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Silliman University notes growing foreign student population as CHED pushes for ‘education tourism’

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By Rachelle M. Nessia

silliman university dumaguete city education tourismDumaguete City — The country’s potential as a premier alternative educational destination for students from foreign countries is already felt in the small yet vibrant academic environment in Dumaguete City.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has recently announced its initiative to position the Philippines as a premier alternative educational destination where neighboring countries could send their overflow student populations.

CHED Chair Lito Puno has come up with what is termed as “education tourism” strategy, a program that will position the country as an alternative educational destination to China or Russia.

Dumaguete City is a prime example of how Philippine education is a promising factor in drawing in international students.

Touted as a university town, Dumaguete’s bustling academic environment has attracted several foreign students to pursue their education in the city, especially at Silliman University, the oldest American university in the country, which has lured a growing number of foreign students to study here.

SU currently has 251 foreign students from 19 countries enrolled in various courses for school year 2007 to 2008.

Of the total, 199 are enrolled in the college level and 52 in the School of Basic Education comprised of early childhood, elementary and high school levels.

Koreans top the number of foreign students on campus with 105, followed by Iranians, 49 and Americans, 44.

Other nationalities on campus include Indonesians, Germans, Tanzanians, Canadians, Japanese, and British, to name a few.

According to Mark Raygan E. Garcia, director of the SU Office of Information and Publication, majority of the Korean students are enrolled in business and language courses while Iranians are mostly taking up engineering and information technology studies.

Most of the American students are studying in the Nursing and Allied Health Sciences department.

The university’s Masters in Business Administration course have likewise attracted foreign graduate students.

Data from SU shows a steady rise in the university’s enrollment of international students. “The trend has been increasing. For example, at the college level, there were 123 foreign students enrolled in the 2002 to 2003 school year. And five years after, we now have 199 foreign students,” said Garcia.

Garcia attributes the trend to the university’s affordable yet high quality education. “The cost of education here is lower compared to the countries where our international students come from. Plus, with the university’s quality education, it is an investment for these students who after four years, get to earn a degree that make them competitive enough to land lucrative jobs abroad,” he explained.

The university likewise offers Filipino classes for foreign students in an effort to offer a holistic development for them, and help them break through the barriers of language and culture differences. “These classes are specially designed to cater to the needs of our international students, so they can learn the local language and culture as well,” added Garcia.

Garcia said the presence of foreign students in the university have benefited the city’s tourism industry. “It is benefiting not only the academic institution but the city as well as these foreign students have also other needs that only the larger community of Dumaguete can provide,” he said.

He added that for now, SU relies on tie-ups with foreign universities such as those under the student exchange programs, its consortia with universities in Asia and the United States, and by “word of mouth” in pulling in foreign students.

CHED’s ‘education tourism’ strategy has already earned the support of Malacañang after Puno discussed the program’s blueprint during a weekly program aired over government channel NBN-4.

Puno said the strategy complements the government’s tourist promotion program.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye explained that the country is an attractive alternative destination for Korean students because of three main factors: the short distance between Manila and Seoul, the affordability of Philippine education, and the Filipinos’ fluency in English.

The Philippine government and China’s Ministry of Education have signed recently a memorandum of agreement “allowing Chinese students who could not be accommodated in China’s universities to study in the Philippines.” (PIA)

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