Much has already been said about President Benigno Aquino’s SONA. From the viewpoint of education in the Philippines, there was much praise for Bro. Armin Luistro of the DepEd for presiding over the K-12 reform and tackling its myriad infrastructure requirements. There was similar praise for Joel Villanueva’s TESDA, for its great strides forward in providing job-oriented skills training. But there was hardly anything said about higher education. The chairman of the CHED was mentioned by her nickname sandwiched between the two education stalwarts. That’s about it.
From its website, the CHED understands itself to be “the key leader of the Philippine Higher Educational System effectively working in partnership with other major higher educational stakeholders at building the country’s human capital and innovation capacity towards the development of a Filipino Nation as a responsible member of the international community.”
I guess the President could not say very much about CHED’s active collaboration with the DepEd and TESDA in bringing about the crucial K-12 reform. Perhaps there was scant evidence of this collaboration. Someone, however, should inform him that CHED did contribute significantly to this reform by its timely articulation of clear college readiness standards; these have guided the K-12 curriculum designers.
But CHED has not done much more than that. There was no palpable exercise of “key leadership” in “partnership with other major higher educational stakeholders” towards building human capital and innovation capacity” as the ASEAN integration kicks in. For instance, in a country where the Constitution mandates the partnership between public and private educational institutions, CHED has provided no key leadership towards clarifying or strengthening the partnership. Some of its projects involving the private sector, like the Philippine California Advanced Research Institutes (PCARI) project[i], unfold with humongous public money and only with a very select set of universities; their value for the Philippines has yet to be demonstrated. Other projects like its adventurism in publicly funding a private group to do accreditation work already being done by others are of dubious legality. Today, the only group that is seriously trying to promote collaboration between private and public higher educational institutions is the Philippine Business for Education (PBED). At its last national conference, which focused crucially on strengthening the workforce, DepEd and TESDA were represented by their principals. CHED was conspicuously absent.
Beyond its vision, CHED enunciates a fourfold mandate “that puts education as the central strategy for investing in the Filipino people, reducing poverty, and building national competitiveness.” Allegedly pursuant to the CHED Charter, RA 7722, it states it shall (a) promote relevant and quality higher education; (b) ensure that quality higher education is accessible to all who seek it particularly those who may not be able to afford it; (c) guarantee and protect academic freedom for continuing intellectual growth, advancement of learning and research, development of responsible and effective leadership, education of high level of professionals, and enrichment of historical and cultural heritage, and (d) commitment to moral ascendancy that eradicates corrupt practices, institutionalizes transparency and accountability and encourages participatory governance in the Commission and the sub-sector.
I would like to comment on the first three mandates – quality, access, and academic freedom – and leave to the honorable Ombudsman issues pertinent to “moral ascendancy that eradicates corrupt practices.”
In December of 2012, CHED issued its CMO 46, 2012, “Policy Standard to Enhance Quality Assurance (QA) in the Philippine Higher Education Through an Outcomes-Based and Typology Based QA.” The complex document was immediately contentions. The Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities had advised against implementing this while the schools had to contend with implementing K-12. CHED did not heed the advice. The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) then came out with an entire book criticizing the policy entitled Disqualifying CHED’s Quality Assurance. That was two-and-a-half years ago. Up to today, CHED has not worked out a consensus “in partnership with [its] other major higher educational stakeholders.” It is content with the lack of consensus, even though individual commissioners have agreed that “re-languaging” of the CMO is necessary.[ii] This is a spectacular non-achievement in the crucial issue of quality for a government body that sees its role to be of “key leadership” in higher education.
The leadership of CHED has minced no words decrying the large number of higher educational institutions, public and private, which it alleges to be substandard. The number it has rightfully closed is relatively small. Instead of persistently going after substandard schools, it has contented itself largely to work against new state colleges and universities or the conversion of state colleges to state universities. Under the Aquino administration, however, where the participation of the private sector in the provision of services is prized, CHED has failed to work out a roadmap on how the ever-increasing demand of students and parents for access to higher education is to be met also by strengthening private higher education and encouraging private investment in higher education. Most importantly, it has failed to clarify how the ever-increasing state expenditures and subsidies for public education, which tend to be inimical to private education, is to maintain the constitutionally-mandated “partnership” with private education. CHED’s penchant is to increase the spending on public education and simultaneously to work against the tuition increases of private HEIs that enable educational innovativeness and competition. CHED’s “key leadership” in higher education follows a trajectory towards a docile all-public school system that kills private education through increasing state subsidies. The result will be a monolithic mediocre and expensive public higher educational system.
The “key leadership” of CHED has failed to promote a consensus on the key issue of academic freedom – which is what distinguishes higher education from basic education. The CHED charter, based on the Constitution, mandates CHED to “ensure and protect academic freedom” and to “set minimum standards for programs and institutions of higher learning recommended by panels of experts in the field and subject to public hearing, and enforce the same.” The lack of consensus ranges from the contentiousness of its “mandate” to all HEIs in CMO 46 to “contribute to building an [undefined] quality nation” to its failure to distinguish the difference between minimum and optimum academic standards, this distinction being crucial for academic freedom.[iii]
The President was eloquent in his silence.
