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Higher education as a service industry

In today’s world, higher education has become a huge service industry. Nowhere is this more evident than in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which has lumped education together with banking, tourism, and accountancy. History professor Maria Serena I. Diokno from the University of the Philippines made this observation at a forum on education reform held in UP Diliman at the height of the campaign for the May 10 elections. Education as a business is “dangerous" because school administrators would not be focused on learning; instead, they will train their eyes on results measured by standardized exams and other one-size-fits-all measures, she said. Higher education refers to formal post-secondary schooling in universities, colleges and vocational institutes. Stemming from the ‘80s buzzword of “international education," the trend today is the transnational, borderless, and, somewhat contrarily, cross-border service industry of higher education, Diokno said. Diverse options resulting from this globalization range from simple study abroad programs to international English language programs, university partnerships such as twinning programs, research collaboration, franchising of courses, off- and on-shore courses, and foreign-owned universities. Higher education institutions from 95 countries that responded to the 2005 International Association of Universities global survey showed a consensus on the benefits of market-driven and technology-assisted trends in tertiary education, Diokno said. Among these are broader international outlook and enhanced academic quality. “Transnational education exposes faculty and students to new learning environments and culture. Research collaboration with foreign colleagues especially in global concerns like health and the environment also helps the world at large. And yes, bringing in foreign students adds to the university’s declining budget," said Diokno. Nearly all survey respondents, or 96 per cent of the total, regard internationalization as beneficial but “70 per cent see the risks involved, the top three being the commodification of education programs, the increase in the number of foreign diploma mills and incompetent providers, and brain drain, while the loss of national and cultural identity ranks at the bottom of the list," she said. "Our table is groaning under the weight of questions we need to think about as a result of these global changes," said Diokno. These questions revolve around the quality of foreign education providers in the Philippines, the relevance of research universities, and the need to respond to global standards of academic performance such as 12 years of basic education. Diokno said adding two years to the country’s basic education system would reduce the pressure on colleges, where general education has become remedial instead of liberal. “Everyone can and must continue to earn after high school, but not everyone is cut out for a four-year degree," said Diokno. A healthy mix of higher educational institutions would be able to respond to a greater variety of needs of young and adult learners, and serve a larger population. “Tighter collaboration among disciplines is the answer. It's also inexpensive," said Diokno, adding the wise reminder that schools are not equivalent to education. – CARMELA G. LAPEÑA/YA, GMANews.TV
Tags: education