Friday, January 26, 2007

Academic OFW I

It is no secret that there are a lot of Filipinos working or studying in academe overseas. Many decided to do their graduate or postgraduate degrees in the USA, European Union, Canada, Australia and even in more technologically advanced Asian countries like Japan or Singapore and more recently, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. The reasons for attending colleges and universities in these countries is as varied as the students themselves. Some won scholarships, either government sponsored or private scholarships. Some also won assistanceships or tutorships which provide fee waivers and an allowance although that does not allow a luxurious lifestyle.

Those who come from affluent families were able to support their studies through dad or mom's "scholarship". I know of a few people who took out loans to do an MBA in the US or Australia. As this was a loan, they have to pay it back. The only way to do so is to find a job overseas. The investment in studying abroad is so big that working in the Philippines is unlikely to pay it off.

While there may be a multitude of reasons, the bottomline is simple. Philippine education (especially in the postgraduate level in the sciences and technology) does not equip the student to compete in the global workplace. It is not the quality of professors and teachers but the inadequate facilities and at times the antiquated courses of study. As many of us Pinoys are products of this system and some of the talented do enter the academic career, only to receive such paltry salaries. I need not elaborate on these since this has been the subject of many an editorial or an op-ed column in Philippine broadsheets.

Students and academics have not been traditionally considered as part of the OFW phenomenon. One thing most of these students and academics have bachelors, masters and PhDs from the top universities of the country and the skills and services they offer the global economy is different from the educational preparation and skills offered by other workers. I think the term "brain drain" is no longer appropriate to describe what these people are up to. In the globalized economy, your brains can be utilized this very minute in the web, by Europeans, Japanese and even by kabayan back home. In short the "brain" and its skills can no longer be confined by national boundaries. Nonetheless, these academics are in the same boat as the nurse, domestic worker and the seafarer. Why? It is because their absence from the Philippines is a net loss to their country. (I say net loss since despite the remittances that is 10% or more of the country's GDP, the social cost is still high)

Of course the academics may have the option of getting permanent residency and eventual citizenship in their host country. In the latest salo-salo of the Pinoy academics in this US city I am now, I learned that this route has become more difficult say than 10 years ago. Most Pinoy grad students are hardworking (and this is amply recognized by their profs) and work overtime even if they have families to care for. It is just the Pinoy is facing stiffer competition from other Asian, African and Latin American students, who in many cases are as just good as the Pinoy and also hardworking. Not only the oft cited facility in English can be an edge for the Pinoy. Students from these regions have also learned their English quite well.

This is coupled with the decreasing academic jobs available. Postdoc appointments have become fewer and shorter. A postdoc may have to jump from one appointment to another and if that runs out, one has to go home. Of course the best option is to get a asst prof appointment. Of all the 35 Pinoys in our tribe, only one got an appointment and that is in a regional campus far far away.

But that is not a major angst for many. Those who are on government sponsored scholarships are torn between the brighter opportunities here and the obligation to come home. Of course one can come up of all sorts of rationalizations for a choice, but still that obligation will always come to haunt them. But there is always the one who gets a job that pays 85 grand a year. But the reality is that most of us won't!

I have been to these kinds of gatherings wherever I end up in as a visiting academic. In Australia we were talking about the same thing, in London too and Tokyo! Here in the USA, I do my job well and work just as hard as the grad students. The students (who have a better sense of how things work here) say that in all eventuality, the university would offer me a lectureship. But I am here only for a term and I don't count my chickens before they hatch. Still I wonder what would happen to the Pinoys grad students here?

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

1 comment:

Woobie said...

It's a good thing that Filipinos are resourceful and fast learners. What we lack in technology, we make up with our ingenuity. Our innate optimism and willingness to work is something that any education system cannot teach, as these are home-taught traits.