Creative Disruption in Philippine Higher Education


[Address to the Educational Forum of the Philippine Association of Schools Colleges and Universities on “K-12 and Creative Disruption”, Club Filipino, 19 January 2017.]

“Quality, accessible, and liberating basic education for all” as promised by DepEd under the leadership of Sec. Leonor Briones, leads either to productive employment in the labor mainstream or to higher education. My contribution to this educational forum as chair of the Coordinating Council of Philippine Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) and that of Dr. Ricardo Rotoras, representing the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC), is designed to illustrate how public and private higher education in the country “in a season of creative disruption” is now coming together to claim shared responsibility for higher education in the Philippine Educational System, where in the past it allowed its responsibility to be exercised by government. In the same “season of creative disruption,” public and private education in the country is organizing itself to take responsibility for the complementary roles of public and private HEIs for higher education in the country (cf. Art. 14. Sec 4 [1]), where in the past no one took responsibility for this complementarity.

The claim for this shared responsibility for higher education in the Philippines is based no less than on the 1987 Constitution which vests academic freedom in higher education institutions, not in a government body like the Commission on Higher Education. “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning” the Constitution says (Art. XIV, Sec 5[2]). Indeed the law which creates the CHED, RA 7722, explicitly states: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as limiting the academic freedom of universities and colleges.”[1] As is well known, academic freedom includes the freedom and responsibility to determine “who is to teach, what is to be taught, how it is to be taught, who can be admitted to study.”[2]

It was the Senate hearing on free tuition for SUCs proposed by Sen. Bam Aquino last October 26, 2016 that initially brought PASUC and COCOPEA together through its President and Chair respectively. The main associations of public SUCS and private HEIs, along with many others including the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), were registering objections to the proposed free tuition for SUCs.   On this occasion, Pres. Ric Rotoras submitted to the Senate committee the paper, “Re-Defining the Role of State Universities and Colleges in the Philippine Higher Education System,” which proposed a “Policy Framework on the Complementary Roles of SUCs and Private HEIs in the Philippines.” Where in the past SUCs and private HEIs operated in separate worlds, the framework included exciting ideas such as: “The government provides full funding requirements to SUCs with [the] clear mandate of providing quality education to the marginalized sectors and offering differentiated programs that complement [those of] private HEIs.” Then, “Private HEIs shall serve the greater mass of the higher education market; ensure sustainability and growth.” Then, “A level playing field between private and public HEIs is defined in terms of differentiate markets and curricular programs.” Finally, “Regulations of SUCs are defined by their respective charters, while regulations of the private HEIs are defined by the State through the Commission on Higher Education.”

Where the COCOPEA Mission affirms “the essential complementarity between public and private education” and the COCOPEA Roadmap for private Higher Education undertook to advance, promote and protect the essential complementarity between public and private education (pg 8), now the President of the major organization of the public SUCs was proposing a framework of complementarity in which certain terms screamed for reflection and discussion; SUCs for the marginalized.   SUCs for quality education for the marginalized… Private HEIs to serve the greater mass of the higher education market… A level playing field… Differentiate markets and curricular program… Regulations vs Academic freedom. With Commissioner Popoy de Vera and Bam Aquino expressing support, Pres. Ric Rotoras and I agreed that our organizations had to come together. We needed to discuss our respective complementary roles in the Philippine Educational System.


The historic first round of PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations took place in Manila in the Century Park Hotel on Nov. 22 despite a crowded calendar when many Presidents of the SUCs were concerned about defending their budgets and COCOPEA was preparing for its Board Meeting and Christmas Party. But representatives of both organizations came together anyway to break the ice, get to know one another, and get their feet wet discussing complementary positions. Already at that meeting they appreciated how free tuition for higher education must support not only access but quality, how quality is improved not by increasing access thoughtlessly but by improving instruction and facilities. They began talking about how public and private schools might play complementary roles in segmented markets, about how scholarships can go not only to quality public schools but also to quality private schools. They touched on the ideal higher educational atmosphere for all higher educational institutions and on how higher academic education must be complemented by higher technical education. The first round ended after three hours but with a firm resolution to gather for a more substantial meeting at the Ateneo de Davao. That meeting took place last week, 12-13 January.


IMG_0720.JPGPresident Rodrigo Duterte did not come to the meeting on Jan 13 as had been hoped. He was entertaining Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Sen. Bam Aquino and Commissioner Popoy Rivera could not come either. But ADDUs Finster Auditorium was specially prepared to host the conversations and to welcome the 60 participants and special resources persons including former CHED Commissioner Cynthia Bautista, Chita Pijano of PAASCU and Doris Ferrer of PEAC. What unfolded was a historic event in Philippine higher education: a substantial meeting of representative of public and private higher education convening themselves in shared complementary concern for Philippine Higher Education. PASUC was represented by 29 Presidents of SUCS from Ilocos to Sulu, and the five associations of COCOPEA were represented by 27 delegates. Still guided by the points raised by Dr. Rotoras in his paper, the conversations were open and honest, participants from each side discovering the concerns, hopes and frustrations of their counterpart educators in higher education were similar to theirs. Exchanges both during the formal conversation and during the meals and reception enriched by the Tausug dances presented by the Ateneo Sidlak dance troupe were warm and friendly.   For lack of time, I am unable to present you with the full account of the rich discussions. Instead, in the spirit of this forum’s “season of creative disruption,” allow me to present to you the ten substantial resolutions of the 2nd round of PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations.


Acting jointly, the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) and the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) resolved as follows:

Resolution 1:

That the Philippine System of Education provide access to quality higher education to all qualified Filipino students.

