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PHL must spend ‘smarter’, have more industry links in higher education — World Bank

In a new report released Thursday, the World Bank urged the Philippines and other lower middle income countries in East Asia to practice ‘smarter’ spending in higher education and get stakeholders to “coordinate as a system” to raise the productivity of citizens through skills and research.   Emanuela di Gropello, a World Bank lead economist in the region noted that while “access has improved quite a lot in the region (with)…many more students who are enrolled in higher education.”   “However, there is also a lot of evidence of skill gaps which address (the) quality issue in higher education. Professional higher education students still show gaps in technical thinking and behavioral skills, according to both employers and the employees themselves. They should perform much better than they way they do,” di Gropello said.   In one of charts she presented, di Gropello showed that in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Indonesia productivity is below $10,000 per worker while Singapore, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand have much higher productivity levels.   She noted that in East Asia access to higher education “has not increased equally across population groups…(and) is not yet not doing what it should to support the research agenda of countries and that includes also technology in firms.”   “Across these countries—these are only examples—only between one or two percent of firms use universities as a way to acquire innovation, to upgrade their technology,” di Gropello cited.   Di Gropello did point out—in the University of the Philippines and in some other institutions—there are some examples of linkages with industry. Five Disconnects   The World Bank report said there are five “disconnects” that show how “higher education is not working as a system of connected actors.” It said the disconnects are partly due to poor information on university-industry linkages, labor market returns, and employment trends.   It also cited weak incentives to adapt curricula to emerging developments, promote interaction with firms and conducting research, as well as limited human and financial resources. Di Gropello said employers, companies, research institutions, higher education institutions and training providers, and the earlier education are largely disconnected and uncoordinated.   Recommendations   The WB economist urged the Philippines and other East Asian countries to make institutions more accountable by making more information available. She said political influence happens everywhere in the governing boards of institutions, but one was to channel the influence positively would be to make policy and political decisions “evidence-based” or tied to specific outcomes.   Regionwide, di Gropello said “there is no direct correlation between the amount of spending in higher education and the outcomes of higher education.”   She stressed that what matters more is that public money be spent on areas which will reap the best returns—research, address skills issues, and “inclusiveness” in access to higher education.   Skills surveys and “standardized tests on learning about learning”, she said, would help the public determine the quality of education acquired from institutions.   The other WB economist at the report launch, Prateek Tandon, urged higher education institutions (HEIs) to disclose “in a coherent way” information about academic performance, research outcomes and labor market performance of their students.   On financing, Tandon and de Gropello batted for:  
  • Developing a philanthropic culture to raise more private funds for public HEIs;
  • Proposing training programs for workers “to re-skill, un-skill and update”;
  • Conduct of applied research which can help firms upgrade or develop their technologies; and
  • Locally-relevant research similar to the competitive funding schemes of “Local Solutions to Local Problems” in Cambodia
  Tandon said legal and fiscal incentives can help make partnerships work to improve financing, governance and stewardship of HEIs. — ELR, GMA News