Budget secretary’s ”carrot and stick” approach to education scored

“Tertiary education is really a privilege.” – Budget Secretary Florencio Abad

By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — As student and grassroots organizations gear for more big protests against the railroading of the 2012 Budget, a professor of the University of the Philippines (UP) slammed what she termed as a “carrot and stick lecture” of a ranking official of the administration of Benigno Aquino III to administrators of state colleges and universities. She said the government continues to betray its mandate to prioritize education as a public service.

Professor Judy M. Taguiwalo of the UP College of Social Work and Community Development in Diliman said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad has exposed his low regard for SUCs.Taguiwalo’s criticism of the budget secretary took off from Abad’s statement reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s November 14 story that “Tertiary education is really a privilege” and given this “ spending money on state colleges must be directed to top-performing institutions. “

In an audience with SUC officials in the Cordillera and the Ilocos region, Abad said school officials should survey and profile their students. Through this survey , he said, schools could determine if they are really serving the poor in the provinces. If not, Abad said, these SUCs should initiate “reforms.” If they do not initiate reforms, the government will no longer invest in these SUCs. By “reforms,” Abad meant instituting measures to generate more funds such as tuition increases.

He added that the government has a limited fund for education and this has prompted it to put together a new policy regarding tertiary education.

According to Abad, gathering empirical data to illustrate how state schools actually serve “their intended clientele” will enable the SUCs to determine which of them could serve as regional universities instead of being state-run. He also said the government has to select state schools with skilled faculty and equipment to promote courses best suited for priority industries.

He named these priority industries as business process outsourcing (BPO), electronics and semiconductors, agriculture, infrastructure and tourism.

Education remains a privilege

Taguiwalo said Abad’s statement contradicts Article XIV, Section 1 of the Philippine Constitution which states “the State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”

“But it is not just the clear failure of Abad, who keeps reminding us that he was Education secretary, to uphold the constitutional provision on education at all levels as a right. It is his low regard for state universities and colleges and their role in ensuring access to quality tertiary education,”she said.

Based on the Commission on Higher Education data as of August 2010, there are only 110 state universities and colleges (57 universities, 53 colleges) out of a total 607 public higher education institutions in the country.

“Contrast this with the 1,573 private higher education institutions. Higher education is still dominated by private education institutions and 110 state universities and colleges are not sufficient to meet the demands for tertiary education in the country,”she pointed out.

Taguiwalo also said enrollment in public higher institutions in 2008-2009 was 1,083, 194 while enrollment in private higher institutions is 1, 687,771 for the same academic year based on the most current posting on the CHED website. She added that public tertiary education institutions take in an average of 1,785 freshmen students per year while the private institutions enroll 1,073 students

“The figures clearly show the demand for public higher institutions relative to private tertiary universities and colleges.The problems of the quality of state universities and colleges and the accessibility to poor students are problems that need to be addressed by the state,”she said.

Education as a business

The educator said Abad made a threat directed to the administrators of SUCs’ when he told them that “If you don’t show reform, then there will no longer be appetite in the government to invest in the SUCs.” Taguiwalo said that by saying this, Abad failed to acknowledge the key role of the central government in the dismal state of education in the country today.

“Budget allocation to state universities and colleges are below what is necessary for maintaining the operations of the institutions much more for upgrading the quality of teaching and support personnel and school facilities. Annual reductions in the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and zero capital outlay (CO) have forced all SUC administrations to embark on income-generating projects including the imposition of higher student tuition and other fees. SUC administrators now have to become business managers on top of their principal role as academic leaders. Increased student fees have made it more difficult for qualified but poor students to enroll and stay in SUCs even with scholarships which have usually complicated eligibility requirements,” she said.

Taguiwalo also found issue with Abad’s insistence on emphasizing on the need to improve basic education, “As if improving the quality of and access to higher education is at the expense of basic education. Both are necessary but the Aquino-Abad proposed 2012 GAA clearly have priorities such as public-private partnership, dole-outs in the guise of the CCT other than education, health and other social services,”she said.

According to the UP professor, Abad’s insistence on promoting and funding universities offering courses on the supposed “key industries” like BPO and tourism clearly shows the international market-oriented development thrust that the Aquino administration is continuing.

She explained that in the Aquino government’s education scheme, courses are to be funded which fulfill the demand of the foreign market and of foreign corporations.

She also said the government has no appreciation of the role of state universities and colleges in adhering to the Constitutional provision that education should inculcate patriotism and nationalism, foster love of humanity, respect for human rights, appreciation of the role of national heroes in the historical development of the country, teach the rights and duties of citizenship, strengthen ethical and spiritual values, develop moral character and personal discipline, encourage critical and creative thinking, broaden scientific and technological knowledge, and promote vocational efficiency” .

“Secretary Abad’s approach to public higher education institutions and their role in the economic development of the country is what Henry Giroux in his ‘Beyond the Limits of Neoliberal Higher Education: The Global Youth Resistance and the American/British Divide’ calls the ‘economic model of subservience’ – a model where “there is no future for young people, there is no time to talk about advancing social justice, addressing social problems, promoting critical thinking, cultivating social responsibility, or engaging non-commodified values that might challenge the neoliberal world view,” she protested. “This is unacceptable.”

A dangerously inaccurate budget

In the meantime, in relation to the country’s budget woes, another UP professor, Leonor Magtolis Briones said lawmakers have failed to make a final review of the macroeconomic assumptions of the budget and make the necessary adjustments and Congress is now about to ratify a budget measure that was “dangerously inaccurate.”

“The passing of the proposed budget is not realistic because it is not responsive to recent realities of national and global developments,” she said. She said the budget proposed by the Palace and presented to Congress by the Department of Budget and Management was supposedly premised on a “stable macroeconomic environment” which is not the case now.

“The macroeconomic assumptions which form the basis of the 2012 proposed budget were formulated during the first quarter of 2011. Since then many unsettling events in the economy have occurred in the succeeding months. The recurring question is “What are the effects of current global developments, especially in the U.S. and Europe, on the GDP forecast for 2012?,” Briones said.

She said the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) in its briefing of senators last Oct. 12 cited no changes in the forecasts for inflation, foreign exchange rates, and Dubai crude oil for this year and the coming year.

“The assumptions for the domestic and foreign interest rates, imports and exports growth for 2011 and 2012, however, were lowered on account of the weak external environment. The DBCC also noted that the revised real GDP growth for 2011, at 4.5-5.5 percent, is now expected to be lower than the five to six percent growth assumption that was approved by the DBCC in July 2011. This was ascribed to the weaker than expected performance of the Philippine economy in the first half of 2011 because of the external global shocks as well as domestic issues, particularly the fiscal under spending of the government,” she said. ()

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