Pinoy UK gov't scholars hope to give back to Philippines

by Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 07 2014 10:56 AM | Updated as of Feb 08 2014 02:39 AM

This year's Chevening scholars from the Philippines with UK Ambassador Asif Ahmad during their farewell reception in August 2013.

LONDON - Almost every day and night, Christine Antonio’s life revolves around books, papers, and hundreds of pages of readings. She spends most of her free time in the library or in her room studying and preparing for her classes.

The opportunity is too precious for her to waste, she says. She is, after all, a postgraduate student of corporate law at the University of Cambridge, one of the top universities in the world—with a fully-funded scholarship courtesy of the British government at that.

Almost five months into her one-year program, Christine said she enjoys the close supervision she gets from her professors.

“It feels like they really take care of their students,” she said. “You would think that they are treating you like a baby. But actually, no, because they expect more from you.”

Antonio had been a practicing lawyer for seven years and was working at the Privatization and Management Office of the Department of Finance (DOF) when she applied to Cambridge and for a Chevening scholarship.

At the DOF, she worked with a team tasked to oversee the privatization of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC), many of which had been involved in controversies surrounding the bonuses and perks of their executives.

She said she hopes to return to the agency to apply to GOCCs the lessons and best practices in corporate governance that she is learning in the UK in order to make them ripe for privatization.

“Very few of our GOCCs are performing well and have good finances. The thrust always is, let’s just privatize and leave it to the private [sector]. But the problem is, how do you privatize where you get the maximum returns?” says Christine.

Antonio is one of 11 Filipinos currently in the UK on a Chevening scholarship, the British government’s flagship scholarship scheme. This year’s scholars from the Philippines are studying a wide range of disciplines, from law and economics to environment and media.

Every year, the UK gives distinguished professionals from all over the world the opportunity to pursue postgraduate degrees in Britain and bring their lessons home. British Foreign Secretary William Hague had announced in a recent visit to Manila that his government will increase the number of Chevening scholars from the Philippines, noting the country’s potential to be a “success story” in Asia Pacific.

Jan Christopher Ocampo, who works for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), plans to contribute more to the government’s economic research efforts upon returning to his job later this year.

He studies finance and econometrics at Queen Mary, University of London, and considers himself fortunate to be under the tutelage of academics who also work for the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank.

Ocampo would like to focus on economic forecasting.

“It is important that the Central Bank could make accurate forecasts of things like the inflation rate, GDP growth, and unemployment to improve policy-making,” he said. “The UK has one of the leading central banks in the world and there is so much to learn in terms of macroeconomic modelling.”

Meanwhile, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the London School of Economics and Political Science, Dr. Donn Mc Angelo Valdez is exploring ways to improve the Philippines’ health sector.

Having worked as executive assistant to the secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) before leaving for the UK, Valdez has seen many of the healthcare system’s problems, including quality and access for the poor.

While studying health policy planning and financing, Valdez is observing closely England’s National Health Service, which provides free healthcare to the public and is funded through taxes.

“Our healthcare system in the Philippines has to respond to many challenges before good health can truly be a right,” he said. “I hope that through my studies here and the knowledge I am getting from my teachers, many of whom are considered experts in this field, we can find ways that will suit our situation in the Philippines.”

Aside from promoting British education and culture, Chevening scholars are required to go back to the Philippines upon completing their studies and are expected to give back to the country.