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An assessment of the University of the Philippines and Philippine higher education, circa 1947!

I was digging through my lolo's Rizaliana, Quezoniana and UPiana when I came across a copy of a convocation lecture given by Professor Harley Harris Bartlett of the University of Michigan. Bartlett was a noted botanist and scholar of Southeast Asia. He was invited by the University of the Philippines to reasssess the status of the UP and Philippine higher education. The lecture entitled "The Status of the University of the Philioppines and of Higher Education in the Philippines" was given on the occassion of the first year anniversary of the Republic of the Philippines. The context of the speech was in the post war devastation faced by the UP and higher education.

Bartlett asks the questions: Has the UP gained? or lost ground?

Bartlett's important points include:

  • The UP is essential to the Republic. If the university fails, then the Republic fails in part. The University exists to provide leaders for the nation.
  • The future of a democracy rests on a large part on an equitable access to free public education.
  • The University is the summit of this education system.
  • The rich by not giving generously to public education shows that it does not affirm its faith to democratic ideals.
  • The sectarian universities and colleges with high teaching standards like UST,Silliman and Ateneo de Manila perform the important task of supplementing UP's work. They shouldn't be considered as UP's competitors.
  • He notes that the UP was also facing competition from private schools whose standards were at best questionable. These schools for profit according to Bartlett, "should not have been given the right to confer degrees". These schools are styles as "universities"but really are not. The danger is that if these schools replace public education, then the profit motive will be entrenched leading to escalation of tuition fees.
  • The UP should function as a national university that will give and grade all exams leading to academic degrees.
  • Since private schools offer substantially higher salaries than UP, the University was losing its professors.
  • The University of the Philippines should focus on granting higher degrees and research. Unless the UP does this then the Philippines will have a shortage of professionals needed in building a nation. The only exception is that the country will have an excess of lawyers! That will be a calamity, according to Professor Bartlett.

Bartlett's closing paragraph is

"No other education can replace public education, and the system must be complete from top to bottom. It must not be cut off anywhere or in between. It must be usefully supplemented by any schools, private,religious or what not as long they coordinate their efforts with the public system. And the pyramid of your system,must continue to be , in the future as it has been in the past, capped by your own University of the Philippines. If it endures,free and untrammeled,for the diffusion and increase of knowledge, the Philippines will have its best chance of maintaining a secure place in world affairs."

Blackshama's comments

It seems we really haven't learned. Even in 1947 the seeds of our troubles in the higher education system had already been present. UP is also at fault. Granted that it faced decreasing state appropriation even in 1947, it should have taken steps to blunt that by seeking endowments and by keeping its development focus. Also, government laxity in granting higher education status to undeserving schools had been present in 1947. Regulations were ignored and these schools were essentially "autonomous" Shades of CHED!

Bartlett's idea that private education should supplement not replace public education never happened. What happened instead is that private education replaced public education leading to increased market demand resulting in outrageous fees. The public education system is not immune. The UP's 20K per semester tuition is a prime example.

What Bartlett did not anticipate is the whole kaboodle of state colleges and "universities" that were established after 1947. The standards of some of these universities are even worse than that he noted in the private schools of 1947.

Lastly the convocation was sponsored by the University Student Council. There was a time when the USC can really engage in substantial debate.

Bartlett should be read by loyal UP alums for the University centennial before they sing "UP ang galing mo!". None of the centennial lecturers ever alluded to his convocation lecture. This may show the poor state of academic research in the university that was noted by Bartlett in 1947.

More importantly students,professors and administrators of private schools should read it since it also involves them. CHED officials should really read it.


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