CEBU’s positioning as a premier English as Second Language (ESL) destination is getting a boost following President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s directive to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to simplify and standardize the application process for international students seeking to pursue their studies in the Philippines.
This measure is seen to boost the education tourism sector, according to the Private Sector Advisory Council for Tourism (PSAC-Tourism) during their collaboration meeting at Malacañang Palace on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.
PSAC lead convener and Aboitiz Group president and chief executive officer Sabin Aboitiz, in a statement, said this concerted effort will help reinforce the Philippines’ position as a leading educational tourism hub as it involves a multifaceted approach, including partnerships, cultural promotion, and improved education quality, to attract and retain international students, scholars, and travelers seeking enriching experiences in the country.
“Ultimately, we aim to establish the Philippines as the preferred choice for academic excellence and a unique cultural experience,” Aboitiz said.
Liberalizing policies, ESL in Cebu
During the Cebu leg of the Philippine Economic Briefing, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco stressed the need to support the growing ESL industry in Cebu by liberalizing policies concerning the entry of ESL students to the country, including the digitalization of requirements.
Frasco is also eyeing to expand the ESL industry to other provinces in Central Visayas.
According to Department of Tourism (DOT) 7 chief tourism operations officer Gelena Asis-Dimpas on Friday, Aug. 25, the regional office has yet to update its latest ESL directory as they are checking with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and Bureau of Immigration on the latest count of Special Study Permit holders.
However, early this year Dimpas said Cebu stands to capture more ESL students in this post-pandemic environment.
In the first quarter of 2023, Japanese, South Korean and Chinese delegations inspected various ESL academies in Cebu. The visits were coordinated by the DOT 7 and the Cebu Association of Language Academy (Cala).
Agents and officials from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang, Quang Ninh and Can Tho in Vietnam and major locations in Taiwan ran similar missions in the last quarter of 2022.
“ESL is currently re-establishing itself as we suffered a total meltdown with the pandemic and serious lashing by Typhoon Odette. With the assertive cooperation of local ESL operators, we are fast reclaiming our position in the global marketplace,” said Dimpas in a past interview.
Cala president Hunju Lee said aside from repairing and upgrading facilities, ESL academies are making special efforts towards seamless entry of students to ensure an effective reboot for education tourism.
The region’s ESL schools offer short- and long-stay programs.
Dimpas explained that students study in Cebu because of quality learning experiences, high instructor competencies, hotel-like accommodation facilities, and accessibility of ridge-to-reef activities which offer “highly satisfying extra-curricular experiences.”
Cebu has 110 ESL schools and similar institutions that offer a diverse menu of programs for students of various levels.
According to PSAC, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippines hosted approximately 35,000 foreign students, primarily enrolled in medical-related courses. The country attracted students due to the affordability of tuition and living costs, as well as the fact that English is the primary language of instruction and commerce.
However, challenges such as complex application requirements, delays in student visa processing, and a shortage of accredited clinics for medical certificates have posed hurdles for international students.
To address these issues, President Marcos has called for benchmarking the application process against other Southeast Asian nations, with an emphasis on implementing online application options akin to those in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Furthermore, the President has advocated for the accreditation of additional clinics to expedite medical clearance and certificate requirements, effectively addressing key obstacles faced by international students.
With an estimated 10 million students projected to study abroad by 2030, with an expenditure estimated at US$433 billion, the Philippines is poised to become a prominent player in the global education sector, PSAC said.