LS sees drop in foreign exchange students, aims for internationalization

TO COUNTER the declining population of foreign exchange students in the Loyola Schools (LS), the Office of International Relations (OIR) continues to strengthen its projects for internationalization.

OIR Coordinator for Inbound Exchange Students Ralph Fabros revealed that the number of exchange students has been dropping for the past few academic years. The Student Exchange Program reached its peak in 2016 with 227 exchange students coming to Ateneo. However, there was a 13.22% decrease the following year, with only 197 students enrolled for 2017.

According to OIR Programme Associate Cecilia Bermio, the program has already hosted 112 foreign exchange students in the first semester of AY 2019-2020, with 29 foreigners currently nominated to enroll for the upcoming second semester. These students come from the program’s partner institutions such as the Marquette University in America, Western Sydney University in Australia, and the University of Passau in Germany.

The OIR follows the initiative of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) on Internationalization for Philippine Higher Education that aims to “provide national perspective and direction for the country’s higher education internationalization efforts.” 

In order to do so, CHED encourages universities to “meet the challenges and take on opportunities brought about by internationalization” through projects like the Joint Development of Niche Programme that enable Philippine universities, including Ateneo, to develop transnational education partnerships with United Kingdom-based institutions.

Towards a globalized Ateneo

Bermio stated that as one of OIR’s internationalization initiatives, the LS annually hosts visiting faculty and research fellows from institutions abroad such as the Universidad de Granada in Spain, University of Porto in Portugal, and Lucian Blaga University of Sibui in Romania to cultivate higher global competency in the academe. For the University’s own professors, the Faculty and Staff Exchange Program enables them to teach abroad and conduct further studies in certain academic fields to gain greater insights on education on a global scale.

“In the same way international students create additional flavor and opportunities for mutual academic learning, bringing in foreign faculty does the same thing. Faculty learn from each other and students learn how teachers from other countries teach,” said Director of the Office of Admission and Aid (OAA) Jose Maria Tirol, PhD.

To help foreign exchange groups settle in the Ateneo, both the OIR and its official student arm the Ateneo Student Exchange Council (ASEC) work together to maintain healthy working relationships with its international partners inside and outside the University. 

Ateneo's appeal

According to Tirol, study abroad fairs make the Ateneo known to foreign students where both the OIR and OAA encourage them to apply to the University. At these fairs, foreigners would comment on the “cheaper” tuition in the Ateneo as compared to their home universities. 

Aside from this, Tirol added that the local students’ proficiency in the English language is one factor that attracts foreign exchange students to the University.

Since the University curricula is largely taught in English, Tirol mentioned that “learning the English language better is one of the come-ons for foreigners to the University [as] it will make [them] more competitive in the international market.”

ASEC President Hannah Co mentioned that foreign exchange students’ stay in the campus is valuable because both local and foreign students “get exposed to different cultures, and they get to see [the] different perspectives of other people.”

Through activities like dinners, tours, and Buddy Mixers where local students bond with their assigned foreign exchange peer, she explained that foreign and local students are be able to grasp a greater understanding of others, especially in a globalized world.

Despite these efforts, Co said that selecting the Ateneo as a starting point to an education abroad still requires foreign students to “take a leap of faith.”

“When our exchange students come to the Philippines, they always say it's either not their first choice, or they just came here because it's cheap, but they go home with their hearts full,” she said. “They don't have a lot of expectations coming in, but they go out with so much more than what they came here with.”

Further into progress

With the Ateneo’s thrust to increase internationalization, Tirol said that there is no limit to the number of foreign exchange students that the University accepts. He mentioned that it is beneficial for the University to bring in more foreigners to have a “wider variety of students” to foster an environment wherein different ideas and diverse practices are shared and exchanged.

Fabros added that the OIR offers special short-term summer programs in collaboration with several departments for international students in order to “introduce both foreign and local students to the practice of Philippine Studies and to the local Filipino lifeworld.” 

Examples of these programs include  Filipino Urbanities and Philippine Start-Up Culture classes. In addition, Fabros indicated that these classes are set up in a way that accommodates the varying schedules of foreign exchange students, especially those whose schedules do not align with LS academic calendar.

“I think that’s what [the] Ateneo wants,” Co said. “To create students that are more culturally sensitive and at the same time, globally competent.”

ERRATUM: An earlier version of the article stated that the OIR developed the special short-term summer programs, but it was the LS Departments who were the ones who developed these. OIR only serves to offer the said programs. The article has been edited accordingly.

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