College subsidy for whom, for what?


It is time to review the program of subsidizing state universities and colleges. Like any government expense, school subsidies must have justification, their objectives clear and desirable, and their results measurable and proportionately beneficial to the common good.

The massive support for public school system from grade school to high school is understandable and necessary. It is not really about education per se because there is no question about the value of education. Rather, it is about giving everyone the chance to access that education, most especially the millions of young Filipinos who are too poor to afford a grade school to high school education.

When it comes to college and post-graduate studies, however, the government must review the reasons why a very small percentage of students will be able to enjoy the benefit of higher education when the rest cannot. The practice of giving scholarships or subsidized education to a few while the great majority have to struggle for the same on their own, or not have it at all, must have substantive advantages to the collective good. That is the only justification why a Filipino college student, as an exception, receives much more from the state over the vast majority who receive nothing. Why is he or she an exception? What does the state want so much that it makes an exception?

What comes across as somewhat obsolete and limiting is to use results of entrance examinations and economic status as bases for subsidized scholarships. This practice is an extension of an old tradition when benefactors choose to support the most deserving who cannot afford a college education. This has less to do with education and more about rewarding talent, or an act of charity. This is about giving a greater opportunity to the most talented over giving a chance to those who need it more. It may be true that the students who were admitted to subsidized state colleges and universities did use their education to better themselves and their families. But everyone deserves to better themselves and their families via higher education if such opportunity could be made available to them as well.

If the principle is charity, then all who want the higher education but cannot afford should have a chance at having one. With charity, those in greater need, all things being equal, should have priority. Those who have more in terms of talents should give way to those who have less and need more support.

If the principle is education more than charity, then the one with greater talent may have priority only because the state, or the collective, benefits more. Because it is the people’s money that is funding an individual’s academic progress, then the people’s needs must be served best by their choice of investment. State-subsidized education must remain focused on what its selection of scholars can do for the state more than what the scholars can do for themselves and their families. Scholars of the state are scholars of the people – their obligation is first to the state and the people, the common good over personal interest.

Because the subsidy through state colleges and universities has been a tradition that had quite colonial purposes and motivation, including charity, the present times demand for a review of the program itself. Is it still necessary to support tens of thousands over tens of millions with the money that belongs to all of them, to all of us? If so, to what end, for whose end? Definitely, the people’s money should demand a payback to the people, or to the state as representative of the people. The service of the scholar who sought and received the support of the people’s money must thereafter have the people as his or her primary beneficiary, even over his or her own interest. That is the only justification why the treasure of the people is invested on a select few – because these select few can best serve the most good to the greatest number.

I think there should be an outcry from the people who do not know how their common good is benefited from the service of those they had given special opportunity to receive what most did not. If we hear more outcry from students over increases of tuition fees, this is justifiable only if students who have been blessed by state subsidies actually have a record of doing their share of the bargain. This is debatable, of course, as there is very little, very, very little information of what the people and the country have gained from all the state-subsidized scholars and students. In contrast, there have been more information how many of these lucky scholars and students from state colleges and universities have helped themselves and their families.

We do not need more scholars, we need more patriots. We need our talented young to become the warriors for the people, not the first to use their state-sponsored development more for themselves and less, if at all, for the people. The most talented among our people, whether they can afford or not, should have other mechanisms to develop their talent further without the help of the state unless the state is able to make that help available to the majority. The companies or industries who will be in need of the more talented may be harnessed to support the most promising of our youth. Or, perhaps, a national, massive educational fund that can support the brightest through college and even post-graduate studies through student loans that will be paid once the graduate is employed.

Government scholars, though, must have a different criteria, a standard that demands service to the people ahead of service to the self or family. The state must help those who are determined to help the common good, who are committed to become models of good citizens.

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Tags: College subsidy , education , Glimpses , Jose Ma. Montelibano , opinion

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