Our Abiding Commitment to Catholic Higher Education

[Address to 2018 Higher Education Summit]

I regret that I cannot be with you personally this afternoon due to a PAASCU accreditation visit of our higher education programs at Ateneo de Davao. But through this video, I would like to congratulate you for your participation in this 2018 CEAP Higher Education Summit on the Future of Philippine Higher Education: Charting Post-K-to-12 Philippine Higher Education. It has been an audacious undertaking, and I congratulate Msgr. Jose Gualberto Villasis and the other members of the National Tertiary Education Commission for organizing it.

Multi-Level University Credentials and the University of Everywhere

I am sure that the keynote message delivered by Dr. Sean Gallagher of Northeastern University in the USA on “The Future of University Credentials” was stimulating. In most of our CEAP HEIs, if not in most of our private sector HEIs, we are focused on the day-to-day challenges of maintaining operations according to the prescriptions and interventions of CHED into our operations, which are unfortunately not always helpful. We don’t look at our HEIs from the lens of their being credentialing agents, and even if we do, we normally look at them as producing what Gallagher refers to as “monolithic college degrees,” the AB, the BS, the Masters or the Doctorate degrees. On the presumption that they actually produce knowledge and wisdom helpful to our students and society, we often do not care to relate the value of these degree to what is demanded in the job market. It is something that we can do, but don’t necessarily do, assuming that fulfilling the requirements of CHED takes care of the meaningfulness of our programs. Through the keynote of Dr. Gallagher we have been invited, I presume, to consider our HEIs also as credentialing agents for outcomes coveted and so economically valuable in the market. The outcomes today are signaled not only through traditional monolithic degrees conferred in our brick and mortar colleges, but also achieved through what we would consider out-of-the-box innovative higher education models and their corresponding credentials. Among these are online education, professional certifications, certificate program, massive open online courses (MOOCS), competency-based education, intensive boot camps, nano degrees and micro credentials much of which is mediated though Information Technology and the Internet. Meanwhile we must note that establishing the real value of these out-of-the-box credentials is a work in progress.

The discussion of the keynote was complemented, I am sure, by the Closing Plenary led by Dr. Vicente Fabella that was entitled “Envisioning the University of Everywhere.” In his provocative book, The End of College, Keven Carey argues that the promise of the University of Everywhere is that anyone, anywhere, anytime will be able to use free digital resources – books, lecture videos, images, sounds and increasingly powerful digital learning environments – to learn, and in turn earn some sort of credential. Whether or not one agrees with Carey that this ushers in “The End of College” and the dawn of the online cyber University of Everywhere, one must accept that the higher education environment is changing in a more connected world. With this, the fact that the business models which bring income to our schools may radically change may fill us with dread. Imagine, free tertiary-level education everywhere! Even if both Gallagher and Carey are speaking from the context of far-away USA, because the internet is Everywhere, they are really talking of the University of Everywhere that already impacts on the Philippines. It is good that we have had opportunity during this Summit to consider what this may mean or our schools.

Impact on our Catholic HEIs

In a changing world we are challenged to innovate beyond our hollow-block and GI-sheet colleges and universities. So we have happily had opportunity during this Summit to explore the nature of these challenges as they may affect us and our leadership.

Facing the combined challenges of more–traditional and of excitingly-innovative systems may lead us to acknowledge that systems of learning, whether traditional or new, whether supported by chalk and chalk talk, mere overhead or fancy multi-media projectors, or sophisticated new IT-based technology, must bear fruit for us in learning outcomes in our students that they can use for their advancement as human beings, the advancement of their ability to provide for their families through their livelihood, their professions or their entrepreneurial involvement, and thereby to contribute to the common weal of society. To that, in CEAP, we add, not as an accidental and unnecessary add-on, but as a constitutive dimension of the why and the way we do higher education in the Philippines, the instruction and formation of our students whose outcome is, not just by our achievements but by God’s grace, mature practicing Catholic believers contributing to civil society through the communion of the Church.