Against the recent background of legislation providing special funds for free tuition in SUCs, subsequently partially vetoed by the President to assert that students had to be qualified for higher education, PASUC-COCOPEA was stressing that universal access to Philippine higher education was for all qualified Filipino students.

Resolution 2:

That government scholarships be provided in quality higher education institutions, both public and private.  

Against the backdrop of Resolution 1, PASUC-COCOPEA was stressing that government scholarships and assistance provide not just access to higher education, but access to quality higher education both in quality SUCS and in quality private HEIs. It was stressing not just access to higher education, but access to quality higher education, and that public and private HEIs complement each other in providing the Filipino people this quality higher education.

Resolution 3:

That qualified Filipino students able to pay for their higher education pay for it; that qualified Filipino students unable to pay for their higher education be fully supported in their higher education by government through scholarships and allowances as needed, especially in programs or courses consistent with the National Development Plan and contributory to the realization of Ambisyon Natin 2040.

Against the position of “free tuition for all” which would have subsidized higher education for those who can pay for it themselves and increased access to SUCs already deprived of vital funds to provide quality education in their institutions without providing for the quality improvement of the SUCs, PASUC-COCOPEA position was that those who could pay for their education pay for it. Precious funds for education should not be squandered on the popularity of politicians. On the other hand, as a consequence of universal accessibility, those who could not pay for education be supported wholly, not only though free tuition but through living allowances that really enable the studies of those serious about higher education. Prioritized would be assistance for programs or courses consistent with National Development Plans.

Resolution 4:

That the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) and the Coordinating Council of State Colleges and Universities (COCOPEA), representing segments of public and private education respectively, shall work together in complementarity to improve the quality of higher education in both public and private HEIs.

This is a historic resolution. It is the resolve of the major organization of public HEIs and the major organization of private HEIs to work together in complementarity to improve the quality of higher education in both public and private HEIs. Where the earlier resolutions were to provide universal access to quality higher education for qualified students, PASUC and COCOPEA were owning complementary responsibility for the ongoing improvement of quality higher education.

Resolution 5:

That a committee jointly constituted by PASUC and COCOPEA draft legislation to create innovation centers in each region; the centers shall bring together resources of public and private HEIs, industry and agriculture in the regions to foster and promote innovation in industry and agriculture and appropriate regional niching, strengthening human resource development for this purpose and providing incentives for private support.

The creation of innovations centers in each region through collaboration of PASUC and COCOPEA would be an example of shared higher education collaboration in an important project for the development of the nation.

Resolution 6:

That PASUC and COCOPEA shall jointly propose to the Department of Education that the SUCs be relieved of their role in the provision of Senior High School under the K-12 Program considering the readiness of the Department of Education to fulfill this responsibility in collaboration with the private sector.

Providing SHS basic education does not belong to the original mandate of the SUCs. It was accepted by the SUCs as an emergency measure where a shortfall in SHS provision by the DepED complemented by the private sector was expected. However, SHS in the SUCs eat away at scarce resources of the SUCs originally meant for higher education. Considering the robust SHS provision of the DepEd and that many private sector SHS providers did not reach their expected targets, this is a PASUC-COCOPEA resolution relieve the SUCs of this responsibility and to transfer it to DepEd or private SHS providers.

Resolution 7:

That PASUC and COCOPEA jointly commits itself to the culture of quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework and request the Philippine government for necessary funds to support this commitment.

Essential in higher education for the ongoing improvement of higher education is the culture quality assurance. Whereas PASUC and COCOPEA confirm that quality assurance is best practiced today through the various accreditation agencies recognized by FAAP, they jointly commit themselves to the culture of quality guided by the AQAN and its AQRF. The international ASEAN quality assurance culture would guide the quality recognition and ongoing improvement of Philippine HEIs, both public and private. Unto this end, both PASUC and COCOPEA request funding from government to support this commitment to ongoing quality recognition and improvement.

Resolution 8:

That PASUC and COCOPEA jointly commits itself in academic freedom and responsibility to its shared mission of providing quality higher education to the Filipino people and to find the appropriate structures to support and govern itself under the reasonable regulation of government as higher education in the Philippines.

Another historic resolution complementary to Resolution 4. This is a resolution in academic freedom towards the self-governance of HEIs in the Philippines, even as the reasonable regulation of government is recognized.

Resolution 9:

That PASUC and COCOPEA shall jointly invite leaders of Local Colleges and Universities (LCUs) to collaborate with it in this shared mission.

Recognizing that LCUs also provide public higher education in the Philippines, their collaboration would be invited.

Resolution 10:

That the President of PASUC and the chair of COCOPEA shall seek an audience with Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte for the specific purpose of presenting and explaining these resolutions approved jointly by PASUC and COCOPEA during the “2nd Round of PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations on Complementarity between Public and Private HEIs” held at Finster Auditorium, Finster Hall of the Ateneo de Davao University on 12-13 January 2017.

We have already written the President for an appointment.

In a season of confusion, disorganization and alleged corruption in the management of higher education in the Philippines, we may be happy that PASUC and COCOPEA are jointly exercising “creative disruption” in organizing itself to take responsibility for higher education in the Philippines and in contributing through higher education to the 10-point economic agenda of government and the broader humane goals of Ambisyon Natin 2040.


[1] Art. 13. The article further specifies, “In particular, no abridgment of curricular freedom of the individual educational institutions by the Commission shall be made except for (a) minimum unit requirements for specific academic programs; (b) general education distribution requirements as may be determined by the Commission; and (c) specific professional subjects as may be stipulated by the various licensing entities”

[2] Cf: ADMU vs. Capulong, GR 99327, May 27, 1933. This case cites the essential freedoms subsumed under the term ‘academic freedom’ originally by Justice Felix Frankfurter in Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234 (1957).

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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