Ambassador of the Philippines Antonio M. Lagdameo discusses his country’s work in creating ties that bind
The past few decades have seen the forces of globalisation profoundly transform both education and diplomacy. In terms of education, innovations in communication and transportation have not only increased the mobility of students and faculty, but it has transcended the geographic and political barriers that had once limited the movement of academic programmes and research projects. The rise of massive online open courses, distance learning, podcasts, and webcasts has made quality education from many of the world’s most prestigious universities within reach to anyone who has an internet connection anywhere in the world. Someone in the Philippines, for example, can easily participate in an online course facilitated by a university in the UK without having to leave the comforts of their home. The prevalence of social networks has also made it easier for researchers to correspond and collaborate regardless of geographic distance.
Diplomacy has experienced significant shifts as well. What was once a field that governed state-to-state relations has expanded to include important non-state actors such as education institutions in advancing a country’s interests and strengthening longstanding relations. Today, embassies are not just conducting meetings and forging partnerships with the host country government, but are also in the midst of negotiating agreements with private entities, universities, museums, galleries and libraries, to name a few.
It therefore comes as no surprise for education and diplomacy to converge into one of the most powerful tools in a country’s overall conduct of public diplomacy. As a platform to bring people together, to raise awareness on new cultures and identities, and to influence how people perceive the world, education serves as a deep and potent soft power reservoir that several countries repeatedly draw upon.
The Philippines is one of the many countries that continue to leverage the power of education to win hearts and minds. In fact, together with cultural diplomacy, education diplomacy lies at the crux of Philippine public diplomacy in our pursuit to create stronger ties with the rest of the world. Our programmes in education diplomacy are anchored in three key areas: institutional linkages, language learning and cultural education, and student and faculty mobility.
In 2018, the Philippine Embassy in London launched the Campus Caravan programme to expand our networks among various universities and academic and cultural institutions in the UK and Ireland, and as a necessary step towards creating linkages between these institutions and their Philippine counterparts. The aim is to spark collaborations and long-term partnerships that are mutually beneficial to both Philippine and British institutions.
The Philippine Embassy has also worked closely with the British Council in supporting the recently-launched transnational education links programme (TNE), an initiative that brought together British and Philippine universities in providing students with either joint or double degrees in a range of postgraduate programmes. Since its launch in 2016, the Philippines has around 10 TNEs with British universities.
The Philippine Embassy has also expanded its network to include among its collaborators museums, galleries, and libraries in order to facilitate the exchange of experts and expertise. By linking up these places of learning, we are creating opportunities for the citizens in both countries to learn more about each other’s cultures and ultimately find meaningful connections.
LANGUAGE LEARNING AND CULTURAL EDUCATION
One of the Philippines’ pioneering programmes is the establishment of a Philippine Studies Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London (SOAS) in 2016. The Centre aims to position Philippine Studies as a major area of research and is supported through a grant from the Philippine government through the Office of Senator Loren Legarda.
Since its launch, it has become a platform for various initiatives in cultivating a deeper sense of understanding on Philippine culture, identity, history and heritage. Every year, the Centre organises the Philippine Studies Conference, a highly-anticipated gathering of scholars and researchers on key themes in Philippine Studies. Last year, the conference focused on Cordilleran culture as a springboard towards deeper discussions on cultural appropriation and misrepresentation, a theme that resonates among other cultures as well. The conference drew Philippine and British cultural institutions and resulted in follow-up meetings and initiatives that have spawned collaborative research projects involving both Filipino and British researchers.
The Philippine Studies Centre has also spearheaded various contemporary art exhibits and writers’ workshops, all of which have inspired non-Filipinos and second generation Filipino-Britons to probe deeper into Philippine culture. The Centre also has one of the largest Philippine literature collections in Europe displayed on the open shelves of the SOAS library. This has made Philippine literature accessible to anyone who is interested to explore or delve deep into a particular theme in the genre.
The Philippine Embassy is also launching a Sentro Rizal this May, a centre for Philippine culture, which will be based at the Embassy. Similar to Alliance Française and Instituto Cervantes, the aim of Sentro Rizal is to make Philippine culture more accessible to everyone in the UK. Through Sentro Rizal, the Embassy will facilitate cultural education across various facets ranging from the visual arts to film, literature, and scholarly works. Furthermore, Sentro Rizal will also be an avenue to promote language learning. With the growing interest in literature written in Philippine languages, a deeper knowledge and proficiency in various Philippine languages has risen in importance not only among Filipinos, but more importantly among non-Filipino researchers in various fields such as linguistics.
STUDENT AND FACULTY MOBILITY
Finally, the Embassy believes in the enduring quality of people-to-people ties. We have seen how linkages among academics and researchers in science, technology and other fields of studies transcend the lifespan of their projects and often lead to other productive collaborations. By uncovering and shaping various opportunities to increase the mobility of students, faculty and researchers between the Philippines and the UK, we are inevitably contributing towards strengthening the ties between the two countries and providing a platform for innovative ideas to take shape.
In tandem with the British Council’s study tour initiatives, the Philippine Embassy has hosted several networking nights under the Philippine Embassy Hangouts programme that has brought together possible collaborators across different fields. In November 2018, for example, the Embassy brought together leaders in Philippine and British creative industries ranging from creative hubs to galleries and museums with the aim of creating new partnerships for each side to learn from each other. In January 2019, we brought together representatives of higher education institutions, which sparked exploratory discussions on possible partnerships in education.
These efforts come on top of promoting scholarship and research funding opportunities available in both countries to institutions co-creating programmes that facilitate academic mobility.
The results are often mutually beneficial as the convergence of different ideas, academic disciplines, and perspectives lead to the development of solutions that can solve the problems of tomorrow.
Furthermore, our experience in actively engaging students, researchers, and experts in various fields have enabled us to draw practical insights on key issues that diplomats alone cannot solve. On a more proactive level, our linkages with individuals in these fields have enabled us to gain fresh insights that are needed to shape more effective policies, especially in the field of education.
Education diplomacy continues to push the frontiers of both education and diplomacy forward. This potent partnership has not only resulted in greater respect and cultural understanding among different peoples but more importantly, it has created opportunities to open minds, unlock potential, and promote a more peaceful and tolerant world. While the depth of its impact have yet to be fully studied and measured, the results it has reaped in recent decades are proof enough that countries must continue to invest more in education diplomacy in order to effectively ride the tides of change in the future.
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