Thoughts on San Beda PR Event

Last March 4, 2019, I was invited to have a short presentation for undergraduate students from San Beda University, a private university in my home country, visiting TokyoTech. I presented with another Filipino who was also a TokyoTech student and is now an instructor. Our duo’s mission is simple: to introduce TokyoTech to the guests and hopefully lure them into becoming graduate students in the future. My partner introduced to them what TokyoTech is all about, and I presented what it is like to be a Ph.D. student here in TokyoTech.

Despite some minor inconveniences (rain, slight delay), the event went really nice overall in my opinion. I was even allowed to join them in seeing Tsubame in-person, which was super cool for me as someone with some computer science background. Two things stuck with me though during the question and answer portion of our talk: the current cost of college in the Philippines and the career opportunities for IT professionals back home.

Tsubame 3.0

Higher education in the Philippines is now way more expensive than when I was in undergrad. I learned that school fees for an entire year in the Philippines is the same as a year in TokyoTech. Our university is not expensive at all; as I mentioned to our guests, with a decent part-time job and serious belt-tightening, studying at our university is very feasible. But considering Philippine income values, the cost may be just way too much. According to a survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2015, families in the eighth decile (upper 30 to 20 percent) earn on average less than 320, 000 Philippine pesos per annum. When typical work condition of 2, 080 work hours per year is assumed, that yearly income ends up to be less than 155 Philippine pesos per hour. Even if generosity is applied in accounting for exchange rates and inflation rates, that hourly rate would just amount to at most 500 Japanese yen, a far cry from the current minimum hourly wage here in Tokyo (958 Japanese yen). And we are not even talking about the poor population here! Considering that the Filipino culture puts a premium on education, making most jobs inaccessible to people who did not go to college, and the seemingly insufficient attempt by the government to improve high school education, the future does not look too positive for the Filipino youth.

This brings us to my second major thought after the event: career opportunities for IT professionals in the Philippines. When I was about to enter college, the most popular majors were Nursing and Computer Science, and that is for a good measure: most of the job opportunities back then (and maybe even until now) are in IT and healthcare. These sectors are considered lucrative, and since IT mostly entails desk jobs, it can be a cushy choice for students. Much of the IT work in the Philippines are outsourced from other countries -- so much that the Philippines’ government agency for technical and vocational education has chosen IT-BPO (BPM) as one of its priority sectors for Philippine human resource development. Some of these IT jobs can be working toward exciting and challenging projects. However, being outsourced, most of the meaningful work such as research and design is being done in the job’s source country. While not always the case, what is left for Filipinos to work on are the borderline clerical jobs, where software engineers are sometimes reduced to “coding monkeys” or “lowly manual testers.” Of course, these jobs are important and require skills, but these are the very same jobs that are easily threatened by automation. Not to mention, these jobs can quickly become repetitive, inducing boredom and killing the creativity of its workers.

These thoughts had made me more convinced that talented young Filipinos should consider looking for funded research and study opportunities abroad. Or maybe consider graduate studies in our own universities; but considering education back home is now as expensive as abroad, it might be worthwhile to pursue studies where the experts are, may they be in the Philippines or somewhere else. The challenging jobs would not come or would not be created by our entrepreneurial countrymen if we do not have the skills and knowledge to conceive them or take them on in the first place. While in some countries, students are discouraged to pursue graduate studies due to lack of academic jobs, graduate studies could be the source of social capital our country needs to move forward. As a student, I was not very much aware of such opportunities. This must be changed.