Saturday, 14 December 2002

Three Weeks

NO CHANCES. When it comes to matters of health, nobody wants to take any chances. The United Kingdom, increasingly a major destination for many of our health professionals, is no exception.

Ensuring the quality of the intake of health workers into their country, no doubt, was a major motivation for the National Academic Recognition and Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC) to visit the Philippines a few months ago, to validate the quality of our educational system.

Of course, while they were here, it was also opportune that they looked at the entire spectrum of higher education institutions, rather than just confine themselves to the health sciences and allied professions. Their visit, therefore, was billed as a “country review,” and was facilitated by our own Commission on Higher Education (Ched).

As I recounted over the course of the last couple of issues, I became an unfortunate “victim” of UK NARIC’s recent “country review” of the Philippines.

As one of the requirements for my continued stay in the UK, I had to submit my academic credentials for evaluation to British immigration authorities.

Banking on the fact that I would easily meet the requirement, on the basis of having received a Master in Business Management (MBM) degree from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), I was greatly shocked to find out that according the the UK’s sole academic assessment body, AIM’s degrees were considered to be less than the equivalent of UK MBAs.

Initially, I was informed by UK NARIC that an MBM from AIM was not even equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree. Initially infuriated, and totally unconvinced of the outcome of UK NARIC’s evaluation of AIM’s degree programs, I set out to rectify what I believed to be a very serious mistake indeed.

Not knowing where to turn to, where the problem lay, and who was to blame for the error, I set out on what seemed like a wild goose chase at the time, determined that in the end, I would be proven correct. My aim—to ensure that an MBM degree from AIM would be recognized as the equivalent of a master’s degree earned from a UK institution.

Having already been told that I was not even the equal of a UK university graduate, it seemed like a totally impossible objective. All this was just over three weeks ago.

What did I learn between then and now? A lot, considering that from the outside, my familiarity with our own system of higher education is not as up-to-date as I would have hoped it would be.

MISUNDERSTOOD. It is now apparent that in the particular case of AIM, UK NARIC had inadvertently misunderstood the information that was furnished them by Ched.

Apparently, Ched classifies Philippine higher education institutions (HEIs) into three basic categories. At the top of the pecking order are the so-called “prestigious” universities. Three weeks ago, only the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle University and the University of Sto. Tomas were in this illustrious group. Basically, all courses from these institutions are considered to be “league-leading” as far as the Philippines is concerned.

Next in line were the “centers of excellence/development.” These are programs within HEIs that are recognized to be of relatively high standard, given their achievements in professional examinations etc. While the HEI may not in itself be “prestigious,” the program is considered to be. An example is the Cebu Institute of Medicine’s Doctor of Medicine degree, which was the only one from Cebu to make the Ched’s list of COEs/CODs in medical education.

The third category is all the other HEIs that are neither “prestigious” nor considered to be COEs/CODs.

For reasons that I now appreciate, AIM was not classified by Ched in the first two categories of HEIs. Automatically, UK NARIC interpeted this to mean that AIM belonged with “all the rest,” with all the implications that this affiliation carries.

In general, our system of higher education is already considered to be lower than that of the UK for a variety of reasons, the major one being that we have a proliferation of schools with widely varying standards of excellence.

On the whole, therefore, the degrees awarded by our HEIs are considered to be below the standard of those offered by UK universities. How much below depends on where a university belongs according to Ched’s categories.

For example, a master’s degree from a “prestigious” HEI is generally considered to be a bachelor’s degree (with honors) in the UK. One from a COE/COD is evaluated either as an honors or ordinary bachelor’s degree (depending on the program and the institution, presumably), while those from “all others” are considered as ordinary British university degrees or less. Three weeks ago, AIM’s MBM was in this latter category.

So what? What does this mean for you and me? Well, clearly much more than one would expect.

For example, if an employer in the UK demands that only nurses with degrees that are equivalent to the UK’s are hired, just those who got theirs either from “prestigious” HEIs or those from COEs/CODs need apply. This means only the graduates of 20 or so schools out of the hundreds that cater to future nursing hopefuls. Caveat emptor indeed!

For me, it meant that even if I was already the chief financial officer of a UK company, my continued stay in the country might be in jeopardy. Surely, no company would want to have a high school graduate running its finances? (To be concluded next week.)

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, December 14, 2002 (

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