Unto this end there is the abiding requirement to teach and to teach well, to shape values sensitive to the exigencies of human dignity and the will of divinity, to invite love for and commitment to the Catholic Church, the communion of disciples of the Lord in our world, with all its shortcomings, foibles and sin, and to model the behavior of love and of doing justice that we would like our students freely to embrace for life. Whether our institutions are credentialing agents in the traditional brick and mortar sense or in the manner of new IT-mediated systems, we must consider how our students are credentialed to find their life vocation – quite different from a job in our economy – to support Christian families bound by mature love, to commit themselves to and serve the common good as the Kingdom of God where we work with Jesus laboring to bring “life, life to the full” to our troubled world. Whether or not we agree with the premises of the University of Everywhere, everywhere we must be the Catholic University reshaping our Philippine and global multi-cultures Ex Corde Ecclesiae – from the heart of the Church. Where we are many Catholic schools and Catholic HEIs, big and small, we must hold ourselves together in solidarity and support one another in living out our sublime calling as Catholic schools.

Humbly, we must learn the importance of quality assurance, finding the systems to assure ourselves and our stakeholders – people in industry, in government but also our Catholic parents and our bishops – that we are doing what we say we are doing, not only for our humanistic and professional programs, but for our entire HEIs as committed to evangelization and Christian formation. For our secular programs, the processes of certification or accreditation may be appropriate, even if yet undersubscribed. But for the Catholicity of our HEIs, the work that is being done to articulate the Philippine Catholic School Standards for Higher Education is arguably the most important activity in CEAP today. In this CEAP higher-education Summit let us acknowledge the work that is being done by our colleagues in this undertaking and call on God to bless their labors.

Necessary Networking to Advance and Protect our Catholic Mission

Meanwhile because of our commitment to Catholic education, we must work hard and work together to advance and protect our private schools and private HEIs through appropriate networking. Through COCOPEA we continue to labor to make sure our private schools are heard, that the constitutionally-mandated complementarity between public and private schools is observed, that together with the state schools we contribute meaningfully to the system that in the Philippines delivers quality education to all on all levels, that responsible academic freedom essential to higher education and guaranteed by the Constitution and by law is preserved and advanced, and that in academic freedom we advance towards self governance. In this context, it is absolutely necessary to advance the forged partnership between the COCOPEA and the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) under its new President, Dr. Tirso Ronquillo of the University of Batangas after the tragic murder of its former President, Dr. Ric Rotoras of the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines. Through the COCOPEA-PASUC partnership, the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (RA 10931) was passed and signed into law; through this partnership its equitable implementation must be guaranteed. Beyond this, we must we must meet the challenges together of making meaningful contributions, shaped by our Catholic spirit, to the critical realization of Ambisyon Natin 2040 and the preservation of our mission and the tax privileges that support that mission in the 1987 Constitution even as Federalism and a new Constitution are aggressively being pushed. Therefore I am urging your active participation in the forthcoming 7th COCOPEA Congress on March 15. Because of our commitment to Catholic education, we must better organize ourselves to take advantage of our numbers to be heard neither as beggars nor as lackeys but as a political force. We must meet the new challenges everywhere of truth vs. fake news, real vs. virtual relations, love vs. lust, of lives hollowed by the absence of loved ones, of lack of resilience and depression, of substance abuse and of bullying, of belonging and hazing, of sad instances of suicide and suicidal attempts among our students, of violent extremism and the absence of peace.

The educational landscape is changing. When we hear of innovative credentialing, mass open online courses (MOOCs), digital badges, and the expenses and intricacies of new technologies, we may be tempted to think that contemporary change in education is beyond us. But we must be active protagonists in that change. Why? Because of the Catholic education to which we commit our lives and our institutions.   Because of the Gospel that we are convinced is relevant for the lives of our students and the development of our nation. Because we are convinced: Catholic education has a crucial role to play in our shared educational system in the Philippines.


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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