In looking at the draft of the Manila Declaration on Philippine Higher Education, I am elated that its drafters exhibit a sensitivity to academic freedom. It is a step away from the prescriptive penchant of those who would like to preside over an agenda for higher education. Both our Constitution and RA 7722 guarantee academic freedom to higher education. That has something to do with the origin of the university, originally a community (universitas) of teachers and students who came together to search for truth in academic freedom. The search for truth is open, hindered neither by the agenda of royalty nor by the dogmas of the religion. The universitas is a home for disciplined discussion and debate, sometimes defiant, often irreverent. All – including divinity, nature, human society – is subject to questioning and the search for truth, and to the university’s ways of finding truth. In its Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Church also guarantees its universities academic freedom. While the Church believes in Jesus Christ as the Truth, it also believes in the ability of unfettered reason to find truth.
Higher education, therefore, is subjected neither to the agenda of the State nor of the Church. A higher educational system may output mechanics who build cars, or accountants who track money, or engineers who construct skyscrapers, or priests who run parishes, or entrepreneurs who create wealth, all supportive of a vibrant economy, but it would be false to say that higher education is or ought to be subject to the demands of a particular economy. A particular economy in truth may be good, able to produce wealth that respond to the needs of human beings. But a particular economy in truth may also be less than good, or even evil, creating social tensions between rich and poor, excluding whole sections of humanity from dignified human living, affording a small section of humanity liberality and luxury, while condemning the large majority of humanity to slavery and penury. To say that HEIs “must match the skills of its graduates to what industry needs to create better employment opportunities in support of inclusive growth,” is understandable for those who benefit from the functioning of the current economic system, but it is a truncation of the academic freedom and ultimate finality of higher education – which is truth. Higher education must have the critical space to consider whether economic growth with its demands for increasing consumption, its toll on the environment, and penchant to create greater inequality, is indeed the way to go. The truth may be that the economy and industry in this country, controlled and benefitting so relatively few, falls short of what they ought to do.
“Quality higher education has a necessary role in social and economic development.” But this is certainly not the whole picture. “Development” itself is a term that is ambiguous, assuming agreement on where development should take us and on the means by which this should be achieved. Is our development to take us to the levels of economic growth in China, Singapore, the Middle East, Europe, or the United States, and is this to be done with respect for human rights, the family, the family wage, and the integrity of the environment? What is the role of property in this development? Is property absolute, or is it subject to a “social mortgage”? Where is the current development to take us, if we are satisfied with a higher educational output of call-center agents, hospitality managers and chefs? How do we create the political leaders and entrepreneurs who think out of the box yet have a keen sense of moral and ethical demands for human society?
There is higher education, and there is quality higher education. This declaration cannot presume quality higher education at the outset, especially if it does not make an effort to define what it means by quality, nor to bridge the gap between higher education and quality higher education. The quality of higher education presumes a free commitment in academic freedom to quality, a commitment that can be elicited through this declaration. Quality is secured through the HEI’s verified achievement of government-set minimum standards, the further pursuit of academic excellence, the implementation of the HEI’s vision and mission, and responsiveness to external stakeholders in higher education. Government can mandate quality of public HEIs because it pays its bills, but where private schools pay the bills, and must invest in quality beyond minimum standards as a matter of distinguishing the school, quality may only be invited with full respect for the academic freedom and economic limitations of the HEI.
In a convocation of Presidents of both public and private schools, I believe it would be in the best interests of education in the Philippines to address the issue of the Constitutionally-supported partnership between private and public education. Private education has played a distinguished role in Philippine education. With the recent aggressive development of public education today, marked by increased spending in facilities, teacher salaries, research and the like, the long term trajectory of the relationship between the public and private school systems might be addressed. Will government support the public school with increased funding to the point that the private school is dispensable? Is the desideratum indeed that the Philippines evolve an all-public school system of education, with the private school merely a tolerated exception? That appears to be where this country is headed. In 2008, the total public educational budget was 188.6 billion; within six years, that has close to doubled to 360.7 billion, with very little of this budget flowing into the private school system. Particularly salutary to public school teachers but harmful to private schools was the increase of the entry-level salary of teachers to 18,000 per month, while the majority of private schools were still hiring their teachers at minimum-wage rates. The increase in the public school teacher’s salary was legislated through the national budget, and therefore funded by public tax money; there was no corresponding increase in legislated funding for private school teachers. Private school salaries therefore could not keep pace with public school salaries. The tuition they collected did not allow it. Raising tuition appropriately was hindered either by government prohibition or by the sheer inability of parents to pay higher tuition. In this unhappy situation, the schools that are punished most are the schools in the most remote areas, where educational service is most needed. Their long-nurtured teachers are pirated by government schools, and they are unable to replace them because – with the small tuition their students’ parents can pay – they cannot compete with government wages funded by tax pesos.
In a country however where we need educated people, and both the public and private schools output educated people, why is the educational budget not used to support public and private education more equitably? Education is a public good regardless of whether it is nurtured and produced by a public or private system. If in grade ten it is required that a student have mastered a minimum in algebra, when a student actually masters it, that is a public good worthy of funding whether it be produced by a public or a private school system. If taxpayers pay the bill for an algebra teacher in a public school, why can they not pay the bill for an algebra teacher in a private school, since both output the same public good. If the taxpayers can pay for teachers in a public school so that the students pay little tuition, why can taxpayers not pay for teachers in private schools so that students can pay similarly little tuition?
