Role of Higher Education

This article is a combination of excerpts from a paper,

The Role of Higher Education in obtaining EFA goals with particular focus on developing countries (UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research & Knowledge)
by Bikas C. Sanyal

figures from the World Bank Report,
Putting Higher Education to Work,

di Gropello, Emanuela; Tandon, Prateek; Yusuf, Shahid (2011) Putting Higher Education to Work. © World Bank,, Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 .  
The views expressed in this blog are soleley of the author and do not represent the World Bank. 

and tables from the International Study Center,
TIMSS Advanced 2008 Technical Report.
Arora, A., Foy, P., Martin, M.O., & Mullis, I.V.S. (Eds.). (2009). Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.


The Role of Higher Education in obtaining EFA goals with particular focus on developing countries  

by Bikas C. Sanyal

"Without higher education basic education cannot progress....

• Higher education is at the top of the education pyramid and determines to a large extent the state of the education system of the country, especially its quality. As such it has a responsibility towards the whole education system and therefore towards basic education.

• The system of higher education is the reservoir of the best equipped human resources and physical resources in any country having an obligation to help develop other levels of education including basic education.

• Institutions of higher education cannot isolate themselves from surrounding social problems and therefore they have to be linked to other sectors of the society

• Higher education is crucial for social and human development and therefore such linkages must be established by promoting basic education. Massive illiteracy in many developing countries is making the role of higher education more challenging.

• The thrust on early childhood care and education, universal primary education, youth and adult learning, literacy, gender disparity, all the six goals of Dakar Declaration has to be simultaneous.

A comprehensive system of higher education consists of universities, non-university institutions, distance learning programmes, short courses and programmes of basic,applied and development research and extension services to serve the community. It serves its mission with three programmes: research (creation and preservation of knowledge), instruction and training (dissemination of knowledge) and community service (application of knowledge to serve the community). We shall examine below the role of each of these programmes to promote education for all. We start with research. applied and development research and extension services to serve the community. It serves its mission with three programmes: research (creation and preservation of knowledge), instruction and training (dissemination of knowledge) and community service (application of knowledge to serve the community). We shall examine below the role of each of these programmes to promote education for all. We start with research.

Role of research

Research plays an important role in the promotion of education for all in the following ways: (1) Research can contribute to formulation of policy on education for all (2) Research can help in designing and running programmes of education for all (3) As a generator of knowledge research helps continuous update of knowledge about problems or issues of education for all and launch innovative and effective programmes (4) Once programmes are launched research helps to know about the outcome and the reasons for the extent of success or failure. In case of the latter research helps in taking corrective measures and thus plays an important role in the efforts for achieving the goals of education for all. There can be three types of research on education for all: (1) Diagnostic or exploratory studies of issues in education for all expected to generate knowledge about them which is useful to formulate policies and design programmes (2) Prognostic research which forecasts the future of the programmes in education for all, especially in making quantitative forecasts of participation of different target groups, resource requirements etc. and explores alternative scenarios through the application of simulation models. (3) Evaluation research studies of the process and the impact/outcome of the projects on education for all yield results necessary for review of the policies and programmes and for adopting fresh strategies. Evaluation research does not only find facts about the programmes but also explains them relating the impact to the process (input and activities involved) and other relevant factors. This has both theoretical and practical utility. Evaluation research can be undertaken from within the programme by the actual implementers as a continuous process of monitoring and evaluation and is called internal evaluation. Because of the possibility of biases and subjectivity, sponsors of educational programmes look for external evaluation by competent agencies external to the programme. The faculty of the institutions of higher education are best equipped to undertake such research....

Role of instruction and training

The instructional programmes of the institutions of higher education help obtain the EFA goals in three ways: formal, non-formal and informal. In the formal programmes teacher training and education science offered through the faculties/colleges of education is the most prominent role of the institutions of higher education. Both quantitative and qualitative demands for teachers can only be met through the institutions of higher education. Teacher is the most important agent in obtaining EFA goals. Teachers of pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school and adult education, teacher trainers and teachers for handicapped are taught in the programme of teacher training. In addition, training in curriculum development, educational assessment, testing and measurement and in educational research is offered in the programmes of educational science in the institutions of higher education....But to become teachers the students have to have subject matter instruction in the regular faculties of the institutions of higher education especially in Science and Humanities. In addition to the training of teachers in pedagogy and education science the students of the faculties of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Humanities, Business and Administration, Social Services and Health, among others, may undertake special instruction and carry on research in areas related to the programmes of education for all as part of their regular programme. To promote education for all the institutions of higher education are now proposing to introduce courses in these areas as part of regular programme of instruction as undergraduate and graduate levels as we shall see later. Next to the teachers the heads of schools play an important role in obtaining EFA goals. But their functions are becoming more and more complex. Their professional development is becoming an important issue. The areas needing attention are: organisational planning and management, systems thinking, information management, financial
management, personnel management, academic management and community participation....

