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Dangerous directions

(This article was first published in print in issue 11-12 of the Philippine Collegian on 05 September 2012.)

by Malcolm Rommel Aniag

Artworks by Ysa Calinawan

After years of decreasing government funding for state universities and colleges (SUCs), the Aquino administration has announced a whopping 44 percent increase in the allocation for SUCs for 2013, to P37.1 billion next year from the current P25.8 billion.

The proposed budget increase, however, comes with a hefty price. “Paalala lang po: lahat ng ginagawa natin, may direksyon; may kaakibat na kondisyon ang dagdag-budget na ito. Kailangang ipatupad ang napagkasunduang SUC Reform Roadmap ng Commission on Higher Education (CHEd),” Aquino quips.

The president was referring to the Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform (RPHER), his administration’s master plan for public tertiary education. It aims to provide “relevant and quality public higher education to all who seek and deserve it,” and contains several reform programs that are set to be accomplished by 2016.

Yet a deeper analysis of the purported reforms shows how it seeks to erode the public character of SUCs, and how it ultimately transforms the public tertiary education system into a source of cheap labor force for the global market.

Road to perdition

SUCs were established to provide accessible, quality education to those who cannot afford private college education. At present, there are 110 SUCs in the country catering to over 1.1 million students, a small portion of the traditionally private-dominated higher education sector.

Over the years, various barriers to access – coupled with policies by past administrations – have impeded SUCs to fulfill their mandate to provide affordable college education and have instead constricted the public character of state schools, said National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) Secretary General Isabelle Baguisi.

In 1996, President Fidel Ramos implemented the Long-term Higher Education Development Plan (LTHEDP), which sought to increase cost-efficiency, and global competitiveness of public higher education.

In 1997, Ramos signed the Higher Education Modernization Act (HEMA), which allowed SUCs to embark on business ventures with the private sector, privatize management of non-academic services, and set their own tuition and other charges.  Consequently, state funding for higher education began to plunge, as SUCs now generate higher internal income.

In 2001, President Gloria Arroyo revised the LTHEDP in line with the government’s plot to make SUCs self-sustaining, with the eventual goal of abandoning state funding for higher education. Arroyo’s LTHEDP targeted – among others – to reduce the number of SUCs, introduce income-generating projects in 50 state schools, and peg tuition rates in SUCs to levels comparable to their private counterparts by 2010.

The fiscal reforms implemented by the Arroyo administration resulted to the gradual decrease of the government’s share in the total operating budget of SUCs, from 80 percent in 2001 to 70 percent in 2010. With SUCs being highly encouraged to maximize profits, many state schools implemented tuition hikes. In 2007, UP raised tuition and other fees by 300 percent, increasing the base tuition to P1,000 per unit from the former P300.

“The [RPHER] we have today is the result of the [policies] of past administrations, which RPHER follows quite well,” says Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino, explaining that RPHER leads public higher education to the same direction followed by its predecessors.

Same old route

Aquino’s first year in office made no significant change in the overall policy to decrease state funding for education. In his 2010 budget message, Aquino explicitly explained, “We are gradually reducing the subsidy for SUCs to push them toward becoming self-sufficient and financially independent, given their ability to raise their income and to utilize it for their programs and projects.”  In 2011, the budget for SUCs was slashed by over P1 billion.

This continued until 2012, with the government not providing any allocation for capital outlay (CO), the fund for new infrastructure, since 2010. Many state schools even received massive cuts in their operating budget.

In direct response to the massive demonstrations and criticism against cuts in the funding for SUCs in the past years, the Aquino administration significantly increased the budget for SUCs next year.

Along with the sharp shift in the government’s funding policy for SUCs came RPHER, which revolves around the key word “rationalization,” or the setting of concrete objectives that would justify increasing government spending for higher education.

According to CHEd, RPHER is the government’s response to three fundamental weaknesses of Philippine higher education, which includes the “lack of overall vision,” “deteriorating quality,” and “limited access.”

Following the recommendations of a study released by the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) early this year, CHEd has laid down a concrete roadmap of reforms that it intends to accomplish by 2016 (see sidebar). The major reforms that RPHER intends to pursue include the the merging of SUCs, rationalization and closure of “redundant” course offerings, and maximize income generation.

“These reforms are already in LTHEDP. Nothing much in RPHER is new. It is a mere reiteration of past proposals, some already enacted, which the students have long rejected,” says Palatino.

Potholes

RPHER is set to group SUCs into three tiers, based on performance indicators which include enrolment and passing rates. “The strategy is to concentrate public resources in a few institutions in order to achieve critical mass and create appreciable impact,” according to RPHER. By 2016, RPHER targets to produce “three internationally-recognized SUCs” using this grouping.

CHEd has listed 22 “leading universities” – which include UP and Mindanao State University – that would receive a lion’s share of the total SUCs budget.

Meanwhile, CHEd identified 37 “Tier 1 developing SUCs” – including the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and Rizal Technological University – which comes in second priority in terms of government allocation. The remaining 51 SUCs are classified under “Tier 2 developing SUCs,” and are given least priority in the allotment of funds.

