EDUCATION experts on Tuesday told senators that the Philippines does not need more foreign-owned schools to raise the credentials of university students, saying investors are likely to leave a trail of debt after profiting.

“There is a peril to these aggressive foreign investors that will leave you (higher education institutions) dry after they exit and sell,” Genevieve Ledesma Laurel, executive director of the Government-Academe-Industry Network (GAIN), told a Senate hearing looking into Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 (RBH 6), which seeks to ease restrictions to ownership in higher education, public utilities, and advertising.

In the House of Representatives, a similar discussion heard the Korean Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (KCCP) supporting such amendments, noting that foreign schools in the Philippines would attract more students in the region who prefer global standards in education. 

Back in the Senate, Ms. Laurel pointed out that local universities already have measures in place that allow students to earn international academic credentials through existing global partnerships.

“Retaining the current Constitution is recommended, fostering international collaborations within a controlled framework,” she said.

Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Prospero E. De Vera III on Monday told congressman that opening up ownership in the sector would help colleges and universities become more globally competitive.

Education Undersecretary Omar Alexander V. Romero opposed the Lower House’s proposal, saying it could affect the sense of nationalism of students.

Changes in the 1987 Constitution would present opportunities for improving the quality of Philippine education but would also pose risks that may “impact the country’s immediate future,” Jose Ramon G. Albert, a senior research fellow of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies told the same hearing, without naming any of the possible downsides.

“I caution the Congress to recognize that there will be unintended consequences to whatever changes we propose,” he told senators.

Gerardo P. Sicat, a former economics professor at the University of the Philippines, said the Philippines is lagging behind its regional neighbors since other countries have benefited from allowing foreign universities to set up shop.

In his statement to the House, KCCP President Hyunchong Joseph Um said that liberalizing the Philippine education industry would further strengthen it as it would attract more foreign students, just like when the Philippines hosted thousands of Koreans interested in learning English in previous years.

“We welcome the liberalization or relaxing of regulations because the world is more globalized,” he said, noting that his sentiments on the matter are shared by the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines (JFC).

“Our group supports the easing of restrictions of foreign direct investment wherever this is possible. We are of the opinion that the removal of economic restrictions would facilitate increased FDI in sectors where such investment is restricted,” the JFC said in a Feb. 26 letter to Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez.

Meanwhile, the University of Pennsylvania visiting scholar, Robin Michael U. Garcia, noted how countries with robust economies often have strong academic research capabilities. He added that academic innovation and development is “the path towards economic development.”

Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) fellow Victor S. Limlingan also supported full ownership and operation of foreign educational entities in the country, saying it would provide “more choices and opportunities for Filipino students.”

Anthony A. Abad, an international trade and investment expert, told the House that the Philippines should also implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) in its systems related to business and trade to accelerate the entry of investment.

In the Senate, Mr. De Vera said the Philippines must learn from other countries and see how they can limit the autonomy of foreign schools while benefiting from their expertise at the same time.

“While we support the possibility of the constitutional amendment, it will require also a reexamination of the framework for higher education and needed reforms,” he said. “If we amend the Constitution but don’t amend the framework of higher education, it also will not work the way supporters would push for it.”

The Senate plans on finishing the hearings and consultations on RBH 6 before President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s address to Congress in July, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara told reporters after the hearing. — John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kenneth Christiane L. Basilio