THERE is an apparent reason to be happy that four Philippine universities have made it to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Ateneo de Manila University landed 351-400, the University of the Philippines 801-1000, De La Salle University 1201-1500, and Mapua University 1501+.

I would like to parenthetically remark that this sort of honor bestowed on our universities should not be taken as a definitive conclusion that implies that other schools are not good. In the end, I always believe that whether here or abroad no school or university has the monopoly on academic excellence.

While some are proud that their university has made it to the higher realm of global academic indexing, the sad reality is some if not many universities and schools in the Philippines have remained “self-referential” in their claims to quality education. I have remarked several times elsewhere that it is ironic that in our country almost all schools claim to offer quality education. But it seems that our “global competitiveness” is known only within our echo chambers.

In 2020, I made an observation that although it is good news to see a few of our universities “getting into the field of global competition” nevertheless they do not represent the entirety (not even a significant fraction) of the state of Philippine education. This was an observation that I made after some Philippine universities made it to the QS 2021 ranking.

We need to admit that even up to now, the quality of our educational system in general and public education, in particular, needs a lot of improvement. It may be said therefore that the four universities that have made it to the World University Rankings are more exceptions rather than general representations of the Philippine academia.

There are many areas to work on if indeed we would like our educational system to improve. Much must be done with our budget for education to attract our own teachers to stay in the country. In fact, this issue on the budget for education does not just affect public schools but also private schools, both basic and higher, that are not widely supported by the government.

Going back to the issue of teachers leaving the country, our government must be wary of all these departures of teachers. At some point in our recent history, we lost good healthcare professionals and engineers to North America and the Middle East. Now, we are willingly exporting our own teachers. I really do not know how the Philippine government will address this issue. I am no professional economist and matters like this are not within the area of my competence. But I would like to believe that these departures of teachers are largely facilitated by our own labor export policy.

Meaning to say, people are not just leaving the Philippines because they want to or because there are opportunities abroad. Facilitating this are our own overseas employment policies and the very limitations in our labor sector. Our own workers are exported as cheap labor in exchange for the dollar remittances that we need to make our economy float.

Beyond our normal reaction of being happy for the four universities, my honest opinion is the rankings will not mean anything to most Filipinos if only around ten thousand students enjoy the benefit and the prestige of their school. Quality education for the Filipino people requires that everyone in the academic sector go beyond their domestic rivalries and petty academic competitions.

We need to think and toil harder to make Philippine education genuinely beneficial to all Filipinos, especially our children who will be left to fight for themselves in the future.