New horizons for university cooperation
The signing of a French-Philippine framework agreement on higher education and research by the foreign affairs ministers of France and the Philippines are among the most significant bilateral developments resulting from the state visit of French President François Hollande to the Philippines in February 2015. This agreement provided the backdrop to emphasise the importance that both countries attribute to the development of their cooperation in the area of higher education, with a particular focus on public governance and sustainable development. The need to increase student flows between the two countries was underscored as well.
French-Philippine university cooperation is built on three pillars.
The first pillar rests on the close relations cultivated by the French Embassy with the country’s two most prestigious universities. Students from the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines-Diliman comprise 75% of all Filipinos leaving to pursue their studies in France.
The second pillar is based on the engagement of Campus France, which established its office in Manila in 2008. Campus France ensures the promotion of French higher education, interacts with students across the country, and provides assistance to anyone considering or preparing to undertake studies in France.
The third and final pillar is founded on the excellent relations forged with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) of the Philippines, through which a variety of projects has been made possible. This led to the organisation of a France-Philippines University Forum in June 2016. The forum, which was opened by the chairperson of the CHED and the French and Philippine ambassadors, aimed to support the implementation of interuniversity partnership agreements, 60 of which are already existing. The visit of a Philippine ministerial delegation to Paris was also organised in the same context, while a reciprocal event in Paris is scheduled for 2017 to promote Philippine higher education among French universities and higher education institutions. A Philippines discovery camp, free-of-charge for students receiving a grant (as per French social criteria), is also scheduled.
French private Catholic universities, notably those of Lille and Lyon, universities that offer French as a Foreign Language (FLE), and leading business schools now attract a growing number of Filipino students. However, less than 250 Filipinos chose to pursue their studies in France in 2016, which represents a figure far below the potential of our bilateral university cooperation, especially in light of the current demographic and economic growth of the Philippines. The lack of information on available courses in the two countries and the perceived language barrier are partly to blame for this situation. The French Embassy is working hard to address
this through a three-pronged strategy:
- First, provide students with comprehensive and easily accessible information. To this end, we have made an effort to explain the different characteristics of the French higher education system to Filipino students.
- Second, show them that studying in France is not just a distant dream. This is especially true as our country offers numerous advantages which convinced nearly 300,000 foreign students to study in France in 2016. Even if Filipino students generally know a good deal about our culture and the French way of life, very few of them would have never imagined that university fees in France are lower than in the Philippines! Prior to meeting us at the French Embassy, not many people also know that more than 1,200 degree courses and many graduate schools in France accommodate English-speaking students who have never learned French.
- Lastly, no university cooperation is complete without speaking of funding. Driven by a two-fold objective to ensure budgetary efficiency and to secure external funding, the French embassy is currently making efforts to make its scholarship programme more visible and more accessible. This programme, christened ‘PhilFrance’, attracted 120 applicants in 2016, the year of its creation. The 12 students from all walks of life that were finally selected are currently studying in French institutions, some of which are as prestigious as Sciences Po or HEC. Some of these scholarship awardees are now looking to study at the French National School of Administration (ENA), which, in all its history, has not yet had any Filipino students!
- At least 10 young Filipinos received scholarships from the French government to pursue their post-graduate studies in France in fields such us management,
public health, international development, public policy, and the French language
In 2017, the signing of a scholarship agreement co-financed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development and by the CHED, which will aim to support at least ten Filipino professors seeking to pursue post-graduate degrees in France, will mark a new chapter in university cooperation between our two countries. Our objective now is to conclude this type of agreement with Philippine government departments that could benefit from our academic offerings, particularly in the field of engineering, a sector with a promising future in terms of university cooperation.
France was once a beacon for many intellectuals and Filipino academics. Like their national hero Jose Rizal, who also took courses at the Sorbonne, these scholars studied the classics in our country. It was French values that largely helped to shape Filipino revolutionary ideals. A new horizon for France-Philippine cooperation is the promotion of student flows between our two countries. Today, it has become a major priority which will largely depend on the future of France-Philippine relations across all sectors, including of course economic and business exchange, which is why we consider it of such importance.