Architects Brian James Chiu (second from left), Joey de Vera (center) and John John Ong (right) together with their colleagues from UST College of Architecture before they commenced their PhD study in 2018.
Architects Chiu (second from left), de Vera (centre) and Ong (right) with colleagues from UST College of Architecture before their PhD study. ©

Joey De Vera

Tell us about yourself — what’s your story and what did you study?

Brian James Chiu: I am Brian James Chiu and I was part of the first cohort of the dual PhD in architecture programme, a joint effort of the University of Reading and the University of Santo Tomas (UST). I am an architect by profession and I also teach at the UST College of Architecture since 2007. I was content in building my career in the academe and in architecture -- developing future architects in the academic environment became my passion and advocacy.

In late 2017, the TNE programme was presented and I saw it as an opportunity to pursue my academic goal of acquiring a PhD. What's special about it is that it will be from both local and foreign institution, and it would let me study while being with my family. The stay in the United Kingdom only lasted for several weeks per term, allowing me to be with my wife and son while studying.

Initially, I was unsure if I would enter the programme as I had to compete with ten others vying for a spot. I was really thankful to be chosen and I feel honoured and grateful that I took my chances and succeeded in this wonderful and exciting journey.

John John Ong: I have been teaching at the UST College of Architecture since 2007. Alongside, I have also engaged in multiple professional projects and consultant work. Although I already have three professional licenses after completing my degree in architecture, I have always been interested to explore other specializations such as interior design, heritage conservation and urban planning, just to name a few. My research study at the University of Reading included the exploration of the role of places of worship in informal settlements in disaster resilience.

Joey de Vera: I am Joey de Vera, a faculty member of UST's College of Architecture since 2013. I am one of the scholars for the TNE programme of the University of Santo Tomas and the University of Reading in the UK. The three-year dual degree PhD programme in Architecture/Built Environment started in September 2018 and was supposed to end in 2021, but with the pandemic affecting our research study, we received a one-year extension. Together with my colleagues, we finished our requirements and finished the programme last September 2022.

Why did you choose the UK as a study destination? 

Chiu: Having the UK as my program's study destination was crucial to my decision to pursue the degree. The UK is known for its excellent educational system-- with its high quality and well-developed educational culture, I know that this would be a great experience for me, something that I can share with others in the Philippines. I also want to use this knowledge to help advance the academic culture in the country.

Similarly, I also wanted to have the opportunity to meet and collaborate with people from all over the world. The UK's diverse international community makes the experience worthwhile. Its a vibrant and exciting place to live and study, with such remarkable culture and history.

Ong: The UK is one of the top choices for higher education globally. Learning from the knowledge that have evolved through centuries of education has proven to be an advantage for me.

De Vera: Our university was chosen as a partner of the University of Reading in the TNE programme and I knew this was a good opportunity to learn.

What was it like to be part of the first cohort of enrollees for the Joint Development of Niche Programme through Philippines-UK Linkages (JDNP)? What were your motivations and how did this help you accomplish your personal and career goals? 

(Jointly funded by the Commission on Higher Education and the British Council, JDNP provides students and professionals with internationally recognised academic qualification on niche disciplines not currently available in the country.) 

Chiu: As a part of the first cohort, my motivation to succeed was high. One of my goals was to work towards completing a PhD in architecture, but this has been difficult to pursue as opportunities are rare. The programme helped me make this dream come true, letting me accomplish my personal and professional goals.

To succeed in this programme, I worked hard and did my best to be efficient. Having a clear understanding of the processes and receiving help from my colleagues, supervisors, friends and family made everything easier.

Studying at the University of Reading provided a unique opportunity to gain international exposure, meet brilliant people, and build lasting relationships.

Ong: Being one of the first enrollees in international education proved to be exciting and fulfilling. One of my motivations for joining the programme is its distinct and quality provision for new learning. While it is too early to tell the advantages of this education, as a fresh graduate, one could say that this qualification has the opportunity to open doors for me in the academe and other business opportunities. 


De Vera: It was an exciting experience as it was my first time receiving a grant for a scholarship programme abroad. I am not aware of what to expect and what it will be like to study and be supervised by academic staff in a UK university. My motivation primarily was the degree itself which is not very common being a dual degree. I was also motivated by our local university's plan to offer a similar programme in our graduate school, where we will participate in the design and delivery. These helped me accomplish my goals with the thought of applying and sharing the experiences and learnings with our undergraduate students and future PhD students.

