It's believed the number of overseas students going to the Philippines to learn English or study in English-speaking universities has risen dramatically over the past few years.
So what makes the Philippines such an attractive destination for students seeking to learn English?
Interviewer: Del Irani
Speaker: Armin Luistro, Philippines Education Secretary
LUISTRO: We have actually been monitoring the number of foreign students enrolling, especially in our tertiary education units, and we've realised that from I think a number of around seven-thousand last year, that has ballooned to around 24-thousand or more this year. I think that's partly because of our competitiveness in terms of the English language.
IRANI: Were you surprised by this jump?
LUISTRO: Well Filipinos are not good at looking at good news, and many times we're very, very critical about ourselves. In a sense that's a very pleasant surprise. We recognise that we have many challenges with respect to education, but I think the growing number of foreigners coming into the country is a very, very good sign, and an affirmation that our competitiveness in terms of at least in English language, is one that is recognised by our neighbours and maybe other countries beyond Asia.
IRANI: What do you think is behind this growing number of people coming to the Philippines to learn English?
LUISTRO: Well essentially the language, English is spoken in the Philippines as a second language, and we start with English as early as grade one. And we're bilingual, so we have a second medium of instruction beginning at grade four for all of our students and that goes all the way to college. I think essentially the other components of that is that the cost of living in the Philippines is actually comparable with many of the other developing countries, and certainly is much less than what they would pay if they did that in a developed country. And secondly the environment itself allows many experiences whereby they can practise English outside of the classroom.
IRANI: Has there been a deliberate sort of government effort or initiative to promote the country as a regional provider of English language services?
LUISTRO: Well maybe this time we will be looking at this very seriously. In the past we were not too keen on opening up higher education to foreigners, but the growing number of interested applicants tell us that maybe this is an area that we should be working on ensuring that their entry into the country will be facilitated, and serious students of the language and of other degree programs, will be helped and assisted in terms of making sure that the bureaucracy is supportive of their stay in the Philippines.
IRANI: Where are most of the students coming from?
LUISTRO: I know for example, I don't have the figures with me now, but I know our neighbours for example in Korea, that would be one big group. I think there's a significant number from Middle Eastern countries also. I'm sure part of it is also because of the culture in the Philippines, which is very open to foreigners, we're very adaptive and we're very hospitable. Most of the students that I personally know of come from Korea, and also China, that's also a growing number.
IRANI: Do you think that there is a way to sort of leverage this competitive advantage of, so you have such a great resource of people who do speak English to benefit other sectors of the economy?
LUISTRO: Well certainly, in fact one of the programs of the current administration is focussed on ensuring that tourists, we will be more welcoming to tourists.