughly three years after the bill was signed, which saw the addition of two years of senior high school to the mandatory structure beginning with the 2016/17 academic year. Prior to its implementation, the Philippines was the only country in Asia, and only one in three countries worldwide, with a 10-year basic education cycle. Much of the opposition to the initiative – which triggered five separate petitions to the Supreme Court – centred on whether the country’s teachers, schools and administration were in a position to implement the reform. President Duterte expressed scepticism about the programme before he was elected but changed his mind in May 2016 after a delegation from the DepEd told him that the change was necessary to prevent Filipino students from falling behind their neighbours.

In August 2016, 1.5m Filipino children attended 11th grade for the first time, with senior high school students choosing between four tracks: academic, technical-vocational, sports or the arts. Based on enrolment data from the DepEd, 60%, or 914,436, of incoming 11th graders enlisted in the academic track, 39.2%, or 594,027, pursued technical and vocational track studies, and less than 1%, or 8847 students, enrolled in the art or sports programmes.

To date, the results of the K-12 implementation have been encouraging. In 2016 senior high school enrolment exceeded expectations, and the DepEd has already started to engage in partnerships with HEIs and industry stakeholders to ensure that graduating students are better equipped for further studies or employment. “The K-12 reform will ensure that Filipino graduates can be competitive and take advantage of international job and education opportunities,” Dionisio M Miranda, president of the University of San Carlos, told OBG. “The overhaul of the education system was a necessary correction that will ensure the Philippines produces qualified human resources attuned to the skills of the future.”

Despite its successes, the programme has not been without its challenges. The basic education system still suffers from classroom shortages, especially in public senior high schools. To deal with this problem, students at such schools have the option of enrolling in private schools with the help of financial vouchers. According to DepEd, some 50,000 vouchers were awarded in the 2016/17 academic year to partially cover students’ tuition fees. There are also issues regarding curriculum development. “As a result of the K-12 reform, incoming students are better trained and better screened. However, in the final two grades of high school some students were enrolled in tracks that do not fit with the university courses that they will finally choose to take and therefore the universities have to pick up the slack in these areas,” Wilfred Tiu, president of Trinity University of Asia, told OBG.

Despite these issues, K-12 implementation is still advancing on schedule, with the first batch of students set to graduate from year 12 in 2018.

Going Global

The Philippines has boosted its efforts towards internationalisation in the sector by seeking out educational partnerships with foreign HEIs. Several universities have already shifted their academic calendars to synchronise with their partners from around the world, while CHED has entered into agreements with a number of countries.

In 2017 the Canadian government in collaboration with Scotiabank launched the Study Direct Stream Programme to streamline visa processes for full-time Filipino students attending universities in Canada. Also in 2017 CHED signed a memorandum of cooperation with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority during the 31st ASEAN Summit aimed at improving the education system in the Philippines, while giving local students the opportunity to pursue education in New Zealand. Efforts will hopefully see more local universities competing and ranking globally. While no Philippine universities in the Times Higher Education’s Asia top-100 list in 2018, four schools made the global top-1000 in the 2017 Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings. At 367th, the University of the Philippines scored the highest, followed by Ateneo de Manila University, which placed in the 501-550 bracket, and De La Salle University and the University of Santo Tomas both scoring in the 701+ bracket. “There is big potential for the Philippines to be competitive in transnational education. The country has the advantage of an English-speaking population with high human capital,” Antonio P Esteban, executive director of the Australian International School, told OBG.


Spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP has continued to remain under 1% in the Philippines. Based on the most recent World Bank data, the Philippines’ ratio of R&D expenditure to GDP was around 0.14% in 2013, much lower than the global average of 2.04% and the UNESCO recommendation of 1%. In the region that year, Singapore spent 2.1% of GDP on R&D, followed by Malaysia (1.13%), Thailand (0.39%) and Vietnam (0.19%). While efforts have been made to boost R&D spending, according to local media, in 2017 the Philippines still spent less than one-fifth of 1%, compared to Singapore (2.4%), Malaysia (1.3%), Thailand (0.5%) and Vietnam (0.2%). To address the shortfall, the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) has launched its National R&D Agenda 2017-22, featuring several projects that are geared towards utilising science and technology to accelerate development. There are five key priority basic research areas: water, food and sustainable communities; health; agriculture, aquatics and natural resources; industry, energy and emerging technology; and disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Some P5.8bn ($114.6m) has been set aside for the enhancement of R&D capabilities and to initiate more university and industry partnerships. The department has also started to implement programmes to improve the R&D capabilities of higher education institutions. “It is crucial to create synergies between universities and companies to link talent with greater resources, allowing the country to produce disruptive innovation,” Fortunato T de la Peña, the secretary of the DoST, told OBG.

The government’s Inclusive Innovation Industrial Strategy, known locally as i3S, is also helping to promote innovation by strengthening collaborations between industry and academia, introducing R&D incentives and designing new training programmes.

Efforts to reach the private sector have been intensified as well, as DoST launched the Collaborative Research and Development to Leverage Philippine Economy (CRADLE) programme in May 2017. The CRADLE scheme will enhance collaboration between the academic community and industry by funding research at universities based on the needs of the business community. In cooperation with the University of Southeastern Philippines and HIJO Resources Corporation, for example, the programme has already seen development of a pest and disease identification app for mobile phones to combat agricultural disease.


Embracing private sector technologies as part of efforts to improve education operations is also catching on in the primary and secondary school systems. For example, Philippine tech companies such as Wela School System and Cloudswyft have digitised traditional teaching and assessment methods in an effort to upgrade the skills of both teachers and students. Wela School System introduced two innovations: a cloud-based platform that automates academic reports, and radio frequency identification technology with a corresponding mobile application that tracks students’ attendance and performance. Meanwhile, Cloudswyft offers students a lab-training platform where they can learn about software applications through exercises and monitoring functions.


Despite some persisting issues, the future of the education sector in the Philippines looks promising. If the sector continues to be prioritised in national spending plans, one can expect to see more programmes from the government aimed at improving the quality of provision and infrastructure. K-12 reform should yield graduates who are better prepared for employment, higher education or entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, free tuition in colleges and universities should boost enrolment and increase the number of tertiary education students. It remains to be seen if academic programmes and teaching methods in public HEIs with evolve sufficiently to meet the rapidly changing demands of the national and international economy. Ultimately, the aim is to close the gap between the skills of graduates and the needs of industry, ensuring that the country will produce a more productive workforce and more entrepreneurial graduates with innovative ideas to drive development forward.