Benchmarking academic best practices in US

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By Danilo P. Padua, PhD

“ I thought that benchmarking activity was good for the upgrading of the quality of education in our own tertiary schools, both private and public.”

Recently, I heard Baguio congressman Mark Go talking live over a local radio station as they were in the USA benchmarking the best practices of leading universities there. He was there, together with Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian and congressman Roman Romulo, as co-chairpersons of the Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM 2).
They were joined by 2 other representatives, Sen. Sonny Angara and some others including the Presidents of U.P., Ateneo and La Salle.
I thought that benchmarking activity was good for the upgrading of the quality of education in our own tertiary schools, both private and public.
As usual Cong Go was in his element: eloquent, sensible and perceptive over the radio. I must admit that I am listening to the once-a-week radio program where he is a regular guest (maybe we can say, it is his program) whenever I am home and not so busy.
Because I believe that the study tour is very meaningful, I tried to see what Congress says about the tour, and consulted Google. I found a press release of the Philippine Senate last April 16, 2024. It contained, among others, important info about what the benchmarking activity was.
Quoting Sen Gatchalian, the press release said, “As we prepare our Filipino students for the demands of the 21st century, we need to strengthen our HEIs as hubs of innovation and research that could boost our national development. In pursuing this goal, we need to learn from global best practices”. It further quoted Rep Garcia, a member of the visiting group, “Our purpose here is clear: to engage with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), key experts, and stakeholders in the United States, delving into the intricacies of micro-credentials, lifelong learning pathways, and community colleges
They were seeking some answers or info on seven priority areas that include
1. access to quality education, 2. quality assurance, 3. graduate education, research and innovation, 4. internationalization, and 5. connectedness of learner pathways throughout the system.
Now look at the schools that they visited: Harvard U, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Arizona State U, Georgetown U, Boston College, Univ of the District of Colombia. These are schools that are way high up there in the ranking of world universities.
I have a very big doubt that they were able to find practices that are readily adaptable and adoptable by most Philippine HEIs. Maybe, U.P., Ateneo and La Salle, the reputed three leading universities in the country, and who were duly represented in the tour, may benefit from it. But for others, it’s a long, long, long shot!
Why? Let me tell you an example. When I went to Germany way, way back in 1987-1988 for some training, I was shown electron microscopes (3 of them located in different labortories). I was told that I can use them if I needed them in my research work in the university. This kind of microscope was not even seen by most of our scientists at that time as there was only one of this kind in the entire Philippines. And there were 3 in the University of Bonn where I was based-it was not even among the 3 leading universities in that country.
What I am saying is that, the equipment is very, very useful but it is way beyond the reach of practically all local universities at that time. It was so advanced, we can only salivate for it, but owning it was asking for the moon .
The benchmarking group went to top notch universities whose capabilities are probably beyond our reach at present, given our limited resources. They could have chosen lower ranked but similarly excellent schools so we could at least try to approximate them. Then we take it from there to climb the ladder of excellence
We always hear remarks like: we are at least 20-50 years behind – in economic development, or even maybe in education standards. It’s always good to aim very high, but if its possibility of attainment is low, that is a folly. We don’t like to fail of course.
In the ASEAN region, our best universities are now lagging behind many universities from our neighbors. We were leading earlier, so what did they do? They sent their students here, and they benchmarked us. Upon learning what they could extract from us, they turned their attention to more advanced countries and institutions. That’s the way to do it. Now they are moving steadily upward, and we’re plummeting in a sense because we are trying to bite more than we could chew by insisting on a model that is not exactly suitable for us at the moment.
Why did they visit world-leading universities in the U.S.?.
Here’s why. The abovementioned press release, admitted that the EDCOM visit to the US is undertaken with the support of USAID through the newly-launched UPSKILL (U.S.-Philippines Partnership for Skills, Innovation, and Lifelong Learning) Program.
It further explains that UPSKILL is a five-year, $30 million dollar USAID/Philippines program that will develop human capital and drive sustainable, inclusive growth by strengthening higher education in the Philippines.
UPSKILL brings together U.S. universities, Philippine government agencies, and the private sector to support Philippine colleges and universities to become more globally competitive. UPSKILL is implemented by a consortium of partners led by RTI International and includes Arizona State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina Agricultural Technical and State University, Philippine Business for Education, and Edukasyon.ph.
There you are. The group went there because Uncle Sam said so, not because of our own initiative. Many will say, “there is a program offered for us almost free, so why not take advantage of it?” When can we veer away from the control of somebody else?
By and large, let us hope that the benchmarking tour will bear the desired result though. This corner suggests that we could start improving our quality of education by focusing our attention first to the improvement of 2 leading or best universities/colleges in every region. The selection should be based, on the following criteria: current programs, performance in licensure exams, faculty credentials, research outputs (including publications), linkages with other institutions, current facilities, student population, and other major factors missed here. This suggestion is unfortunately more relevant to public HEIs
Even the very wide faculty:student ratio must be addressed first. And we should start an honest-to-goodness program for manufacturing what we need, starting with the HEIs or even earlier. **


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