THE guest speakers were really quite good. Derek Muller, a physics educator who masterminds Veritasium on YouTube in teaching natural science to all comers, stressed that there are no “revolutions” in education, despite dramatic changes in educational technology, just evolution; ultimately nothing beats the importance of the great teacher. Sarah Stein Greenberg confirmed Muller’s basic thesis, but fascinated the educators present with her successful methods of nurturing innovation at the offbeat Stanford “D. School” – design school. It midwives future innovators through design thinking and radical collaboration on big projects – like a group of her students who responded to the desperate situation of poor mothers and their premature babies in Nepal by designing an alternative and affordable incubator that actually saves lives.
The two talks teased the 700 educators assembled by the Philippines Business for Education (PBED) at SMX Taguig last Thursday with possibilities of evolution or re-design of higher education in the Philippines were it not strangled by governmental over-regulation and control. Among the possibilities mulled were students declaring life missions that determine their college learning experience instead of staid disciplinal majors, and entire higher education institutions (HEIs) focusing on such courses as wealth generation to fight poverty or the challenges of disaster risk reduction. On the other hand, the importance sine qua non of the effective teacher could not be overstressed.
But the main achievement of the educators, including over 300 presidents of private, state and local colleges and universities, was their unanimous agreement on a “memorandum” addressed to the forthcoming batch of elected national and local officials and legislators enumerating their shared concerns for higher education in the Philippines. Whether it be called “evolution” or “revolution,” the educators were united in the need to pull away from the current policy drift in the higher education scene through fruitful collaboration not only with a new president and national administration, but with a new crop of legislators and local government officials, all of whom bear co-responsibility for higher education in the Philippines.
First, the educators urge the crafting of a national development plan that could guide educational policy formulation over various rounds of elected administrations till 2050. With rapidly evolving changes on local and global scales, this must clearly be an effort of ongoing formulation and reformulation that may not be left only to politicians and bureaucrats, but must benefit eminently from contributions coming from the multi- and interdisciplinary wealth of HEIs working purposively together. The serious participation of higher academe in national planning and direction setting – especially on thorny issues such as the human welfare of our diverse ethnic populations, religious diversity, the economy, population, poverty, exclusion, extremism, the environment, commerce, technology, human well-being – may lead the way to higher education’s autonomous and innovative contribution in academic freedom to national and global development.
In view of the national wealth, the influence of the higher education community on a long-term national plan, its goals, and its status of implementation, must exceed that of the lapdog wagging its tail to a given current administration. Higher education after all is preeminently about truth, not revenue, performance, not favor. It bears the responsibility for academic freedom, not government regulation.
Second, the educators urge improving program quality and faculty development. They urge that higher education’s research capacity be enhanced through funding and infrastructure support, that the research function of HEIs be reinforced, and that industry investment in research be encouraged. They urge that Congress provide for a Philippine Research Agenda through vigorous collaboration between government agencies, religious and faith-based organizations, and civil society organizations. Towards quality improvement, they urge the development of national policies and regulation regarding the effective operation of HEIs, public and private.
In reflecting on the poor performance of HEIs in research over the past years, however, it is clear that the educators are not saying that throwing legislated or private money at HEIs produces robust research, and that a Philippine Research Agenda alone will provide the widespread research the country needs. Research cannot be mandated, especially if faculty members are overloaded with instructional burdens and compensated primarily on hours of instruction; it must be coaxed, supported, encouraged, and rewarded in a higher educational culture of research for which the HEIs themselves and among themselves are primarily responsible. This culture will continue to elude the higher educational community in the Philippines if the educators’ eros is in earning income through repetitive instruction, in institutional survival through deadening compliance with government regulations, and not the critical pursuit of truth in academic freedom. Without this, the HEI forfeits its reason to exist.
Third, the educators encourage institutionalizing academe-industry-government linkages. They urge that sectoral skills councils be scaled up. They urge the creation of a regulatory framework for proprietary information. While the finality of higher education is much broader than jobs, higher education could play a better role in preparing students for jobs if cooperation between academe and industry were improved.
Fourth, they urge rationalizing tertiary education funding. They urge that the use of existing funds for education and the implementation of relevant programs be optimized. This includes the review of the use of the Special Educational Fund and the Higher Education Development Fund (HEDF), the establishment of a needs- and merit-based framework within which public and private HEIs can enjoy equitable access to these funds, the review and revision of the current tuition fee structure of SUCs, and the amendment of regulations on loan provisions to private HEIs to expand access to higher education. They urge the review of current funding models and the review of alternative funding models. They urge the effective implementation of the Unified Financial Assistance for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) Act, which has just been approved by Congress and is now awaiting enactment into law by President Aquino.
Here, the call for “rationalizing” tertiary education is truly urgent. Where the state funds salaries of public HEIs which also earn through income generating projects and commercialization of university real assets, tuition should be abolished for poor but academically endowed students, or, for those who can afford it, cover real costs of educational delivery, not just an arbitrary counterpart. Scholarships for private HEIs must complement scholarships granted to state and local HEIs equitably. Those who patronize private HEIs must also benefit from the taxes they pay that are allocated to education.
PBED and the higher educational associations, public and private, are uniting to rescue a premature baby through “design thinking” and “radical collaboration” on the “big project” of making Philippine higher education work.