Sunday, February 27, 2011

Goodbye UP High. But really it is hello commercialization hello!

The University of the Philippines high school department (now known as the UP Integrated School) will be moved from its Katipunan Road site on the periphery of the Diliman campus to near the UP College of Education.

The move has been talked about for years. Katipunan Road over the decades has been turned into an extremely busy highway and students have been in real danger of being run over (and indeed some have and a few have been fatal). Just for this reason alone, moving the school nearer to the university academic core is most sensible.

However the site has sentimental reasons to generations of old UPIS grads. But a cursory look at the campus would suggest that time has done its work and a new building on a new site is best. But the University of the Philippines had not much the funds to rehabilitate the buildings (the "new" building is 35 years old!) and so any talk of relocation or renovation was just that talk.

And here comes Ayala Corporation, just fresh from putting up the Technohub (a.k.a. call center wonderland) on the Commonwealth north end of the campus. Ayala in early 2010 presented an unsolicited bid to develop the Katipunan site into a mixed use commercial, office and retail complex. The Board of Regents (BOR) thumbed it down saying a development plan must be submitted first. However the BOR had long accepted the principle of converting the site into what Ayala intended. After a bidding participated by two other well known developers and,Ayala Land, Ayala won the bid. It will spend 3 B PhP to develop the site while allocating 100 million for the new UPIS building.

However some quarters in the UP community have voiced concern about Ayala's alleged monopsonical relationship with UP. You can read all about this here and it is connected with UPIS. If Ayala is a monopsony vis a vis UP, then whatever UP academics and researchers produce as part of their academic entrepreneurship responsibilities, then Ayala is the first to buy and the only to buy, and so can discriminate prices.

R Kwan Laurel in "Philippine Cultural Disasters" notes that UP has "danced with the devil" with temptations of late capital and slams the academic entrepreneurship paradigm. It was the Marxist UP President Dodong Nemenzo  while following materialist logic that "technology is salvation", realized the technocratic dream of having UP tie up with capitalists while renting its real estate assets. However it must be noted that in the Philippines and that whoever is the capitalist, be it Ayala or someone else, the closing of business deals is always within the context of rent seeking. Surely Ayala's alleged monopsonical practices with UP falls smack into a rent seeking mango basket!

Kwan Laurel states that UP is enamored by Ayala since it is a technological leader, has the cleanest image among the big corporations and did not get involved with Marcos crony capitalism. Kwan Laurel adds that Ayala protected itself from Marcos' dismantling of old oligopolies (to be replaced by crony new ones) by partnering with multinational capital. This allowed it to be an industry leader in technology in the 1990s to the present. But Kwan Laurel adds, this technology cannot be apolitical.

This is where the transfer of UPIS has to be seen, despite the pangs of sentiment, nostalgia and pragmatism. The context of this move cannot be separated from contentious issues being discussed in the UP and the rest of the Philippine education sector. Almost 75% percent of education is provided by private entities and they in a hypercapitalist system can drive up tuition fee rates and they have. This is whilst keeping wages low hence the perennial complaints of education generators a.k.a. teachers, while the education providers a.k.a. schools, colleges and universities, pocket the profits. Now under an academic entrepreneurship paradigm, the capitalist technology provider will share in the profits and under the model that UP operates now, is about 40%, Much of the knowledge generators will be the students who are after that piece of paper. Since UP is now a research university, the graduate students and PhDs will be the major generators of this knowledge. A monopsonical relationship will not ensure that the benefits of this new knowledge will be directed to the mass of Filipinos in terms of job generation which is made possible by a level business playing field and encouraging small to mid sized enterpreneurship. In fact the new knowledge is likely to be exported and given the structural defects of the Philippine economy (largely we never had a real economic and opportunities redistribution) and an servile kowtow to neoliberal capitalism, the benefits won't trickle that much.

My thesis is that the paradigm of academic entrepreneurship has eaten into the nationalist identity and ethos of the UP. You can read it  all about it in my recent blog post on the RGEP. As I have pointed out, the UPIS and its educational tradition is not separate from that of the UP. It is nationalist while ensuring that graduates are able to enter university well equipped with the critical thinking skills. The UPIS is the most exclusive high school in the country and the alums know that. There is no high school in the Philippines that puts a premium on love for country and people and that is the main reason that alums sing the University hymn with defiant pride. Since the BOR and various UP academic reform committees have been considering turning UPIS over to DepEd (remember the  post EDSA 1986 joke that UPIS will be renamed as KRIS, Katipunan Road Integrated School?), this have come to naught leading one UP president to note that "it is amazing that the graduates could be so fiercely loyal to their high school". However the UP has succeeded in cutting down the allocation for UPIS. It is now more of a lab school than anything else.

Nonetheless, basic education (indeed all of education) in the Philippines is now determined by market forces and much of that is determined from overseas. This has resulted in the sprouting up of gadzillions (pardon the exaggeration, but Prof  Felipa Tintero taught us that it was a necessary literary device!) of "international schools" and for nursing grads, market forces have forced them to pay hospitals up to 100K for an internship! As education becomes dearer, a UPIS which can just provide a quality education to a few kids just because UP won't pay for it, is abhorrent to me.

UPIS wherever it may be on the site of Narra dorm or anywhere on the campus, must be able to provide more chances for the bright, qualified and less privileged kids to get a quality education that will prepare them for university. C'mon, our Blue Eagle friends led by Father Ben Nebres have come up with a "Pathways" program. UP High has been traditionally something like that! And come to think of it, as time passes, the kids of government employees become more and more less privileged.

The construction of the new UPIS (which I jokingly call as the UP-AYALA Technohigh!) on a new site will seal the future of the school. It is unlikely that an academically entrepreneurial UP system will invest more on a basic education unit. It is time to throw the question to the new UP President Mr Fred Pascual. What is your plan for UPIS? (and the rest of UP basic education at UPLB, UP Visayas and UP Cebu?) The whole issue cannot be separated with the Noynoy administration plan to put another 2 years to basic education. It can't be separated from the spineless neoliberalism of this presidential administration.

UP tuition fees are now 21 K a sem, to the shock of many alums. We can't separate this from the fate of UPIS. But given the animated discussion in the UPIS "Goodbye UP High" Facebook group, there is hope. The alums even if nostalgic have questioned the rationale of all of this. And this will pay tribute too to the former residents of Narra dorm, of whom many are nationalists and "pasaway"!

BENJAMIN VALLEJO JR PhD
College of Science, University of the Philippines
UPIS Class of 1984

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