Fall in rankings of country’s top universities blamed on budget cuts

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — London-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Kabataan Partylist aid poor government spending on higher education is probably behind the drop in rankings of the top universities in the county.

“This may come as a disappointment, but possibly not a surprise as thousands of students recently took to the streets in protest of the government’s budget cuts in higher education,” Quacquarelli Symonds said in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report.

In the latest QS University rankings, the University of the Philippines, which ranked 314th place last year, dropped by 18 spots to 332nd. Ateneo Manila University fell from 307th last year to 360. De La Salle University and University of Santo Tomas also dropped from the 451 to 500 bracket to the 551-600 bracket and from the 551 to 600 bracket to 601+ bracket this year, respectively.

Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino said he is “saddened” with the reports but shares the same sentiment with Quacquarelli Symonds about not being surprised with the result. According to the Inquirer report, the QS surveyed 32,000 academics and 16,000 employers and considered as “largest of its kind ever conducted.”

In last year’s budget, government subsidy for state universities and colleges have decreased significantly when Aquino declared in his budget message that he is “gradually reducing the subsidy to SUCs to push them toward becoming self-sufficient and financially independent, given their ability to raise income and to utilize it for their programs and projects.”

Students have launched nationally coordinated campaigns against the budget cuts on higher education that prompted the Aquino administration to deny that there were indeed budget cuts. The same story goes in this year’s budget cuts on state universities and colleges.

Palatino said the metaphor which President Benigno S. Aquino III used in a recent press briefing, likening his love life to Coca-cola, which comes in regular, light and zero variants, would most likely apply to the budget allocation of his administration to higher education, particularly on the state universities and colleges’s capital outlay funding. He said that in past, SUCs enjoyed “regular” budget for their capital outlay. Under former president Gloria Arroyo, SUCs had “light” budget and “zero” under Aquino. Budget for capital outlay is essential, Palatino said, because it is used to procure much need facilities for laboratories, classrooms, among others.

SUCs budget

According to the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges, state universities and colleges need as much as $1.08 million for their operations. Yet, the 2012 appropriations bill has no promising changes in sight. The government, instead, approved only $517.59 million or reduced by $13.57 million from last year’s allotment.

The worst budget cut goes to the University of the Philippines, which has been reduced by $4.92 million. The following are other state universities and colleges that had the worst budget cuts are as follows:

1. Mariano Marcos State University P45,419,000 ($1.07 million)
2. Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University P44,419,000 ($1.05 million)
3. Technological University of the Philippines P36,860,000 ($871,561)
4. Catanduanes State Colleges P23,069,000 ($545,470)
5. Bicol University P19,383,000 ($458,314)
6. Camarines Norte State College P13,380,000 ($316,372)
7. Philippine Normal University P12,835,000 ($303,486)
8. Mindanao University of Science and Technology P12,273,000 ($290,197)
9. Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology P11,805,000 ($279,131)

Personal services of 58 state universities and colleges, too, have suffered a big cut, with a total of $9.53 million. Kabataan Partylist, in a statement, said the Department of Budget Management removed the allocations for unfilled positions and placed it to the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund.

“This puts in uncertainty the funds that used to be utilized by SUCs to pay the salaries of non-regular faculty and other contractual employees,” Kabataan Partylist said in a statement, “The practice was SUCS were given full control of the funds, even for the salaries of employees yet to be hired, and the savings from which SUCs are able to augment such extra but necessary expenses in other operations.”

About 45 state universities and colleges, on the other hand, would suffer cuts with an aggregate amount of $6.08 million in their maintenance and other operating expenses.

Privatization

In President Benigno Aquino III’s Philippine Development Plan 2011 – 2016, Kabataan Partylist said the “general framework of the government toward public higher education, as with other social and economic services, is privatization.”

To cope with the continuing budget cuts of the Philippine government on state universities and colleges, school administrators are “increasingly relying on internally-generated income in order to finance their operations.”

The declining number of state universities and colleges have resulted to over 80 percent of Filipino youth who could not access tertiary education or even technical vocational schools, said Kabataan Parytlist. State universities, on the other hand, have services that are being privatized such as dormitories, food, transportation and maintenance services.

According to Kabataan Partylist, the share of government subsidy in the operations of state universities and colleges have been reduced from 90 percent in 2000 to 65.58 percent in 2012. “This shifting of burden is evident in the increasing rate of tuition in state universities,” the youth group said, citing Bicol University, Philippine Normal University and the University of the Philippines that have increased their tuition fee from P9 ($0.21) to P175 ($4.14) per unit, P10 ($0.24) to P50 ($1.18) per unit and P300 ($7) to P1,500 ($35) per unit, respectively.

At the Rizal Technological University, its school president Jesus Rodrigo Torres said, increasing tuition fees as of this time is not the solution to their problem. He said most, if not all their students come from poor families, with parents working either as tricycle drivers or construction workers. Today, he said, the school is forced to shut down lights even when there are classes to save electricity. They also have nowhere to go when it comes to maintaining their classrooms and make sure that it is conducive for learning.

“How are we going to do our duties to give services to the poor through education if we do not have sufficient budget?” Torres said in a press conference organized by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

With the continuing cuts on the budget for public higher education, Palatino said, the Philippine higher education would turn into nothing but a big joke. He said there would surely be an “outburst” among the youth who are seemingly not recognized under the present administration. “A crisis is not far at hand,” he added.

Wake up call

With the current situation, Palatino said, now is the time to overhaul the higher education system, both private and public universities and colleges. He said for a long time, higher education has been dominated by private institutions that are being run as a business enterprise. “It has turned into a profit-making institution instead of providing services.”

“Decrease government subsidy and increase in tuition fee will not translate to higher quality in education,” Palatino said. Even John O’Leary, an advisory board member of the Quacquarelli Symonds, said in an Inquirer report that state-funded universities in countries such as Germany, Japan and South Korea have remained in the top bracket because its government is investing in education. “The contrary has happened to countries that have less,” the report read.

“… Countries that have cut funding for higher education have seen a gradual decline in the international standing of their universities,” O’Leary said in the report.

Palatino, for his part, added that the imperative of increasing the budget for higher education is more than just because of the rankings. “It is more of the direct link of higher education to national progress,” he said, “Higher education is a specialized knowledge that could give way for the country’s industry through manpower and intellectual outputs.”

Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan, called on the House of Representatives to realign funds from debt servicing, Aquino’s Conditional Cash Transfer and the budget for military and intelligence funds. In a press conference in the senate, he said, government should put its money where the real intelligence is, in state universities and colleges.

The call of the youth organizations is being supported by San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito and neophyte congressmen, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III in the Senate and Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo. At the very least, Pimentel said, he will work on restoring the P573.96 million budget cut from last year’s allotment.

To show their fiery protest on the impending budget cuts on public higher education, Crisostomo said, various youth and student organizations will hold a week-long nationwide campus strike from September 19 to 23. “We will stop holding classes and close the schools.

This is in defiance of a government that chose to abandon education in favor of corruption, foreign and military spending. We will barricade the school gates for several days so that many may still be able to access and afford education in the future,” he said. ()

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