Role of Extension/Community Service

For universities to get involved in the process of national development it is essential that they get involved in the development of their immediate community leaving behind the image of the ivory tower. Many countries in the world have introduced extension as a third dimension with instruction and research. The concept originated in the United States of America in the nineteenth century when universities have been engaged officially in the development of the community. Students and teachers get involved in adult literacy programmes, teaching programmes in rural schools, mobilise communities to participate in basic education and adult literacy programmes and universities are counted as great forces to discharge the power of literacy in the backward rural areas. "Education and therefore teaching is the primary duty of colleges/universities. But they have major service obligations to their communities and their country. For the great majority of citizens, it is the institution's outreach through service that most directly affects their lives. A second essential step, therefore, in strengthening the role of service in the university is to enhance research and scholarly work in ways that link the institutions more closely with the outside community. In fulfilling these responsibilities colleges/universities contribute directly to the life of wider communities across a spectrum of activities. Therefore there is a need to always look for ways to expose students to experiences beyond their day to day experiences in their own culture...."


Those who are faculty members of universities in the United States will recognize that the above matches the three criteria currently used for tenure and promotion decisions: research, teaching and service. The higher education institutions in the Philippines need to be evaluated similarly. Sadly, as shown in the data below, universities in the Philippines are failing across the board. And this failure leads to the dismal state of Philippine basic education.

Some strongly argue that Philippine basic education is hampered by lack of facilities. There is a shortage of classrooms. The question is: In schools where facilities are adequate, is the performance of the students any better? The answer is no.

Some say that the pupil to teacher is too high, leading to overcrowded classrooms. Again, one should ask, in cases where there is a more favorable lower ratio, are the students any better? The answer is no.

Some say that teachers lack training in how to teach or the curriculum does not suit the learner's preference. The challenge here is to prove that this is indeed the case. DepEd is currently spending a lot of money on teacher training, specifically on the new K to 12 curriculum. Teacher training will not do any good if what is lacking is the teacher's mastery of the subject to be taught. The remedy to this problem is not training in a week or two. Teachers learn what they need to teach in higher education institutions. With this correct identification of the problem, it becomes clear that all the teacher training will simply be a waste of time, money and effort.

The elephant in the room is summarized by the following:
Preparing teachers for the big reform By Queena N. Lee-Chua, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Secondary School

“The researchers said, if 75 percent was the benchmark for minimum amount of actual learning, math majors achieved an average mean of 51.59 percent; English, 51.67 percent; and biology, 37.86 percent.”

Elementary School

“….In a 2006 survey by NTC researchers, commissioned by the Math Teachers Association of the Philippines (MTAP), results were no better…. Scores of future elementary teachers ranged from 55 to 73 percent, while their secondary counterparts scored even lower, 53 to 65 percent.”

Teachers of Teachers

“Does the problem lie with the teachers of the teachers?
“Their academic preparation, which is Ed.D. in educational management and leadership, does not entitle them to teach with confidence major courses such as modeling for math, biochemistry for biology and stylistics for English,” the report says.

Higher education institutions in the Philippines have failed in supporting Philippine Basic Education, and the data, graphs that follow illustrate this clearly.  In these tables and figures, it is fairly easy to spot where the Philippines lies. It is either close to one axis (indicating that what is presented on the other axis is close to zero for the country), or close to the origin (indicating that the Philippines scores very low on both measures being presented on the x- and y- axes, or at the bottom of the table (This is self-explanatory)). 

The following are figures taken from the World Bank Report: Putting Higher Education to Work,
These figures describe the current state of higher education in the Philippines (as compared to other countries)

The graph shown above depicts how low Research and Development (R&D) expenditures are in the Philippines. It is way down in the bottom and is very close to zero.

Articles published in peer-reviewed journals measure the scholarly output of a country. In this aspect, the Philippines is likewise at the bottom. Research is required to provide direction, assessment and analysis of the country's problems. Very importantly, research could only be verified and corrected by subjecting research through peer review.

This graph shows the large enrollment in tertiary education for the Philippines compared against its very small journal publication output. This comparison provides a picture of how small a role quality research plays in the academic life of tertiary institutions in the Philippines.

The Philippines, compared to other countries, clearly spends very little on research and development.

With very little investment in research and development, the publication output of the Philippines, not surprisingly, is very low.
Not everyone in the Philippines is expected to produce scholarly work, but in this graph, the Philippines is showing hardly any. For example, for a population of 100 million, the Philippines needs to publish 2000 articles in a year (20 per million inhabitants) just to have a small blue blip showing in the graph above.
The small fraction of Master's and PhD in Philippine universities provides a good reason of why teachers graduating from these schools lack the mastery required for good teaching.
Without researchers, there will be no publications. And without these researchers, reforms required for example to fix the Philippine Basic Education System cannot be guided properly.

