Dialoguing with Sen. Bam Aquino on How to Improve PH Higher Education

In the Senate Hearing of the Committee on Education, Culture and the Arts, the Official Position of the COCOPEA was submitted by Atty. Joseph Estrada on the proposed free tuition in SUCs proposed by Sen. Bam Aquino, Sen. Win Gatchalian, and other senators: https://taborasj.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/official-cocopea-position-paper-on-proposed-free-tuition-in-sucs-sbn-177/

To general questions posed by Sen. Bam Aquino outside of the hearing in the context of proposed legislative measures for higher educational enhancement,

Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J., President of CEAP and Chair of COCOPEA

respectfully submitted to Sen. Aquino and the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture these responses for purposes of discussion on 26 October 2016.

 

How do we define higher education in the country?

Wikipedia defines higher education in the Philippines in the following manner.

The higher education in the Philippines is offered through various degree programs (commonly known as courses in the Philippines) by a wide selection of colleges and universities—also known as higher education institutions (HEIs). These are administered and regulated by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).[1]

But this is wholly inadequate.

Programs or courses which lead to presumably higher degrees betray a circularity in this definition: higher education is higher because they confer higher degrees. Why are degrees “higher” in higher education and “lower” in basic education? Why is it misleading to define higher education in the Philippines as “administered and regulated by CHED?

Originally the notion of higher education is associated with the community (universitas) of scholars and teachers who come together in academic freedom in the pursuit of truth. They come together in self-constituted autonomy regulated only by the truth they pursue – the whole truth about man, nature and God. In this autonomy they are not constrained by the particular interests of royalty, religious confession, the nation, or the market. Indeed, once higher education is shackled by these interests, it is extinguished.

The pursuit of truth in academic freedom is the soul of higher education and its contemporary expression in research, instruction and service to the community.

Higher education institutions administer themselves in academic freedom under the reasonable regulation of government. They are not administered by CHED. This is at the core of higher education, recognized by the Constitution and guaranteed in law. In responsibility to truth, they provide their own quality assurance. The quality of a HEI is ascertained in its ability to achieve minimum academic standards, to demonstrate academic excellence, to implement its mission and vision, and to respond appropriately to its stakeholders.

No matter the complexity of the collection of academic programs and courses offered in HEIs today, the disciplined experience of a community of faculty and students, administrators and staff cooperating in academic freedom towards truth, its pursuit and communication, for the ultimate benefits that truth brings for individuals and society is at the heart of higher education. These benefits include the joy of truth, the upliftment of the human sprit in finding truth, and the creative transformation of the community according to the demands of truth. The reasonability of regulation is determined by reason seeking truth rather than the coercion of the State.

Basic education, where the State (DepEd) prescribes the courses and content required of all citizens, is a pre-requisite to higher education. But while basic education may occasion, or even warrant, higher education, it does not compel it. And while the rigors of particular learning sets may lead to specialized knowledge and skills (like literature, engineering, sociology, philosophy, leadership), what is essentially compelling in higher education is not any particular discipline but the critical pursuit of truth under the acquired discipline of higher education.

In the Philippines, where public and private education operate in complementarity, the State provides free public education.

 

Is Higher Education a Right?

Our Constitution states: “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all” (Sec. 1, Art. 14). It does this in the establishment, maintenance and support of “a complete, adequate and integrated system of education” (par. 1, Sec. 1, Art. 14) where “the complementary roles of public and private institutions in the educational system” is recognized (par. 1 Sec. 4, Art 14).

It also states that “The State shall… establish and maintain a system of free public education in the elementary and high school level.” (par. 2, sec 3, Art XIV).

While there is a right to quality education at all levels, including higher education, and while even higher education should be accessible to all, the State is mandated to provide free public education only on the elementary and high school levels. On other levels public education may not be free, even as it is complemented by private education, even when it may not charge.

Seen from another perspective: while there is a recognized right to free basic education through which a citizen can qualify for and earn higher education, and while there is a right to access higher education, there is no right to free higher education.

 

To whom should the government be providing with subsidy/free tuition for higher education? What are the qualifications? Do all HEIs have entrance exams?

From within the complete integrated and adequate system of education the State is mandated to provide, when public and private education complement each other, in giving free or reduced tuition in higher education, government should respect the following:

The mandate of the Constitution to social justice: “The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will insure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty…” (Sec. 9, Art. II). Cf. Also Sec. 1, Art. XIII.

The ends of education: The State Policy that “the State shall give priority to education, science, and technology, arts, culture and sports to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development” (Sec. 17, Art. II), in a word, the common good. In higher education HEIs that excel through their programs and as whole-colleges or whole universities (institutionally) in promoting these goals (e.g. through effective transformative education) are more qualified that those that perform poorly or minimally.

The ends of the national economy according to the Constitution: The recognition that “the goals of the national economy are a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth…raising the quality of life for all especially the underprivileged” (Sec. 1: Art XII). This is quite different from a neo-liberal economy fueled by unbridled consumption and destructive of the environment, “our common home.”[2]

The respect for the private sector: In exercise of the principle of subsidiarity, and considering that “the State recognizes the indispensible role of the private sector, encourages private enterprise, and promotes incentives to needed investments” (Sec. 20, Art. II), the care not to undermine the operation of private schools through publicly-funded programs or policies one-sidedly favoring public schools.

