Saturday, November 13, 2010

Noynoy Aquino axes the state universities (and lops off the head of the national university)

The unpleasant reality of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III's 1.39 billion peso budget cut for next year has finally dawned on faculty, staff and students of the University of the Philippines, the Philippines' national university as defined by law. Administration officials have warned university constituents that the university will likely not hire anyone for next academic year. This includes non-academic staff (clerks, records examiners, department secretaries etc), research staff and faculty. This also means that professors who will retire at the end of this year won't be replaced by young assistant professors, research projects and programs can't hire new graduate students to work in the labs, and no new clerical staff will be hired. And we haven't even touched upon the subject of salary adjustments and promotions, which are even more likely to be cut or put on hold!

This bodes ill for the university (and a "baptism of fire" for the new university President, whose term starts in February next year), whose student population is ever increasing. For instance two professors of my department opted for early retirement since they got offers to teach overseas at  salary rates that can't be refused! Now who will replace them? We have had an extremely difficult time to attract new and young eminently qualified PhDs to staff the ranks of professors. And yet the numbers of students who are registered  or plan to register for the courses the two professors were teaching are ever increasing. This is indeed a major headache for my department chair and the dean! The two professors won't be the last. In other departments we hear of the same story, year in and year out. The university simply cannot offer decent renumeration. The title of this post has "lops off the head". I mean this to say that a university's head is as good as its professors. Without its professors, a university is no more!

Noynoy's unkind cut will further hasten the loss of professors in the university. And this is not just true for the UP, but for all the state universities in the Philippines whose budgets were cut. Former law school dean Raul Pangalanan writes in his PDI op ed column today about the value of the state university and college system (SUC). He correctly notes that all over the world, quality tertiary education cannot be covered by tuition fees alone. In the USA, from where the Philippines largely patterns its university system, private universities are the finest schools followed by the older state Us and the smaller teaching colleges. However in the so called "ivy league" schools, the alumni have provided huge endowments that the universities can manage to stay in the black. But all these have been clouded by America's seemingly unending financial crisis. The universities have to be creative in the marketing sense and they have opened off-shore campuses in Singapore and the Arab countries in the Gulf.

It is indeed true that some SUCs are below standard even by Philippine standards. It is no joke that some of these universities are no better than some National high schools run by the Department of Education. But as a whole, the SUC capabilities are increasing as they send their teachers to train at UP and other specialised state universities like the Philippine Normal University. Not a few get their degrees overseas often through development scholarships. This whole progress will be impeded if the under qualified SUCs fail to send their teachers for advanced degrees in the country or overseas. With UP's budget cut, it's ability to train teachers will be reduced.

It is also true that the UP has to streamline its offering of programs and its operations. It has to abolish duplicate programs in its constituent universities, group its colleges into "faculty clusters" similar to the system followed in British Commonwealth universities which allows for less "turfing" and more collaborative use of resources and of course be more proactive in sourcing for endowments in order to save government allocated money. These recommendations have been floated over the years (starting in the term of then UP President and now Senator Ed Angara) by various academic committees but have never been seriously considered.

The House of Representatives approved the 2011 budget without any much fuss from the opposition minority  and this includes the SUC and UP budget cuts.  The budget is now up for deliberation by the Senate. It has to be pointed out that past Congresses have refused to increase the UP allocation but have dared not cut the money. Noynoy Aquino's administration is the first one to cut the UP budget as much as 20%!

This reveals the neoliberal mindset of the Noynoy administration that will further increase inequity in education that almost guarantees poverty. Quality state tertiary education will be further out of reach by the Filipino middle classes and with the lack of scholarships, the  less affluent are even more at a disadvantage. Parents who are public servants are finding it difficult to send their kids to state universities and colleges, especially to UP, where the fees per semester could reach up to 21,000 pesos. This is way beyond the monthly pay of many public servants.

Neoliberalism will also make private education beyond the reach of the Pinoy affluent. I know of even branch managers  of the well known banks who have to take loans to send their kids to the best schools! Some of them are finding it difficult to pay for the amortization.

The time will come that the only ways to get a decent education for your kids is to win the lotto (which I hope I will!) or be elected to a political office and steal from the public coffers!


Jego said...

I think the UP undergrad programs should be scrapped to concentrate on graduate programs. Rather than seeing the quality of its undergrad education deteriorate, I'd rather see it go. It just can't compete with other colleges in terms of salaries for teaching positions. Unless of course the State allocates more subsidies to it, which means other government programs should be cut. Off the top of my head, I'd cut the military and police budget, but that's political suicide and will make Aquino the target of coups d'etat.

I also would like to cut the DepEd budget and at the same time make it easier for private individuals to put up schools -- even backyard schools -- by making basic education tax-exempt. In fact, I'd make all education tax-exempt.

That of course isnt going to happen barring some miracle. The troubles of the UP could be an opportunity for its professors though. The internet may present numerous ways for them to earn income by offering online courses outside of the UP system. The value of an undergrad degree has deteriorated in recent years, and the youth (or those spending for their education) should decide whether to spend 4 years learning something they could learn over the internet anyway, or using those same 4 years being productive. Tech and vocational degrees presents more ROI for most of our youth if one isnt concerned about the social status of a college diploma. After all, some of the richest people in the world realized early on that college was a waste of time and got out.

Ben Vallejo said...

Jego. Scrap the undergrad programs and this will mean scrapping the Fraternities and Sororities!