SEARCA has marked the completion of one of its Institutional Development Assistance (IDA) projects, the Leveling-up Philippine Higher Education Institutions in Agriculture, Fisheries, and Natural Resources (LevelUPHEI AFAR), funded by the Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED). The project, under CHED's International Continuing Professional Education (ICPE) program, spanned from 2021 to 2023 and included short-term training programs, mobility exchanges, summer schools, faculty-graduate forums, cross-visits, and active participation in the Southeast Asian University Consortium for Graduate Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC). The project's overarching aim was to enhance the relevance and competitiveness of the country's higher education institutions (HEIs) in the 21st century. Moreover, it involved mentoring and nurturing Central Luzon State University (CLSU), Visayas State University (VSU), and Central Mindanao University (CMU) to become affiliate members of the UC, with the ultimate goal of securing regular membership and elevating their positions in global university rankings.
A total of 612 faculty members from 60 State Universities and Colleges-Association of Colleges of Agriculture in the Philippines, Inc. (SUC-ACAP) member universities across 16 regions in the Philippines reaped the benefits of the LevelUPHEI AFAR project. Tangible outcomes included the establishment of Memoranda of Understanding/Agreement with visited UC member universities, curriculum revisions, journal article submissions, introduction of new extension programs, integration of acquired knowledge into existing courses, and the appointment of mentors from overseas mobility exchanges as adjunct faculty members of the HEIs.
The LevelUPHEI AFAR project also played a pivotal role in fostering international linkages and collaboration, contributing significantly to the academic and personal growth of the grantees. Most notably, CLSU and VSU successfully attained regular membership in the UC in 2023, while CMU holds affiliate membership status, nearing the completion of its three-year probationary period toward regular membership.
In line with the targets outlined in the Philippine Development Plan 2023–28 and AmBisyon Natin 2040, the LevelUPHEI AFAR project resonates with the goals of the Philippine government. It emphasizes harmonization and internationalization in higher education, resiliency, inclusivity, equitability, support for lifelong learning opportunities, and global partnership and cooperation, which aligns seamlessly with the framework of the ASEAN Workplan on Education 2021–25, the objectives of the ASEAN Higher Education Space 2025, the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, and UN Sustainable Development Goals 4 and 17.
As the project concluded, SEARCA actively participated in a focus group discussion conducted by the National Review Committee on CHED-funded Internationalization Programs (iNRC). Dr. Maria Cristeta N. Cuaresma, senior program head of SEARCA's Education and Collective Learning Department (ECLD), highlighted the project's profound benefits to the participants. The positive ripple effects were evident, cascading to the delegates' university constituents, as reported during the project's culminating activity. These results offset the administrative difficulties from the funding agency SEARCA experienced in the project's early implementation.
Completing the LevelUPHEI AFAR project underscores SEARCA's commitment to advancing the region's higher education in agriculture, fisheries, and natural resources and the positive impact of international collaboration on academic and professional development.