What was the main takeaway from your transnational education (TNE) programme and how did you integrate it into the classroom as a teacher of architecture? 

Chiu: The transnational education (TNE) programme allowed me to learn more about various cultures. It helped foster a deeper appreciation for different points of view, which is particularly true in education and the academic environment. It also helped me develop a more receptive outlook on life. I was able to immediately integrate what I have learned while studying abroad in the way that I handle my courses today. This is evident in the way that I engage with my students, challenging and nurturing their ideas about architecture. It also influenced the way I deliver my lectures, encouraging feedback and insights from my students. Overall, studying in the UK was truly one of my best academic experiences; one that's rewarding and something that I would definitely recommend to others.

Ong: One of my main takeaways from the programme is the new methods of research and analysis not often used in Asian universities. This has helped me teach students to think more clearly and help them identify problems and solutions more concisely.

De Vera: My main takeaway from the programme is how my supervisors and assessors pushed and motivated me to stay on the course and complete it. I now apply the same to our students, especially now that we are transitioning from online to face-to-face classes starting this term.

What has been the most exciting part of your experience studying and living in the UK? 

Chiu: Some of the most exciting experiences for me were small things such as registering at the university for the first time and receiving my first campus card -- those truly felt like it was the beginning of something. Being able to immerse and attend seminars, meet international postgraduate researchers, and join annual doctoral conferences truly made me feel like I am part of something special.

The experience of learning about and living the local way of life was also something that I enjoyed. I also had the chance to travel to new and interesting places, explore, and have a great time in the UK. During my free time, I also took the opportunity to further experience the rich culture and history of the UK.

Ong: One of the most exciting parts of studying and living in the UK was the new environment that I get to experience as this was my first time going to Europe. The ability to understand how others think and work also helped me see new perspectives on better collaborations, pursuing a more inclusive and integrated system of educating younger generations.

De Vera: The most exciting part for me is the experience of being on the campus and visiting Oxford and other famous landmarks and tourist spots in the UK.

What advice would you give to Filipinos who aspire to pursue a postgraduate degree in architecture in the UK through TNE? 

Chiu: For those planning to pursue a post-graduate degree in architecture in the UK through TNE must consider these important things.

First, there is a lot of difference between the UK and the Philippines' education system. Given this, one needs to clearly understand the various processes needed to succeed in the UK academic environment. Recognising this would also lead to a change in how you think and process. Your PhD will take a life of its own so don't try to set a standard and compare your work with others. Changing the ways of doing things is necessary -- you need to unlearn bad habits and relearn new ways. Be efficient and effective in focusing on your topic; narrow down your focus area so you won't get lost later on. Try to develop a critical mind when reading, writing, and acquiring new information and find ways to better communicate your thoughts and ideas. 

Second, understand and develop your research capabilities and skills. You should find ways to broaden your skills in doing research, whether through workshops, seminars, or courses that will develop your skills. You should not stop searching for ways to improve as a researcher.

Lastly, never lose sight of what is important. Do not try to achieve perfection; think of progress as something that needs to be done consistently. Find ways to do little bits and pieces that will help you gradually develop and improve your ideas. Keep on reading, writing and revising until your ideas are clearer; this will help you realize your progress. Furthermore, this gradual progression will help you better organise and communicate your thoughts. A better understanding of your work will help you decide what you need to improve.

Ong: For those aspiring to pursue a postgraduate degree, I highly advise them to earn more money first. If you are accepted to study at a university, it is important to know that you cannot only rely on your supervisors for guidance.

One of the important learnings in studying in the UK is to learn to develop and strengthen your skills through all the provisions and support that the institutions provide. The courses are not for the faint-hearted, so it's best to be ready.

De Vera: My advice to other aspiring Filipino students is to be patient and meticulous in their research work. Our standards compared with the UK educational standards are very different and students should be able to adjust quickly to get into the thick of things in the programme. 

Architects Brian James Chiu (second from left), Joey de Vera (center) and John John Ong (right) together with their colleagues from UST College of Architecture before they commenced their PhD study in 2018.
Architects Chiu (second from left), de Vera (centre) and Ong (right) with colleagues from UST College of Architecture before their PhD study. ©

Joey De Vera

The send-off for the first TNE cohort hosted by the British Council on 13 September 2018.
Send-off for the first TNE cohort hosted by the British Council (13 Sep 2018) ©

British Council Philippines