The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and the Asociación de Centros de Formación Profesional (FPEmpresa) formalized their mutual understanding to cooperate in areas of common interest, such as education, training, and research primarily on vocational education and training (VET), in a virtual signing ceremony of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) held via Microsoft Teams on 24 January 2024.
The signatories to the five-year MOU are SEARCA Center Director Dr. Glenn Gregorio and Mr. Luis García Domínguez, FPEmpresa president and board member, with Assoc. Prof. Joselito Florendo, SEARCA deputy director for administration, and Mr. Carlos de Olagüe Smithson, FPEmpresa coordinator Madrid and International and board member, as witnesses.
FPEmpresa is a nonprofit association of Spain's public, semiprivate, and private VET centers. SEARCA and FPEmpresa began exploring areas for collaboration in June 2023 after being introduced by Ms. Beatriz Jimeno Ortas, education advisor, Embassy of Spain in the Philippines, who was also present and participated during the signing ceremony on behalf of the embassy and of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Vocational Training, and Sports.
In his welcome message, Dr. Gregorio said that this partnership contributes to fulfilling SEARCA's vision to reach wider networks of partners and stakeholders. SEARCA and FPEmpresa share a common goal of bringing together various stakeholder groups "to create a community of best practices and build capacity toward sustainable development." Dr. Gregorio also highlighted the Center's current five-year plan on Accelerating Transformation through Agricultural Innovation (ATTAIN), and that SEARCA recognizes the importance of VET in achieving this. He also hopes that this partnership will be the start of more collaborations with Spain.
Mr. García Domínguez affirmed this as he sees the identified collaborative activities as the first step in improving VET in Spain and initially in the Philippines. Ms. Jimeno Ortas, who has played an active role in facilitating the discussions between the two institutions, echoed this as she attested to everyone's commitment to fostering international cooperation "to open doors to new possibilities for our teachers and students alike." She also said that the MOU is an instrument to unite organizations sharing common interests in the "pursuit of excellence in vocational training and higher education related to agricultural studies," emphasizing its significance for all the governments the attendees represent.
Mr. de Olagüe Smithson, who has also been in all the discussions leading up to the signing of the MOU, mentioned some of these activities and thanked the Embassy of Spain for being instrumental in linking the two institutions. Following this, Dr. Nur Azura Binti Adam, SEARCA deputy director for programs, shared some initial steps taken about these activities. She likewise expressed her excitement about what lies ahead for the SEARCA-FPEmpresa partnership in 2024.
Under the MOU, SEARCA and FPEmpresa will collaborate on capacity development programs, such as mobilities and training, as well as on knowledge resource projects, by connecting FPEmpresa's VET centers to SEARCA or specific schools and organizations from the latter's network of partners and stakeholders.
The signing ceremony was attended by some FPEmpresa board members and international project staff, as well as SEARCA staff who have been involved in the series of discussions to identify the initial collaborations between the two organizations.
After the program, SEARCA and FPEmpresa, together with Ms. Jimeno Ortas, continued discussing the plans to kickstart their collaboration this year.
Spain is an associate member country of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), a regional intergovernmental organization established to promote cooperation in education, science, and culture in Southeast Asia. SEARCA is one of the 26 SEAMEO specialist institutions located across the region.