“In this framework, high-performing SUCs would be prioritized over underperforming SUCs. This is unfair,” says Baguisi, explaining that budget allocation should instead be based on actual needs of SUCs. In prioritizing funding for “leading SUCs,” the government is ignoring the fact that underfunding has resulted to low performance and slow development in many SUCs, Baguisi explains.

The effects of RPHER can already be seen in the 2013 budget for SUCs. According to the 2013 National Expenditure Program (NEP), leading SUCs are each set to receive a CO budget ranging from P15 million to P1.4 billion next year. Tier 1 SUCs will each receive an average of P7 million for CO, while Tier 2 SUCs, will each be allotted around P4 million or less.

RPHER is also set to “phase out inefficient and duplicative” courses, which are already offered by private universities, and close courses  which are “outside the mandate” of certain SUCs. In such way, state schools can focus on developing their specializations, according to RPHER.

Under this reform agenda, courses in SUCs which are already offered by a large number of private colleges, such as nursing, business administration, and hotel and restaurant management, are set to be abolished to avoid duplication.

“I question the criteria of an ‘inefficient’ course. An ‘inefficient’ course may mean a non-marketable program—like courses in the arts. Will funding be cut based that standard?” says Palatino, explaining that closing courses offered by private universities such as nursing and business administration only benefits the private sector, as CHEd would be removing competition with private universities.

Also, SUCs are set to be pushed to improve their specializations, and drop course offerings that are “out of their mandate.” For example, an SUC which largely specializes on agriculture and fisheries would be encouraged to drop course offerings that are not related to the said fields, says Palatino.

RPHER intends to focus on five priority areas, which include agri-fisheries, mining, electronics, services and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).  According to CHEd, more funds will be allotted for the development of the said fields to encourage their development.

However, such prioritization only reflects and intensifies the government’s labor-export policy, says Palatino. While agri-fisheries should indeed be prioritized, the other priority areas in RPHER, especially BPOs and services, only serve to produce more workers for multinational corporations, and supply cheap labor to the global market, Palatino adds.

“Instead of prioritizing fields that the country needs to industrialize, RPHER focuses on strengthening areas that would just feed the global need for cheap labor,” explains Palatino.

Roadblocks

While RPHER purportedly aims to democratize access to tertiary education, it is set to usher in further inaccessibility, with the presence of reforms which target to intensify SUCs’ capacity to generate income. Some of the reforms include the revision of the Normative Funding Formula (NFF), adoption of socialized fee schemes for all SUCs, and additional joint business ventures with the private sector.

The NFF is a formula used by CHEd to determine the budget allocation of SUCs based on performance indicators, such as enrolment and passing rates. At present, the NFF covers only the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) component of the budget, the funds utilized for basic operating expenses of state schools, such as purchase of office supplies and payment for utility bills.

RPHER aims to revise the current formula to include personal services (PS), or the funds used to pay salaries of employees, in the equation.

The said revision would mean that the performance of SUCs will now also affect staffing and salaries of employees. “May danger na kapag bumaba ang enrolment or passing rates, maaaring maging dahilan para matanggalan ng mga empleyado at teachers ang ilang SUCs,” Baguisi explains.

RPHER also intends to implement “socialized tuition fee schemes,” similar to UP’s Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), to all SUCs by 2016. Such school fee scheme “would allow cost recovery without limiting access among the poor, guided by the principles underlying the tuition fee scheme where students from financially capable families pay a larger share of the cost,” according to CHEd.

However, implementing socialized tuition fee schemes similar to STFAP ignites fears of tuition hikes, says Baguisi. UP’s experience with socialized tuition also reveals that instead of widening access, it has become instrumental in barring entry to the university, Baguisi explains.

Based on Collegian data, two decades of STFAP implementation have decreased the percent of the student population enjoying free tuition, from 20 percent in 1991, to less than a percent at present.

“STFAP has served as a smokescreen to tuition increase in UP. There is reason to worry now that CHEd plans to implement it in all SUCs,” says Palatino.

RPHER also pushes SUCs to maximize income-generating schemes, including land leases and partnerships with the private sector, with the end goal of having 22 leading SUCs that are capable of sourcing 50 percent of their budgetary requirement to internal income by 2016.

Divergent path

“Clearly, RPHER offers no new alternative for SUCs. It’s not a roadmap that would allow more students to enter college. It’s a roadmap that would prepare state schools for the government’s gradual abandonment of public higher education,” says Palatino.

With CHEd envisioning a future wherein half of the budgetary needs of SUCs come from their own income, it is highly probable that the nominal increase given by the government for SUCs will only last for a couple of years, Baguisi says. “Pagkatapos ng ilang taon, balik-budget cut na naman,” she adds.

Instead of providing a concrete reform program that would address barriers to entry to tertiary education such as prohibitive costs, RPHER will pave the way for further commercialization of higher education, continued influence of the global market, and gradual state abandonment. Instituting genuine reforms in public higher education entails providing ample and necessary provisions for state schools that would enable them to be responsive to the country’s real needs. ●

Short URL: http://www.philippinecollegian.org/?p=5796

Posted by on Sep 6 2012. Filed under Featured Story, Lathalain / Kultura. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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