University of the Philippines: drifting toward mediocrity?
By Gina Mission

From a low overall ranking of 32 among Asia’s top 50 universities to being biased against the poor, the University of the Philippines (UP) seems to catching it from all sides these days. In the words of some observers: "UP is drifting toward mediocrity."

The same observers, however, were quick to point out that UP’s downhill slide is neither an overnight consequence, nor the result of any single factor. In fact, according to Tet Maceda, coordinator of the Department of Filipino, College of Arts and Letters, UP used to rank as high as 12th in the 1980's.

In the weekly Kapihan sa Cypress, UP educators attributed its sad fate to two reasons: staff demoralization, and an allegedly ineffective president. As Professor Francisco "Dodong" Nemenzo, one of the candidates for the UP presidency, said: "Sadly, UP is losing out in comparison to other universities who have sent their faculty to UP for training."

This, Nemenzo said, is because university officials do not give support to its own faculty. As a result, there’s now an exodus, a diaspora of UP faculty.

Dr. Maris Diokno, director of the Third World Studies Center, could only think of a non-competitive salary structure as the main reason why UP's top caliber professors and other faculty members either transfer to high-paying jobs in the private sector or in other universities, or seek better employment abroad.

UP faculty members receive a starting salary of P8,000-P10,000, which falls below the poverty line bracket. In comparison, top private universities in Manila, according to Diokno, offer twice or thrice the amount for faculty members of the same standing.

" How can UP therefore strive for academic standards and get good faculty members when they are hungry?" Diokno asked.

"If you look at Ateneo or La Salle," Nemenzo said, "UP is not too far behind in terms of financial resources. But the thing is, the two have managed to stretch their resources because they put top priority in upgrading the salaries of their faculty."

In the Asiaweek survey, UP ranked 64th among Asian universities in terms of financial resources, while La Salle and Ateneo ranked 59th and 60th respectively.

What went wrong, then?

Dr. Roger Posadas, former chancellor of UP Diliman, blamed its president, Emil Javier’s "failure" for UP's lack of support to its faculty, and ergo, its falling academic standards. "Javier is a non-educator. He is not aware of the needs of UP," he said.

"A problem of wrong projects," was how Posadas aptly described UP’s case. Instead of using the money to improve the existing campuses, what Javier did, Posadas stressed, was to put up additional campuses/units, and to finance projects such as the UP Pahinungod, the Open University, and extension programs.

There are said to be two strategies in managing the financial development of state universities. One is to increase the income of the university through additional state resources or other fund-raising activities, and the other is to make operations more efficient. Posadas said that Javier failed in both strategies.

"In other words, he was trying to compete with other regional state universities," Posadas said. "Javier was more conscious of quantity rather than quality," he added.

UP was established on June 18, 1908 by virtue of Act No. 1870 to give "advanced instruction in literature, philosophy, the sciences, and arts, and professional and technical training" to every qualified student, irrespective of "age, sex, nationality, religious belief, or political affiliation."

Considered the premier state university in the country, it has seven autonomous universities – UP Diliman, UP Los Baņos, UP Manila, UP Visayas, UP Open University, UP Mindanao and UP Baguio, and operates in 11 campuses nationwide. According to its admission department, UP offers 492 graduate and undergraduate programs to more than 50,000 students.

Its faculty numbers more than 3,000, two-thirds of whom have PhD and Master's degrees. Its total faculty, research and staff personnel is 10,534, making UP the largest university system in the country.

Since 1911, UP has conferred degrees on more than 200,000 graduates, many of whom have gone on to become distinguished professionals and leaders of other major institutions in Philippine society.

In its mandated threefold function of "instruction, research and extension service," UP is committed to maintain "academic excellence" and "service to the nation." In terms of academic excellence, Nemenzo said that UP has failed to meet its mandate.

And as if reneging on its duty to excellence were not bad enough, UP also appears to be abandoning its obligation to "serve the nation." UP officials admitted that majority of its students come from the middle to upper middle-class, rather than the "underprivileged but deserving students." Findings of the Congressional Planning and Budget Office (CPBO), a think tank of the House of Representatives, showed that only 2.9 percent of students in UP belonged to the "poorest group."

Patricia Arinto, UP information director, affirmed that the country's poorest provinces and its lowest socio-economic classes are "underrepresented" in the UP student population. "More and more UP students come from urban centers and private high schools," she said. The study also said the university's Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) continued to "subsidize more than half of rich students' financial requirements."

