WITH LESS than a year before the ASEAN integration in 2015, Thomasians now have the chance to study in ASEAN universities after the newly established Office of International Relations and Programs (OIRP) strengthened its program-based bilateral agreements with foreign universities.

Part of the University’s “internationalization” efforts is participation in the ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS), a program that seeks to bring together students in ASEAN countries.

As the recipients of memoranda of understanding (MOU) and in-bound students from international universities, college deans must examine the strengths of schools abroad, OIRP Director Prof. Lilian Sison, Ph.D., said in an interview.

“We’re trying to identify the niche and strength of each country. I was telling the deans to be more pro-active in looking for links where they can match their students and programs,” she said.

Sison said that once the bilateral agreements have been signed, Thomasians can freely study in ASEAN universities, noting each country’s field of expertise like Thailand’s food science research and Indonesia’s alternative energy program.

Aside from promoting student mobility within the ASEAN region, the OIRP is aiming to be active in Erasmus Mundus, a mobility program that aims to enhance European higher education and promote academic cooperation between the European Union and third-world countries.

“One of the aims of my office is to penetrate the Erasmus Mundus so that our students will be able to go on exchange or mobility in European universities at very low costs,” Sison said.

Under Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 11 promoting AIMS, student mobility is recognized as an “essential element in fostering academic cooperation” leading to the development of a viable Southeast Asian regional higher education area.

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“It is within the mandate of the Commission to oversee and guide HEIs in participating with the internationalization process with the goal of improving the quality of education, developing human resources, and establishing a Filipino knowledge-based society,” stated the CMO.

The six participating ASEAN countries in the AIMS program are Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, and the Philippines.

UST as international university

Before the opening of the OIRP at the Main Building on June 1, 2013, the internationalization activities of the University were handled by the Office of the Vice Rector for Academic Affairs, Sison said.

The OIRP was initiated by Rector Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, O.P.

“This is also the reason we’re moving our academic calendar, it’s for internationalization,” she said.

The OIRP’s main role is to “facilitate international linkages especially in formulating MOUs with foreign universities” which include student and faculty exchanges, research collaboration, and joint thematic seminars.

Assoc. Prof. Karen Santiago, Ph.D. is the associate director. It has to staff members.

In less than a year, OIRP has mapped the international activities of the university, handled the preliminary communications with foreign partner universities for student mobility, drafted 12 new MOUs for 2013-2014, and established “benchmarking” with universities overseas.

“When you say benchmark, we try to look at good practices in other institutions or universities abroad,” Sison said.

OIRP has benchmarked with countries like the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, Poland, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the United States. Lord Bien G. Lelay and Jon Christoffer R. Obice

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