Now then, before more band-aid legislation[iv] is passed giving CHED greater powers to control higher education and more big money to spend without consensus in the higher educational community on how more regulatory power is to be exercised, CHED should first get its act together on its “key leadership role” in addressing the major issues of higher education: the lack of the level playing field between private HEIs and state universities and colleges (SUCs) and local colleges and universities (LCUs), the long term relationship between private and public education, greater access to higher education, and quality assurance and academic freedom for all HEIs. Meanwhile the legislators would do well to consider more thoughtfully the voice of the educational practitioners – and not just CHED – to better help them serve their stakeholders.
[i] For more information on the PCARI Project, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/notes/424536947645818/ The legislated budget for this project was initially 1.763 billion pesos. From yesterday’s Philippine Star: “The DBM has also included in this year’s budget a P1.763-billion allotment for the Philippine-California Advanced Research Institutes (PCARI) project, a multi-billion international research program of the commission.
The reinstatement of the funding for PCARI, which has over P3.4 billion since 2013, happened after CHED was able to launch the project this year.
‘PCARI is a capacity-building, technology-generating collaborative initiative designed to upgrade to global standards the research development and innovation capabilities and competencies of Philippine higher education institutions,’ said CHED chairman Patricia Licuanan during the launch.’
Eight projects, to be conducted by researchers from the California schools in partnership with those from the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University, were initially approved for implementation.” I understand that Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology is also involved in this project.
[ii] When PAASCU representatives were called in by CHED Chair Patricia Licuanan on May 5, 2014 to discuss an appropriate CHED response to a letter from the Secretary of Education of the United States concerning its recognition of PAASCU’s accreditation of medical schools, I mentioned that re-languaging of CMO 46, 2012 was necessary. Chairman Licuanan responded reasonably that if re-languaging is necessary, the CMO should be re-languaged. Among those present at the meeting were CHED Commissioner Cynthia Bautista, PAASCU Executive Director Concepcion Pijano, former UP Chancellor Dr. Ramon Arcadio and myself. The re-languaging, however, never happened. There being no movement on this issue in CHED, Congressman Roman Romulo proposed a bill on a Framework of Quality Assurance (HB 3393), which many educators including CEAP and PAASCU formally supported. CHED however responded that legislation is not needed on Quality Assurance because legislation is generally inflexible, and that they can handle this internal to CHED. But the issue has not been satisfactorily handled, and the new legislation is still pending. The result is drift on quality assurance.
[iii] In one of the hearings of the Congressional Committee on Higher and Technical Education headed by Rep. Roman Romulo, the key responsibility of CHED according to RA 7722 to set minimum standards was discussed. When the representatives of COCOPEA and PAASCU stated that there is a difference between minimum and optimum standards, CHED was hard pressed to provide an acceptable definition of “minimum standards”. At the behest of Congressman Romulo, I submitted the a position paper on behalf of PAASCU “On ‘Minimum Standards’ in Higher Education in the Context of Academic Freedom”: https://taborasj.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/on-minimum-standards-in-higher-education-in-the-context-of-academic-freedom Our position is that the over-prescriptiveness of CHED pertinent to standards applicable to both public and private education stifles academic freedom and innovativeness in favor of a one-size fits all program of higher education for the country.
[iv] The proposed unnumbered house bill “STRENGTHENING THE COMMISSION ON HIGHER EDUCATION (CHED), AMENDING FOR THIS PURPOSE RA 7722, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE “HIGHER EDUCATION ACT OF 1994” by Reps. Marcelino Teodoro, Roman Romulo, et al. fails to provide the legislative framework which may help bring higher education in the Philippines forward. First, the problem of the uneven playing field between private HEI and state universities and colleges is not met. This is ultimately a governance problem; CHED has the authority to withdraw recognition from private HEIs for non-compliance with it “reasonable” supervision; it does not have the power to do this with legislated SUCs and LCUs. In this case, the proposed legislation proposes too little. Appropriate new legislation must level the playing field. Second, because the issue of academic freedom is not met in this bill, which includes clarification of what reasonable supervision is (vs. control) and what minimum standards are (vs. optimum standards), the proposed legislation proposes too much. This is also the case in provisions which begin with “to enable” (4B), “to ensure” (4C); enabling and ensuring may too easily be confused with controlling and prescribing. Particularly problematic is the new provision among the objectives of the CHED: “(L} To improve the commission’s capacity to effectively steer the higher education system and maximize its contributions to human capital development, poverty reduction and technology-driven economic development.” This offends against the academic freedom that belongs to the HEIs under the constitution. It does not belong to a central state body “to steer the higher education system and maximize its contributions” towards any political or economic system; in the Constitution, this positioning relative to political systems, poverty, the economy and the like, belongs solely to the HEIs, or to organizations of HEIs which they may enter into in academic freedom and not to CHED. Expressed differently, the Constitution does not empower five commissioners acting en banc or individually, even those equipped with doctorates in education, social science or psychology, to preside over the entire higher education system or even over one HEI and “steer” it. Third, what is painfully missing in the proposed legislation are provisions which would support genuine consensus building and dialogue among members of the higher education community and resolution of contentious issues which are inevitable in the higher educational sphere. What would be toxic or pernicious would be more provisions that would cloak civil servants with more higher educational authority in law when it does not exist in fact. Higher educational authority in fact must be the product of dialogue and consensus building, not coercive decrees and disempowering imposition, among professional peers of the higher education community. In fact, as the original framers of RA 7722 were well aware, the CHED commissioners are ultimately but the peers of higher education practitioners, not their sovereigns.