UP administration, students scoff at Abad’s justification for SUC budget

“If we are given a zero budget, would that mean that we would land in the top position?” UP student regent Krissy Conti told bulatlat.com, adding that Malacañang should not compare the University of the Philippines with other private universities that are profit-oriented.

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — For a few weeks now, students across the country have been holding protest actions condemning the proposed budget cuts on state universities and colleges. The Aquino administration has repeatedly denied that there are cuts in the budget for SUCs. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad claims that the budget for SUCs increased from $540.1 million to $594.8 million, which is broken down into $537.8 million for the core budget of SUCs, $45.6 million to fill up vacancies lumped under the Miscellaneous and Personnel Benefit Fund (MPBF), and $11.4 million allotted to the Committee on Higher Education to align the curriculum of SUCs to available jobs.

“We do not know where Abad got his figures. But even if it is true, it is still a far cry from the P45 billion that we are asking for and the allotment for the capital outlay remains zero,” University of the Philippines student regent Krissy Conti told Bulatlat.com.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad also said a higher budget for SUCs does not necessarily translate to a higher quality of education citing the Quacquarelli Symonds world university report where the University of the Philippines (UP) still fared better than other private universities.

“Note the recent international survey where the well-funded Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University and UST (University of Santo Tomas) fared worse than the underfunded UP,” Abad said in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report.

Other stakeholders in the issue, however, think otherwise.

Prof. Danilo Arao, assistant to the vice president for Public Affairs and director of System Information Office of UP, said in an interview with bulatlat.com that Abad’s view may be one way of looking at it. “But how much more if we are given our sufficient budget?”

“If you look at the grand scheme of things, we rank 62 in Asia and is way behind worldwide,” Arao said. He added that UP should not be compared to other private universities because it is a “national university” by virtue of its charter.

Furthermore, while the tuition of UP is still the lowest among higher education institutions offering quality education, it still is way beyond the capacity of the poor majority. Republic Act 9500 or the Act to Strengthen the University of the Philippines as the National University provides that “the State shall promote, foster, nurture, and protect the right of all citizens to accessible quality education.”

“If we are given a zero budget, would that mean that we would land in the top position?” UP student regent Krissy Conti told bulatlat.com, adding that Malacañang should not compare the University of the Philippines with other private universities that are profit-oriented.

Mandate

As a “national university,” UP should “lead in setting academic standards and initiating innovations in teaching, research, and faculty development in philosophy, the arts and humanities, the social sciences, the professions and engineering, natural sciences, mathematics and technology; and maintain centers of excellence in such disciplines and professions.”

Arao said since much is expected from the university, it needs a sufficient budget to carry out and fulfill these expectations. The University of the Philippines is currently operating on a $132.7 million budget, after last year’s biggest budget cut amounting to $31.52 million. This year, UP administrators and students demanded for a $387.42 million budget but, according to the proposed National Expenditure Program under deliberations in the 15th Congress, only $127.87 is allotted to UP, which is $4.92 million lower than its present budget.

If the trend will continue, Arao said he doubts if UP could still carry out what its mandate dictates. He added that the $387.42 million budget is not “padded” and was “seriously studied” by the university to make sure that the quality of education, in its seven constituent units, would not be compromised.

“We don’t want to hire deans and administrators who are gauged for their leadership skills according to their ability to raise funds for our projects,” Arao said, citing the many instances where they are forced to hold fund raising projects to finance their events. He added that sufficient funding in state universities like the University of the Philippines would translate to bigger chances for administrators, professors, and students to harness their potential.

He added that under the present UP administration, raising tuition and other fees or limiting the number of students should not be an option. The same thing applies to the Philippine General Hospital, which is part of the UP system, under its Manila campus. “It is not that PGH is a burden but it underscores the need to provide medical access to poor indigents through sufficient funding.”

Arao said the small budget allocation for state universities and colleges has forced the University of the Philippines to resort to “belt tightening measures” this year. “We are surviving somehow but this is not tenable,” he said.

Similar to other state universities and colleges, the University of the Philippines also do not have a budget for capital outlay, which is very much needed to acquire laboratory equipment and facilities. Arao said the University of the Philippines needs to renovate and improve the facilities in its campuses in Palo, Leyte and in Baler, Aurora.

