Crisis in Philippines higher education

The numbers speak for themselves. Among all the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines, with a population of nearly 100 million, ranks the highest in terms of number of universities and colleges, or what are collectively referred to as High Education Institutions (HEIs).

According to Dr. Napoleon K. Juanillo, commissioner and head of the Office of Planning, Research and Knowledge Management under the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), as of academic year 2013-2014, there were 1,923 HEIs in the country. Out of this, 1,699 were privately-owned while the rest (224) were public or state colleges/universities. The number rose even further last year, with 1,708 private and 227 public HEIs.

Our closest rival, Indonesia, meanwhile, with a population over twice ours at 249.9 million (as of 2013), has only 191 HEIs, 114 of which are public and 77 private.

Thailand, whose economy is often compared with ours but whose population is only 67.01 million (as of 2013), accounts for only 159 HEIs, 91 of them public and 68 private. Our other neighbor, Malaysia, with a population of a mere 29.72 million (as of 2013) on the other hand, has 124 HEIs, 44 public and 80 private.

How did we end up with so many HEIs, almost all of them in private hands, and what is the impact of this phenomenon?

At the outset, it may seem right smack into the ideals of democracy that we have so many colleges and universities sprouting all over the country, giving the youth and their parents so much to choose from. What more can a people ask for than have as many options available to everyone, you might say?

But the numbers are also telling in their results:  Singapore, with only six public and no private universities plus a handful of small private colleges catering mostly to the arts, accounts for 6,927 scientists per million people (out of a population of 5.3 million), followed by Malaysia, with 1,918 scientists per million people; Thailand with 581 per million; Brunei with 181 per million (population: 418,000); Indonesia with 205 per million and Vietnam with 115 per million. The Philippines then comes next with only 81 scientists per million.

In terms of research output via publication in international peer-reviewed “Web of Science” journals from 2005 to 2014, Singapore, again with only a mere six HEIs, only four of which have Science departments, is on top with 127,687 articles published. This is followed by Malaysia (92,45); Thailand (72,953); Vietnam (16,689); Indonesia (15,407) and then the Philippines (12,376) over the same period.

So many HEIs, yet so little in terms of research output. Date like these, coming from someone like Juanillo who was personally plucked out of a comfortable existence abroad, to help address this problem, CHED has its work cut out for it. There is no doubt that the statistics paint an alarming picture. What have these 1,935 HEIs been producing when we barely make a mark in the ASEAN scene alone?

During the last three decades we have seen the sprouting of so many kinds of private colleges and universities even as politicians sponsored the establishment of state colleges and universities in their districts, both to curry favor from voting parents and young people and as a well-intentioned desire to offer education to the far reaches of the countryside.

The result has been dismal to say the least. With very little in terms of budgets to sustain research and hire the best of faculties, both these private and public HEIs began churning out work-ready graduates without regard for the full potential of so many intelligent students who could very well produce publishable research outputs had they been given the right incentives in terms of research funding, laboratories and equipment as well as the right professors and mentors to guide them through.

Never mind the private HEIs, they suffer enough from the lack of government subsidies and high taxes imposed on them, resulting in so much mediocrity and the proliferation of nothing but diploma mills.

It is in the state universities and colleges as shown by the performance of our ASEAN neighbors where so much government support should have been poured to make them rise and be at par with the rest. Instead, you have state universities offering the same courses that private universities are also offering. Consider one state university designed originally to produce the best teachers and pedagogists proudly announcing top notchers in Nursing, for example. How did such a university end up producing labor for work abroad when it should have addressed problems in teaching and publish the same in international journals?

These and many more issues facing high education in the country are making Dr. Juanillo and his fellow CHED commissioners busy these days. Fortunately, during the last three years, billions of pesos have been poured on CHED by the national government in response to the dire situation.

But the way out of the tunnel is still far. I wonder, for example, how CHED will address the issue of so many mediocre private and public HEIs short of closing them.

Source: Cebu Daily News. Date: 30 March, 2016