Study abroad, neoliberal education, and lockdown students

I’m putting this together for my students at the University of the Philippines Open University who missed our video conference this term. A friend had suggested I teach at UPOU after returning from my studies abroad. I said yes to one semester, while working for an American newswire and hustling for commissioned international projects. A sem after that, another friend asked if I could handle another term. I said yes, another sem.

Friends in the academe ask about my designation. Usual answer: faculty-in-charge. Proper response: an adjunct faculty, senior lecturer under the Faculty of Education. During a UPOU council meeting welcoming new faculty, I heard my name, “Professor Aileen Macalintal.” I smiled. Wicked, I thought. (But I also wished they wouldn’t be 37 mins late in a meeting and that they remunerate on time and that teachers’ salary be of respectable level so they can attract more talent).

This Saturday, our class Language, Culture, and Education had our video call. It’s not graded. It was meant to be a review of readings. It was absolute joy. Sadly though, majority of them were not present because of COVID-19 disruptions in our lives.


While waiting for other students to join the call, I was telling my too early student JM, I’ve been using Zoom (since last year) to interview high-profile people around the world. So, Zoom for lecture is new and strange to me.

As soon as everyone’s head filled my screen, I welcomed each and got intrigued with everyone’s location: a car, a living room with Che Guevara poster, a corner of a house maybe away from yapping dogs or self-important babies. If somebody were in a beachside I’d probably kick him/her out of envy.

Dr Pamela Custodio from UPLB College of Development Communication also joined the call, to my delight. In my understanding, she wanted to observe an online class as universities now grapple with current disruptions.

Start of Slides

For the first 20-30 mins, I covered our readings and forums on neoliberalism, study abroad, and grassroots education.

Our thesis statement, our guideline, and our pillar of discussion is the constitution’s statement on our rights to quality education for all.

What is quality education, I teased their minds. Could this be “globally competitive” education? One of the limitations of our chat was obviously the time to cover primary school to higher education in different provinces of the Philippines.

Japanese dreams

Japan was our springboard.

Japan has been ramping up “internationalization” efforts in education since the 1980s. Initiatives included pouring millions of euros per institution for stretches of time to promote study abroad, mobility programs, and recruitment of foreign teachers.

There was a time, however, when interest in study abroad declined for the Japanese for interesting reasons. For example, in the 1990s, Japanese students going to the US fell by near 60%. One reason for this was the Japanese did not see added special value in study abroad. For them, studying abroad doesn’t automatically enhance one’s employability. This is because 94-95% of Japanese students seeking work after university/higher education institution are employed anyway, right after graduation. Japan has a “life-long employment” culture. Employers seek future employees who can stay with them for years or decades, regardless of international experience.

Now after the decline, Japan is boosting its ties more with its neighbors than the usual foreign study destination of Asians (US and Europe). More and more, it is partnering with China, Korea, Taiwan and the ASEAN countries (Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Brunei, Laos).

Can you imagine our government in the future funding our students to study in our neighbor countries?

Consumerist education

Critiques of “global competitiveness” in education, however, point to the menace of neoliberalism.

Guess where this is, I asked. One of them said Germany? It’s Manila. Bonifacio Global City (BGC), to be specific. BGC is an impressive development in the urban development mess that is Metro Manila. Parts of it reminded me of my time in Singapore. Tanjong Pagar feels.

BGC is a hotspot now for expats (“economic migrants,” for the politically correct). It’s where big multinational companies are setting up offices, employing English-speaking Filipinos for their relatively cheap labor. Many, for instance, earn about 30,000 pesos compared with their counterparts abroad earning say 150,000. BGC is like a rising center of BPOs and KPOs (business/knowledge process outsourcing) in the country.

BGC is an image of neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism could be a tough chew for students. At the risk of over-simplification but in an attempt to describe it to students: neoliberalism is an ideology that promotes free-market ideas. It favors free-market capitalism or the free flow of goods, services, moneys, without barriers around the world. Resource-rich developed countries, however, are likely to benefit more than developing countries. Surpluses from capital-rich regions can drown economies that are lagging because of undeveloped infrastructure and systems.

How does neoliberalism look like in education?

A neoliberal education would promote a buffet-style knowledge, offering curriculums or courses or subjects that would cater to transnational companies’ needs.

A market-driven culture in education is likely to step over the need for nation-culture building. It seems to be more interested in developing go-getters and promoting intense individualism, over responsibility to the community.

A capitalist-inspired education would build overseas branches of schools (just like global businesses) because they profit from their university “brands.”

In the world of neoliberal education, humanities and social sciences are most likely dead; social indifference alive.


For our discussion on issues in grassroots, community-level education, I used a photo from our outreach for the Dumagat tribe early this year.

To me, they are a consistent reminder of inequalities in our country. Not just in education, as my student Miguel pointed out, but also in many aspects of living. Indeed, how can we lift the state of our education, when the Filipinos’ quality of everyday living is deplorable, he said.

When I opened the discussion for comments, Pam and I were amazed by the insights.

Grace emphasized the need for a strong support on a community level or a mobilized LGU that understands the needs of the community; Chris was optimistic that the best practices in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand can (hopefully) be replicated in the Philippines; Rico’s hot takes on taxation of the middle class opened a whole new economic debate on government-subsidized education; Charisse held on to her stance that the state — the Philippine government — should and can provide proper education for all.

When Prime reacted to the issue on the community effort or everyone’s supposed contribution towards “free education” for all, she wondered how society could in fact expect from the poor. And so, discussion rolled to talks of “ideal state” or welfare states such as Northern Europe (Denmark, Sweden, etc), where citizens seem to be in a generally agreed social contract to pay hefty taxes that will fund education, healthcare, and awesome public transport, putting them on top of Global Happiness Index every year. But we need to properly tax the rich.

Finally, our guest Pam highlighted the need to look at Philippine curriculum designs. And, I’m quite sure my students taking Education Studies and studying curriculum development were all ears. Since our discussion took an economic turn, she shared a NEDA research that she’s part of: (Bookmarking this). It makes for an interesting read on a long-term vision for the Philippines.

With initiatives and efforts such as this, one can see hope.

Like I said to some in the UPOU site forum, there may be a hundred depressing problems in the Philippine education right now. And, the coronavirus is making things worse, with urgent need for access to computers and wifi (among others) before the next school term starts. But, amid all challenges, once in a while there arises in the masses brilliant minds who yearn and work for change.


  • Lumbera, Bienvenido, G. Ramon and A. Alamon, eds. (2007). Mula Tore Patungong Palengke: Neoliberal Education in the Philippines. Manila: IBON Philippines, Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy, and Alliance of Concerned Teachers. 
  • Horie, Miki. (2015). “Japan” in Internationalisation of Higher Education. Culture and Education Study. European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education. (pp. 229-240). 

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Johnmark VIllanueva
Johnmark VIllanueva
3 years ago

Thank you for this!

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