Paying more of the bill for teachers in private education may enable the State to legitimately make more demands of the private schools in terms of quality. Otherwise, the demands are unfunded mandates, which are grossly unfair to private education. Unfunded mandates are coerced labor. They are like mandating a mother to upgrade a meal into a feast without giving her the budget to do so.
It is similar with sharing information. Of course, it would be helpful for a system of collaborating schools if information is freely shared. But there are different levels of information, and a great difference between sharing information on general course offerings and on the opening and closing of classes, and the detailed information relevant to the course content and methodology and “trade secrets” that a private school has painstakingly put together at its sole expense. So why should the schools be expected to share these without appropriate compensation? Normally, it takes much money and intellectual input to come up with products that are worth sharing among the schools. If a private school spends millions in having its faculty gain special competencies in engineering, why ought not the school be fully compensated for its development of this public good before being pressured into sharing the resource for the common good? It is of course a different situation if from the beginning government is participating in the project through the substantial subsidy of the salaries of the academicians and researchers involved. Short of this, sharing of information on this level of content and methodology is a sharing of private intellectual property which is fully compensable at rates that the HEI may set. When Ateneo de Naga invested relatively huge resources for a pioneering program in digital illustration and animation that found renown, government suggested that the Ateneo simply share those resources with other education institutions that had not made the investments Ateneo de Naga had made. How could this have been fair? How can schools sustain themselves if the products that distinguish them need to be freely shared? I am aware that large amounts of course content are being shared online by renowned private HEIs in the United States and elsewhere. But even for these schools there are issues of long-term sustainability without government financial support.
The renowned Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) in Belgium is private, practices academic freedom fully, elects its own President, selects its own administrators and faculty members, admits its own students, runs its own programs of instruction and research, but is fully funded with public money. Belgium has recognized the functioning of a private university as a public good, and so funds it, against, of course, appropriate quality checks.
In the Philippines, part of the legitimate sharing of information among HEIs would simply be peso-for-peso comparisons of educational outputs of SUCs and LCUs vs. those of private HEIs. As Fr. Dionisio Miranda, SVD, President of the University of San Carlos, points out, the increases in government compensation for public school teachers was not based on any prior demands in improved output.
While “sharing of information” is a clear desideratum among all universities, public funding and subscription of HEIs in academic freedom to objective methods of quality assurance would be necessary to sustain or optimize this.
Research, of course, is not just about growth in knowledge about the state of the art of one discipline. For a university, research is about truth, and cannot be confined to one’s discipline. In fact, inter- and multi-disciplinarity is necessary for finding truth for such topics as the Philippine economy, Philippine history, Philippine culture, Philippine environment, religious practice in the Philippines, exigencies for state security and peace in the country, the region and the globe.
Finally, as stated above, what must be strenuously avoided in the public interest is the virtual truncation of the higher educational mandate to truth in its rich complexity, to simply the needs of industry, employment, and inclusive economic growth. While these may be laudable goals, they do not express the finality of higher education.
Because of the above considerations, I would respectfully suggest that the opening statements of the Manila Declaration on Higher Education* be as follows:
- Philippine Higher Education is an integral component in shaping well-rounded individuals who are able to take part in meaningful human, social, cultural and economic development. When academic freedom is promoted and protected, it is able to generate new ideas and enhance skills and talents of graduates. Cognizant of the above, the presidents of higher education institutions affirm collectively and individually that:
- In its pursuit of truth in academic freedom, Philippine higher education has a vital role to play in human, social, cultural and economic development.
- All undersigned HEIs commit themselves in academic freedom to quality.
- The quality of higher education is secured through the HEI’s verified achievement of government-set minimum standards, the further pursuit of academic excellence, the implementation of the HEI’s vision and mission, and responsiveness to stakeholders in higher education.
- Quality higher education in the Philippines is further secured through a critical partnership between public and private education, both of which are to be equitably supported by public and private resources.
- Access to higher education as a public or common good must be promoted through equitable support of public and private education both from public and private sources.
- Vibrant collaboration between the HEIs must be promoted with respect for academic freedom and intellectual property rights.
- Engagement in research, including research into history, contemporary economy, industry, cultures, religious practice, peace and security, is indispensible to higher education’s pursuit of truth today.
- HEIs must strive to harmonize the knowledge and skills of their graduates with the needs of industry and the economy in a humane society.
*The formulation in the original draft of the “Manila Declaration of Philippine Higher Education” is as follows:
Philippine Higher Education is an integral component in shaping well-rounded invdividuals who are able to take part in meaningful socio-economic development. When academic freedom is promoted and protected it is able to generate new ideas and enhance skill and talents of graduates. Cognizant of the above, the presidents of higher education institutions affirm collectively and individually that:
- Quality higher education has a necessary role in social and economic development.
- HEIs take part in the cultivation of exemplar citizes who embody the values of academic integrity, democracy, patriotism, gender equality and spirituality.
- The vision and mission of schools should be exemplified in their programs and policies.
- Sharing of information among all higher education institutions is essential in addressing the lack of resources and information and sustaining communication among the sector.
- The production of innovative research allows both students and teachers to gain a deeper understanding fo the state of the art in their respective fields.
- HEIs must match the skills of graduates to what the industry needs to create better employment opportunities in support of inclusive growth.