The Philippines scores the lowest in both Math and the Sciences. These are for eight-grade students. Adding two years at the end of the high school does not and will not address this problem.

The enrollment in the sciences and related fields is also very small for the Philippines and this correlates with the poor performance of Philippine students in the TIMSS.
Countries with low scholarly publication output are also the countries that perform poorly in TIMSS.
The Philippines not only spends less on R&D spending, but also on overall tertiary spending, compared to other countries.

The data are telling us one important thing: The problem lies in higher education....

There are no teachers. There are no scientists. There are no researchers. This is the reason why the problems in basic education could not be addressed. The nation does not recognize what proper research is and what publication in peer-reviewed journals entails. Inspite of the problems in basic education, it is still possible for a country to produce scientists and researchers. This is not a classic "hen and egg" problem. In the case of education, the dependent and independent variables are known. Higher education (independent) is on the x-axis, and basic education (dependent) is on the y-axis. Research output as in publications in peer-reviewed journals is on the x-axis and the TIMSS scores of grade eight pupils are on the y-axis.

Most of the Filipinos who managed to get trained for scientific research are, unfortunately, not in the country. The Philippines has not tried to reverse "brain drain" and attract Filipino scientists abroad in a serious manner. Universities do not have qualified faculty. As a result, the teachers who come out of these universities do not know the material that they have to teach and reforms addressing problems in basic education are drawn based on ideology and biases, and not on quality research.

It would be wrong to think that elite schools in the Philippines are not facing a similar dire situation. The following are the results from the TIMSS advanced exam 2008 (which was administered to students from the science high schools and elite private schools). These tables and figures were taken from:

TIMSS Advanced 2008 Technical Report.
Arora, A., Foy, P., Martin, M.O., & Mullis, I.V.S. (Eds.). (2009). Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.

And I end this post with an excerpt from CNN's Eye on the Philippines:

"....Around 60% of children in the Philippines enroll in high school, but just 1% of those in their final year receive qualifications in math and physics, according to a 2008 report from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement...."


  1. One could try to reproduce some of what Singapore has done.

    Concentrate on a few key areas for development of a world-class scientific industrial
    infrastructure. There is no need to be comprehensive, at this point. Just concentrate
    on an area that the Phillipines could excel in. Use a research park (as a carrot) to
    lure some ex-pat talent (as well as foreign talent) to the country. Give the research
    park some independence (i.e. create a new university) and keep the problem people's
    fingers out of the pie. Concentrate on the future -- where growth will be in the coming
    decades. An obvious thing is to work in photovoltaics. China is big in this area and might be happy to work with a country with an English-speaking workforce. Bring back the best Phillipine diaspora in this area, and augment with foreign manpower.

    Many decades ago, Singapore invested in petrochemical processing and pharmaceutical processing, and is now reaping rewards. Crude oil is shipped to Singapore for refining because the IP is protected, the
    government is business-friendly, and the workforce speaks English. Same with pharma.
    Shell has a HUGE facility in Singapore for refining. Asthma medicine is made in Singapore for Pfizer.

    Singapore is working on biotech now (they have a huge "Biopolis" project).

    Long-story short -- pick some kind of strategic technology sector to work in, lure business to
    come, and begin development of a world-class academic capability in this narrow area.

    The problem seems to be that the Phillipines has a HUGE dysfunctional system in place. It cannot be scrapped overnight, without huge social upheaval. The country CAN build something good, but small, from scratch, but it takes leadership and vision, and the humility to admit when "you" need to bring in outsiders when "you" don't have the expertise to do this well using domestic talent.

    Singapore is quite proud of what they have done, and would be happy to work with friendly neighbors and they could be very good allies in this effort.

  2. Let's face the truth that a lot of Filipinos are out of school youth.... that due to poverty and meager income of an ordinary family. K to 12 is answer.Just goes with the flow and accepts the benefit/s of it and for sure everybody will become a better one.

    Greg | Philippine Education

  3. hi. just dropped by to say how much i appreciate you taking time to share such wonderful posts.

    Study Abroad in US

  4. I agree that some people in the Philippines can't afford to send their children to school due of poverty and government should give help them about this issue. Education should be given to children because that is one of their right. Hopefully, poverty will be solve.

    manila web design

  5. It is true that without higher education, basic education can not progress. The role of research that is shared in this article is justified. However, it's strange to hear that Philippine basic education is hampered by lack of facilities and also there is a shortage of classrooms. Also, the data shown in the tables is really shocking.


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