A Pensionado Program for our bright youth

Published July 18, 2021, 12:13 AM

by Senator Sonny Angara


Senator Sonny Angara

Eighteen-year-old Dominic Navarro graduated with honors from the Ilocos Region campus of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) last May. Dominic is one of several who went through the PSHS system and were offered admission at some of the world’s most prestigious universities. This is no easy task as getting in is already a huge achievement in itself.

Sadly, not everyone who is offered admission actually gets to set foot inside those campuses. In the case of Dominic, his school of choice: the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was offered direct admission to the very competitive BBA Actuarial Science program of the Wisconsin School of Business, required him to shell out $55,000 or close to P2.7 million to keep his slot. With his family’s meager income, Dominic knew they alone would not be able to pay for the hefty price. For now, Dominic has decided to postpone his aspirations of studying abroad and will for the meantime enroll in a mathematics or actuarial science course in one of the country’s top universities.

Financial constraints often end up as the primary reason for students giving up on their dreams of a foreign education especially with most families earning just enough to make ends meet. Apart from tuition, parents will also have to deal with board and lodging for their children. While this usually means living on campus, it still translates to a considerable amount. If one is lucky enough to have family based anywhere near campus, then that is one less thing to worry about.

In my case, I was fortunate to have parents who financed my college education in the United Kingdom. But for most Filipino families, the cost is just too prohibitive and would mean asking their children to give up on their dreams of studying abroad.

When I read about Dominic’s story, I thought about how government could help in fulfilling the dreams of brilliant young Filipinos like him who deserve to study in the best universitie of the world. Back in August 2019, I filed Senate Bill 961 or the Pensionado Act of 2019. Under the bill, a Pensionado Program will be established under the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), in coordination with non-government organizations, the private sector and other government agencies. This fellowship program is meant to assist Filipinos already employed, either in government or the private sector, with pursuing advanced studies overseas.

The term “pensionado” is based on the Pensionado Act of 1903, which was passed by the United States Congress shortly after US’ annexation of the Philippines. It was a scholarship program for Filipino students, who were called “Pensionados,” to attend universities in the US.

With our version of the Pensionado Act, the fellows will be granted scholarships not exceeding three years in priority disciplines or areas of specialization identified by the CHED. Since the bill only covers post-graduate studies, we are now studying the possibility of expanding its coverage or coming out with a separate measure to cover college education for deserving high school graduates. There are many existing scholarship and financial assistance programs for tertiary education but one has to dig deep to get information about them. An applicant would also be competing with a lot of aspirants from different countries for very limited slots.

With the Pensionado program for incoming college students, government will provide assistance by creating a database of all the scholarships and financial aid programs and then later on coordinate and negotiate with the organizations or host governments involved on behalf of the candidates. In some instances, the State can also share some of the cost as the need arises.

A foreign education can offer so much to the growth of young individuals. They get to see the world, meet people from diverse cultures, build their networks, learn about being independent, and gain knowledge and insights into how things are done in developed nations.

Like the envisioned post-graduate Pensionado program, the counterpart for tertiary education will also benefit the Philippines by ensuring that the Pensionados will bring back and share the knowledge they gained from their international studies. For instance, the program could ensure that returning scholars teach or train others in their respective fields of specialization or render actual serve in government. This proposed program is but one way we can facilitate honest-to-goodness technology transfer and manpower development — which in turn redounds to immeasurable benefits to the rest of the country.

Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 17 years.  He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.

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