Promise and Perils of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (RA 10931)

“Complementarity, Academic Freedom, and how to deal with the Promise of RA 10931.”  Conversation with Sen. Ralph Recto.  COCOPEA National Congress, SMX Aura, BGC, 16 March 2018.

It is an honor for me to join you, Sen. Ralph Recto, in this conversation.  As COCOPEA lodged its objection against a proposed bill that would only make tertiary education free in State Universities and College, you were the Senator we felt truly appreciated the contribution of private Higher Education to higher education in the Philippines.  You were convinced that the proposed law should benefit not only students going to SUCs but also qualified students opting to go to private HEIs for their education. You encouraged us in fighting for a law premised on the complementarity between public and private universities.  Most important of all, you used your power and influence in the Senate to gather support for the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (UAQTEA) that made access of the poor to private HEIs possible through the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) and the Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education (SLPTE), and it was you who insisted that the funding for this law should anchored in the recurring General Appropriations Act whose appropriations for this may increase annually with increasing recognition of need.  For all this, Sen. Recto, thank you very much! Thanks to you, we celebrate today the promise of RA 10931:

In my view,  the UAQTEA underscores:

  1. The importance of universal access to quality higher education, where access to quality higher education in the past was the prerogative only of the wealthy.
  2. The importance of quality higher education. RA 10931 is not just access to poor education.  Not just preparation for jobs in a status quo economy, but about educated human beings able to contribute critically to the common good.
  3. The importance of the complementarity between public and private HEIs in the State’s system of providing quality education for all.
  4. The importance of evolving a national consensus on “quality” when referring to education. This is part of the COCOPEA roadmap for HE.  Four necessary components of quality:  the achievement minimum standards, the achievement of standards of excellence, the HEIs faithful implementation of its VM, in satisfaction of stakeholders.  [I mean this where “Minimum standards” are product of dialogue among the HEIs vested with academic freedom and not imposed by a regulative body.]

In this context, we may now consider not only the promise but also the perils of RA 10931.  I will mention four:

Promise 1:  Students have access to free tertiary education in state universities that provide quality education. Because they are delivering state-funded free education, the state universities [eventually] are the universities of choice noted for their quality. RA 10931 is a justification for funding for quality improvement in State schools. [No state-funded free low-quality education!]

Peril:  Free tertiary education in SUCS fetters qualified students to SUCs or LCUs whose programs do not respond to the needs of the students, or whose quality is inferior to that in private universities. They go to SUCs because it is free, no matter the quality, and because there is no real alternative.

Promise 2:  Qualified students can be admitted to private HEIs of quality appropriate to their educational needs through the TES, complemented when necessary by the SLPTE.  With every budget year, more and more students benefit from higher education despite their needy economic circumstances – or even as progress eliminates poverty. 

Peril:  qualified students cannot access quality private education because of the insufficiency of funding for the TES or SLPTE.  The focus of State funding is access, disregarding quality.  With every budget year, more and more needy students are shut out of quality higher education.

Promise 3:  the SUCs, LCUs and the private HEIs come together in local clusters to strengthen their instruction, research and outreach in the locality through such as the partnership between COCOPEA and PASUC.  Focus is not only on access, but on the improvement of quality, based on ASEAN QA Framework.  This involves [truly] external quality assessment bodies using appropriate evaluative standards and procedures, internal quality assurance (IQA) mechanisms in all HEIs, and alignment with the legislated Philippine Qualifications Framework. 

Peril:  The SUCs and LCUs on the one hand, and the private HEIs on the other, continue on their separate paths.  Government supports only access to SUCS for political advantage.  But the quality of education in SUCs degenerates because of inevitable political interference in the SUCs and LCUs. Meanwhile,  private quality HEIs are eventually killed because private HEIs subject to market forces cannot compete with aggressive government funding of such as salaries, faculty development and research.

Promise 4:  Both public and private HEIs are complemented in each others’ operations providing quality innovative education for all responsive to the needs not only of the economy but of humane society in the Philippines.  The system of higher educational delivery for all is continually enhanced. 

Peril:  one-track monolithic state education for the masses.  Imperiled private HEIs.  Private HEIs only for the very wealthy.

In this light, the COCOPEA, the unified voice of private education in the Philippines, must continue to develop itself into a political force fueled by the educational aspirations of the Filipino people to work on the promises of EAQTEA and avoid its perils.  The people must demand that legislators led by such as Sen. Recto  appropriate the funds necessary for the full purpose and promise of the EAQTEA, esp. sufficient funds for the TES and SLPT which are relevant for those students opting to go to private HEIs.  The funds however must not come at the cost of weakening basic education, for a weakened basic education weakens higher education.  COCOPEA must continue to promote genuine collaboration between public and private HEIs in the provision of quality higher education, and the development of a self-governing higher education sector.  Through the academic freedom vested in the HEI by the Constitution,  the entire  higher education institution (HEI) community must take responsibility for quality.  In this context, COCOPEA must insist on evidenced quality and quality assurance as an eventual pre-requisite for EAQTEA funding.  All HEIs must practice ASEAN-level quality assurance  or be disqualified from  EAQTEA funding.

The bottom line:  the promise of RA 10931 is universal access to quality tertiary education!  Sen. Recto, we must continue to work together to keep that promise!


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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