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The university of the others

/ 12:14 AM December 29, 2016

Recently, in a chat with some college students in Puerto Princesa, the conversation turned to their plans after graduation. Knowing that I am a medical graduate of the University of the Philippines, one of them asked: “Is it true that in some companies in Manila, they will not even look at your resumé if you’re not from UP or Ateneo?”

Her question is a stark reminder that, at least in the eyes of some companies, not all universities are equal. In 2013, the National Statistical Coordination Board reported that graduates of UP, Ateneo de Manila, and De La Salle earn more and spend less time applying for jobs compared to graduates of other schools.

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Perhaps this is simply a reflection of the students’ performance, but it also raises the possibility that one’s alma mater can by itself be a big factor in job applications. When I told this to my friends, one, a call center agent, recalled: “Just because I am from Ateneo, they immediately made me a supervisor. I felt that some of my new officemates resented it, but what can I do? Who am I to say no to a good offer?”

Another, a human resources officer, said: “Sad to say, but it’s true that we only interview applicants from top universities. Because there are so many applicants, we don’t have time to look at others’ resumés.”

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In a country where education is seen as the hope of the nation, it is natural for academic achievements, including being a graduate of a top university, to be a point of pride. In the streets of every town, tarps bearing messages of congratulations to fresh graduates and board passers, put up by proud families and communities, are a familiar sight.

But when belonging to certain academic institutions becomes a way of measuring young people’s success, what becomes of our regard for “other” universities and their graduates? How does this hierarchy affect their actual job prospects—and their own perceptions of their job prospects?

These questions are salient at a time when many young people struggle to find jobs based on their chosen courses. The K-to-12 system promises to improve young people’s employment chances by giving them more skills—including much-needed vocational ones—but even if this program succeeds, most careers that young people aspire for still require quality tertiary education, preferably from top universities.

Surely there are many companies that evaluate applicants based on their record, not just on their school. But even so, I want to be able to say a definitive “no” to the student in Palawan who asked me that question. I want young people to feel that the education they get gives them the fair chance to succeed in their chosen fields. While I hope that someday students won’t have aspire for Manila to begin with as there are many opportunities in their locales, I don’t want them to feel—as some do—that they have a better chance abroad, because if they apply in Manila, they won’t get accepted.

One way the government can help is by strengthening the system of state universities and colleges (SUCs) beyond just doling free tuition to students. Sadly, many faculty members of SUCs are overworked and underpaid, with little time for the research and advanced studies that could enhance the quality of their institutions. Consequently, companies cannot be faulted for choosing only from the top schools in Manila, when the disparity is great between the graduates of top universities and those in the provinces.

For their part, the companies themselves should at least make sure that their hiring process gives a fair chance to all applicants regardless of their alma mater. Because managers come from the top schools, there is a tendency for “inbreeding”—that is, for them to choose graduates from their own schools.

Just as there are more colors than blue, green, maroon, and yellow, there are many young people nationwide who deserve a chance for better careers. By taking affirmative action, the government and the private sector can help them get started in their careers—and not make them feel as if they belonged to a “university of the others.”

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Gideon Lasco (www.gideonlasco.com) is a medical doctor and anthropologist.

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