STFAP, more popularly known as Iskolar ng Bayan program, was first implemented in UP during the first semester of 1989-1990 as a major reform designed to "democratize undergraduate student admission."

The STFAP scheme operates on the principle that rich students should pay higher fees than poorer students, who should in fact be granted subsidies. Students are classified into nine brackets based on annual family income, assets and other indicators. Those in Brackets 1 to 4 (with an annual income of up to P80,000 in Metro Manila) are exempted from paying any fees and even receive monthly subsidies.

The CPBO study showed that 75 per cent of UP Diliman's 19,320 students last year belonged to Bracket 9 of the STFAP. In contrast, only 2.9 percent were classified as the poorest belonging to Brackets 1 to 4.

Students making up ''Bracket 9'' are classified by the STFAP as the richest economic grouping whose annual family income is not less than P250,000 in Metro Manila and P212,000 in the rural areas.

Under STFAP, students in this bracket still get subsidies from the state. The average cost of UP undergraduate courses is at least P26,000/year, but these students pay only around P12,000/year, a situation the CPBO found scandalous, resulting to "the state subsidizing the rich."

''Admission at the UP is based on merit, but its priority for subsidy is supposed to be the equally-talented but poorer students,'' the CPBO said.

However, the CPBO noted, a large proportion of students who enter UP, especially the Diliman and Manila campuses, are from middle and upper middle-class families who "studied in high-standard, expensive private high schools which have given them better preparation for the highly competitive UP College Admissions Test (UPCAT).''

"The public secondary school system cannot produce many talented graduates who can compete with graduates of the elite private schools," the CPBO added.

In fairness, Arinto revealed that UP is trying to address this disparity with its 1997 Excellence-Equity Admission System (EAAS) which sought to "democratize access to UP education without compromising the University's tradition of excellence."

The idea is get more poor students and those from underrepresented regions into UP to make the student composition "more representative of the national population."

This is done by "increasing the number of UPCAT testing centers, conducting UPCAT preparation programs in the most depressed high schools, and increasing the number of qualifiers from underrepresented province and low income groups."

Under the EAAS, 70 percent of qualifiers every year are ranked on the basis of their University Predicted Grade (UPG), regardless of gender, income class, high school type and provincial origin. The UPG is computed by combining the applicant's high school grades and the UPCAT score.

Arinto disclosed that with EAAS, the number of UP qualifiers from Luzon, excluding Metro Manila, substantially increased from 28 per cent to 39 per cent of the total entrants from 1992 to 1998, while the entrants from Mindanao increased from 12 per cent to 13 per cent. There was also a significant increase in the number of students from public high schools representing the lower income classes, from 3,774 to 5,167.

Still, a report published recently in the UP Newsbriefs said 41 per cent of UP applicants, qualifiers and students come from the National Capital Region (NCR) despite the fact that only 15 per cent of the country's high school graduates come from the NCR. Moreover, only 33 per cent of the UP population come from public high schools despite the fact that 60 per cent of high school graduates in the country come from public schools.

What all these figures mean, according to Nemenzo, is that the EAAS failed to truly address the problem. "The increase of entrants from places outside NCR that Arinto referred to could probably be explained in the substantial increase of UP’s general population," he explained.

Because it’s usually the middle class and upper class students who pass UPCAT, ''UP has adversely selected, though unintentionally, those who do not need subsidy,'' said the CPBO.

The CPBO also cautioned that this trend could be true not only of UP, but also of all state universities and colleges (SUCs), considering that many school children, even those in the elementary and high school levels, are forced to drop out in the middle of the school year.

''It is the relatively well-off students who get to enter college, and some of them would be enrolled in SUCs,'' the CPBO said.

In 1998, UP campuses alone took up 27 percent of the P3.76-billion Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) budget for the country's state universities and colleges. But as Gabriela-Youth said, "the fact remains that only one out of five UP students come from public schools."

UP student representatives present at the Cypress forum revealed that since 1983, tuition fees have increased up to 2,000 per cent. The daily minimum wage, however, didn’t even triple since then, according to Nemenzo. The purchasing power of the peso, on the other hand, continue to slide down as the country went through last year’s Asian financial crisis, and more recently, a series of oil price increases.

Amidst tuition fee hikes that plagued the country’s educational system, and the growing protests against it, DECS Secretary Andrew Gonzales advised parents to send their children to public schools if quality private schools proved to be unaffordable.

Congressman Mike Defensor, however said, that of the total schools in the tertiary level, only 25 per cent are public schools. The other 75 per cent are private.

CyberDyaryo | 1999.06.10