Therefore free or reduced tuition should be given to those students possessing the following three characteristics:

  • They are eligible for the subsidy in social justice. They are needy. To give a subsidy to a student who can pay for his own tuition offends against subsidiarity and the need to develop independent and responsible citizens.
  • They are capable of the culture of higher education work in its general education and professional program and are committed to the common good. They have completed at least one year of college without failing marks or have passed senior high school and have a record of commitment to the common good.
  • They qualify for HEIs performing well in meeting the ends of education, whether public or private. These HEIs are qualified for subsidy/free-tuition recipients. To put government scholars in poor schools is not only a waste of money; it is a waste of lives, and a tragedy for the society that could otherwise benefit well from the good education of a capable student.

 

Do all HEIs have entrance examinations?

[I am unable to answer this for lack of data. Most of the schools I know do, but what exams are used and how much the entrance is exam is used to determine admission or to guide the student in performance is uneven.]

 

How do we assess our higher education institutions in terms of performance? How do we incentivize/reward performing HEIs? What do we do with underperforming HEIs? 

Accreditation. Accreditation that is guided by ASEAN standards assuring recognizability in different countries. This is guided by the Philippines Qualifications Framework (still EO 83 s 2012, but ought to be legislated!), third-party accreditors, academic learning outcomes and an institutional culture of quality.

HEI performance may be incentivized by support towards their continued improvement through personnel development, facilities improvement, research funding, laboratory creation or enhancement, outreach support, and funding which supports the higher education culture of the university.

Underperforming HEIs should be helped to perform within an reasonable agreed-upon date. If they don’t, they should be closed.

 

Assuming we are able to allocate the budget to make SUCs free to students who will qualify, should it be given directly to students or to the institutions?

 Vouchers should be given to students; institutional help should be given to institution.

As stated above, students are eligible for free tuition or tuition subsidy should they possess the following three qualifications:

  • They are eligible for the subsidy in social justice. They are needy. To give a subsidy to a student who can pay for his own tuition offends against subsidiarity and the need to develop independent and responsible citizens.
  • They are capable of the culture of higher education work in its general education and professional program and are committed to the common good. They have completed at least one year of college without failing marks or have passed senior high school and have a record of commitment to the common good.
  • They qualify for one of the HEIs, whether public or private, performing well in meeting the ends of education, namely, “to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development” (Sec. 17, Art. II), in a word, the common good. . These HEIs are qualified for subsidy/free-tuition recipients. To put government scholars in poor schools is not only a waste of money; it is a waste of lives, and a tragedy for the society that could otherwise benefit well from the good education of a capable student.

 

What is the best model for providing free/subsidized tuition? How much will it cost? 

 A voucher system.

 The SHS or the HEI, public or private, recommends candidate based on the three criteria for eligibility.

They are accepted on the regional level by CHED with the active participation of the private sector through COCOPEA.

Those accepted are given vouchers.

The voucher value is based of the per student cost of education in a state university classified on four levels of performance, the fourth being the highest. These state universities shall be associated with private universities similarly classified on four levels of performance. The value of free education in a SUC will determine the voucher value for a student who opts to go to a private HEI of the same category.

In the SUCs, however, the voucher value will be adjusted to avoid double payment by government for salaries, facilities, library, etc.

In private schools, the voucher value will be adjusted not to pay for religious education and theology. Otherwise, the voucher support education as a public product.

 

Where HEIs are performing relatively poorly (levels I and II today?), government interventions should target the improvement, not finance and reward the poor performance, e.g. through more scholarships. This would only deteriorate the institution further. The government intervention could support collaboration between universities, public and private, local and foreign, for the improvement of our universities. This is more urgent today that scholarship funding. Much can be done to increase the absorptive capacity of HEIs, public and private, for government scholars. This includes: support for degrees in higher education, both local and foreign, faculty exchange programs, visiting faculty, facilities improvement, library improvement, promotion of benchmarking, etc.

Collaboration is extremely urgent in developing a culture of research (as important as instruction is) in our universities. The long-term and painstaking development of researching personnel and the appropriate conditions for research (libraries, laboratories, data banks) need to be specified in funding for research. Accountability of grantees (e.g. in fulfilling service clauses) should be strict.

Collaboration is also extremely urgent in developing a system of independent and credible quality assurance to overcome the impasse of CMO 46 s. 2013. The quality assurance system should be designed to promote increasing quality rather than mere declaration of levels of accreditation.

The goal is to develop institutions that practice higher education as described above in academic freedom and responsibility. This includes supporting serious academic multi-disciplinary and documented discussions in the universities that tackle contemporary problems (e.g. the anti-drug campaign, foreign policy, judicial reform), inspire research and enrich instruction.

Practices where students are admitted to higher education despite lack of qualification in order to increase government income for the school is deplorable, wastes government money and the student’s time and effort, and should be abrogated.

I am unable at this time to determine the cost. But using 20 billion pesos annually for these ends is more appropriate than on free tuition for students without consideration of their capacity to pay for tuition and without consideration for the quality of the school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_education_in_the_Philippines

[2] cf. Francis, Laudato Si: Letter on the Care for Our Common Home, 2015.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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