UP College of Mass Communication Graduate Students Association, for its part, added that “affordable and quality education must be accessible from basic to tertiary education, not only because it is mandated by the Constitution, but also because education is a human right.”

QS findings

According to the London-based Quacquarelli Symonds, “Countries that have cut funding for higher education have seen a gradual decline in the international standing of their universities.”

QS, which started in 2004, has produced its World University Rankings report that ranks top universities worldwide. It uses six indicators: academic reputation (worth 40% of the point score used to determine a university’s rank), employer reputation (10%), faculty student ratio (20%), citations per faculty (20%), the number of international faculty members (5%), and the number of international students (5%).

In the Philippines, the University of the Philippines, which ranked 314th place last year, dropped by 18 levels 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 respectively.

The group also said “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.”

QS believes that higher investments could lead to higher rankings.

“Quality education is influenced by the quality of teachers, the quality of infrastructure and equipment, and ultimately, the quality of the students. This is where underfunding matters most,” UP student regent Conti said, “Secretary Butch Abad should know this by now. Teachers need to feed themselves, the school buildings have to stay up, the laboratories need to be well-stocked, and the students have to pay jeep and train fares to get to school. This is exacerbated by inequitable funding.”

In a World Bank study, titled “The Challenge of Establishing World Class Universities,” government spending on tertiary education is seen as an essential factor in securing top-notch quality.

“Today, however, it is unlikely that a world-class university can be rapidly created without a favorable policy environment and direct public initiative and support, if only because of the high costs involved in setting up advanced research facilities and capacities,” the study read.

The Commission on Higher Education, for its part, admitted in a report that the budget cut is one of the main factors why the rank of the University of the Philippines slid down. “Although this does not reflect the condition of education and the performance our schools as a whole, this should serve as a wake up call.” Julito Vitriolo, CHED executive director, said.

Vitriolo urged the Philippine government to “consider this development,” adding that it shows how the University of the Philippines was affected by the cuts. He said CHED is in the forefront in opposing the budget cuts on SUCs during the budget deliberation in the House of Representatives.

Support to students

“It is easy to say that the 10,000 students who missed classes last week were noisy and pesky brats; even easier to call them lousy students and flunkies,” Conti said, referring to Malacañang’s Abigail Valte’s statement that students who are protesting should just “focus on their studies.”

Conti added that if they would be like some people who measure their intelligence by the book, “we would have never noticed how injudicious the system is.”

“Our progressive education and our society are training us for lifelong learning, and how we wish President Noynoy Aquino, Secretary Abad and Ms Valte were prepared as well,” Conti said.

Unlike the previous administrations, where school officials and student organizations could not agree on their stand against budget cuts on higher education, last week’s protests have shown otherwise. Arao said “in a subjective level, past administrations seemed allergic to student activism. But now we have administrators who are either student activists or sympathizers.” But most of all, he said university administrators full supports the fight of the students for a sufficient budget because “(students) are the ones who are directly affected.”

Correlation

Abad added that the $517.59 million budget for state universities and colleges for next year is not feasible. “If we gave all agencies their maximum budget, the total budget will go past P2 trillion ($46.5 billion), which is way beyond what we can afford,” Abad said in a report.

Youth and student organizations, however, have called on the government to realign funds from debt servicing, Aquino’s Conditional Cash Transfer and the budget for military and intelligence funds. In a recent press briefing, Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan, said the government should put its money where the real intelligence is, in state universities and colleges.

“There is no such thing as ‘overspending’ in education. High investment in education has correlation with the country’s progress,” Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino told Bulatlat.com. He added that it is the mandate of state universities and colleges to provide courses that may be unpopular to many Filipinos but is largely needed for a sustainable national industry, such as agriculture.

Conti, however, said that at present, the country has no goals nor a sound philosophy for education. “The government has no vision for this country; we lack a national industrialization framework.” She said that one of the reasons is how the country regards education “like a commodity, hawked like property.”

Kabataaan Partylist filed its proposed amendments to the 2012 budget, citing the need to double the allocations provided to state universities and colleges.

The House has approved the P1.816-trillion budget ($42.2 billion) for 2012. It has yet to be approved by the Senate. The students, on October 4, will take to the streets again and march to the senate office in Pasay City as the budget deliberation is scheduled to begin. ()

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