Remarks by Dr. Susan Brems, Mission Director, Culminating Event of the Higher Education and Productivity Project with the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd)

Friday, December 4, 2015

[As Prepared]

To Mr. Ramon del Rosario and the officers and board members of the Philippine Business for Education: It is a pleasure to be with you here today. I have heard so much about the Philippine Business for Education, its distinguished leadership, and its convening power.

I would particularly like to thank Mr. del Rosario for citing one of the results of our partnership – the creation of the National Industry-Academe Council – and calling for its regional replication during his presentation at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation - Chief Executive Officers (APEC-CEO) Summit.

Leaders of industry and academia, our partners in the Cities Development Initiative sites, and our counterparts in the Philippine government, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon!

I am here in representation of the United States Agency for International Development, more commonly known as USAID. USAID is the principal arm of the United States Government that offers technical and financial assistance to partner countries, such as the Philippines, and the citizens of those countries. USAID is part of the U.S. Embassy community here in Manila, and I bring you the greeting of the United States Ambassador to the Philippines, Mr. Philip Goldberg.

It is a great pleasure to join you as we celebrate the culmination of three years of fruitful collaboration, not just between USAID and Philippine Business for Education, but among all the institutions and sectors represented by everyone in this room.

I applaud your energy, creativity and patience in working to improve the higher education system in the Philippines, unlocking the potential of young people across the country and ultimately promoting prosperity for all. Together we have worked to address a set of challenges common in many countries, including my own. Namely, I speak of weak linkages between industry and academia, the frustration of college graduates who are not finding the jobs they seek, and the equal frustration of the private sector that graduates often lack appropriate skills. In the end, it all adds up to an alarming paradox: high unemployment among well-educated youth.

This disturbing scenario has been the motivating force for USAID’s work in higher education here in the Philippines.

Following my brief remarks you will hear Dr. Meliton Salazar, president of the Philippine Business for Education, outline some of the most noteworthy accomplishments our partnership has achieved. As preface to Dr. Salazar’s presentation, I would like to reflect on the reasons we forged this partnership to begin with and the significance of our shared work.

When we first launched our partnership in 2012, it was a landmark movement in many respects. First, it marked USAID’s re-entry into higher education in the Philippines.

Second, the project was one of the first launched under the Partnership for Growth. Partnership for Growth is an initiative of President Barack Obama in which only four countries worldwide were chosen to participate. That selection was based on criteria centering on the extent to which an enabling policy environment and political will existed to enact reforms that address serious constraints to growth with equity. The Philippines is the only country selected in Asia. Through this bilateral program, the United States and the Philippines collaborate to address the country’s constraints in governance, fiscal policy, infrastructure and human capital. The Higher Education and Productivity Project fits squarely under the category of human capital.

In the higher education realm, Partnership for Growth addresses skills gaps, mismatches between supply and demand of human resources, especially in high-growth industries, and inadequate relationships among the key stakeholders in human resource development.

Partnership for Growth has also been the force behind USAID/Philippines’ Cities Development Initiative. Under that program we work with committed local governments to advance development in secondary cities that are ripe for growth. Our premise is that these cities can drive growth in their respective regions, fostering prosperity that reaches far and wide, and that can be sustained.

A stronger higher education community can support this goal, as universities can be mini-growth hubs themselves, producing graduates that are suited to the work needs of the private sector, as well as graduates that become innovative entrepreneurs, helping the country leap frog stages of development.

The first three cities under the Cities Development Initiative -- Cagayan de Oro, Batangas and Iloilo -- have done extremely well and have become some of the country’s most competitive cities since the program began. For example, Cagayan de Oro and Iloilo cities made it to the top 10 of the most competitive cities in the Philippines, according to the National Competitive Council. They were also the grand winners in the recently concluded Livable Cities Design Challenge.

We have the same aspirations for the most recent batch of cities in the program, which include Zamboanga, Tagbilaran and Puerto Princesa. Even more cities will be joining their ranks as we implement USAID/Philippines’ largest project, “Strengthening Urban Resilience and Growth with Equity, or SURGE.” The SURGE Project aims to cover an additional six to nine cities.

Finally, this new partnership with Philippine Business for Education has been an important step in advancing USAID’s commitment to partner more with local organizations, such as Philippine Business for Education.

Our ultimate goal is to support country ownership and country-owned development. Work with local institutions reduces dependence on foreign assistance, as local stakeholders build on and sustain the gains that initial investments help bring about.

For all the above reasons, I look forward to learning more about the results of what I know has been a very productive three years of working together.

Thank you for the partnership.

Issuing Country