The British Council, together with the Bangsamoro Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education (MBHTE), presented our new report ‘Internationalisation of Higher Education Institutions in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’ last 14 July 2021. The report illustrated the current state of, and challenges and opportunities for international higher education engagement in BARMM. The study, which was conducted in 2020, covers a range of topics including research outputs of the region’s universities, their interests in internationalisation and transnational education and the impact of Covid-19 to the higher education sector.
The study highlighted the preoccupation of education institutions in peace and community building in the Bangsamoro region. Universities value their role in extension and community outreach, in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and in contributing to peacebuilding in BARMM. They understand that they can attain these goals through internationalisation of higher education.
The report also underscored that to equip universities for international partnerships, gaps in facilities and infrastructure, curriculum, and the capacity of senior leaders, teaching and research staff should be addressed.
There is interest to build international partnerships mostly within ASEAN. However, with international education in the region being at the early stages, the engagement with foreign partners must first focus on capacity development and building awareness when it comes to international collaborations.
Atty Renato Pacaldo, Acting Executive Director of the International Affairs and Linkages Office of the Mindanao State University (MSU) System, also reacted to the study. With MSU’s experience in global partnerships, he identified the following points:
- Higher education institutions (HEIs) must make themselves visible not only in the local and national level but also internationally, and this can be achieved through increasing research outputs.
- HEIs must also consider more priority programmes beyond teacher education. Such niche areas should align with the development agenda of the region and the interests of potential foreign partners.
- Lastly, one of the main setbacks in the internationalisation of BARMM is the unchanging perceptions about peace and security in the autonomous region. Being tagged as a conflict area, combined with advisories of foreign countries against travel, deter institutions from building linkages.
According to Vice President for Academic Affairs of the Notre Dame University Cotabato City Dr Delma Yuarata, peace and order and professional capacity building are important areas where BARMM HEIs need support to build institutional confidence for internationalisation. She also highlighted the inevitable shift to digital learning as a result of Covid-19 and thus the need to address digital infrastructure gaps in the region.
Also present in the forum was Dr Janet Ilieva, director and founder of Education Insight. She spoke about the future of transnational education and the Global Engagement Index (GEI). GEI, a tool that captures the international engagement of universities, presents an opportunity for universities to measure institutional performance beyond the confines of international ranking systems. In the context of BARMM higher education sector, the GEI could provide useful inputs to MBHTE and to HEIs as the sector strategise its current priorities and future directions.
The virtual launch held last 13-15 July 2021 was part of the first BARMM Higher Education Forum organised by the MBHTE in partnership with the British Council and the Education Pathways to Peace in Mindanao . The forum was a series of sessions that sought to provide BARMM higher education institutions updates on policies and guidelines for the upcoming academic year, education priorities in BARMM and initiatives with the region’s international partners.