HEI, LCU, SUC
Free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs) has hogged the news lately, and I am amazed at the confusion on which schools are eligible. Let me try to help clear up matters by way of wading through the alphabet soup that I used as a title.
Late last year Congress allocated P8.3 billion to the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) to subsidize tuition for SUCs, starting in the first semester in school year 2017-2018. “Miscellaneous fees” such as those for laboratories, library use and sports were not covered.
Last Aug. 2, President Duterte signed Republic Act No. 10931 (or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education) which provides for free tuition and miscellaneous fees for undergraduates, with some exceptions (for example, those who go beyond the prescribed period of completing a degree, or those getting a second degree). The new law applies to SUCs, LCUs (local colleges and universities), and state-run technical-vocational schools. The “no tuition, no fees” provisions come into effect in the next school year, 2018-2019, but the University of the Philippines has chosen to implement it immediately.
Let’s look now at the alphabet soup, starting with the HEIs (higher educational institutions). These are the schools at the tertiary levels, as distinguished from the schools at the basic level, which run from kindergarten through Grade 1 to Grade 12. Note that the four years of high school have expanded to six years, and are referred to as Grades 7 to 12.
The tertiary level schools are either private or public, and the public schools are further distinguished as LCUs, SUCs and UP, which is the country’s national university.
LCUs are those run by local governments, mainly the richer cities and municipalities. The oldest LCU is the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), which was established in 1965. It took in its first batch of students, consisting of the top 10 percent of graduates of Manila’s public schools, in 1967.
The PLM has since grown, and now has its own medical and law schools. Automatic admission is still extended to valedictorians, salutatorians and the first to third honorable mention from Manila’s high schools. All others—residents of Manila as well as nonresidents who are high school valedictorians or salutatorians—have to take an entrance exam to qualify.
The PLM was a bold move that has since been replicated by other local governments. This was facilitated by the Local Government Code of 1991 and the Technical Education and Skills Development Act of 1994, which decentralized finances to the cities and municipalities. The LCUs provide all kinds of courses such as short certificate programs, 2-year associate in arts degrees, and 4-year baccalaureate programs.
LCUs have much potential for building human capital, especially in training a city’s residents to serve in the local government’s own offices. PLM graduates, for example, are important sources of physicians to serve in the Ospital ng Maynila.
Graduates also end up in the private sector and the LCU programs tend to reflect what the local job market is. The UMak (University of Makati) was one of the first to launch senior high school programs, and its courses reflect the human resource needs in Makati’s business sectors.
Shortly after America annexed the Philippines, it began to expand the network of public schools started by the Spaniards. This included bringing in American teachers; the first groups were known as the Thomasites because they came in on the ship USS Thomas.
Under Spain, a few tertiary institutions had been established, all by religious orders. The Americans introduced secular institutions which were supported by the government. The first five of what would be called SUCs were all in Manila and reflected the Americans’ goals of developing local human capital for the government and the private sector: the Philippine Normal School (1901), Manila Trade School (1901), Manila Business School (1904), Philippine Medical School (1905), and UP (1908).
These pioneer SUCs developed through the years and still exist today. The Philippine Normal School is now the Philippine Normal University (PNU). The Manila Business School is now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). The Manila Trade School became the Technological University of the Philippines. The Philippine Medical School was integrated into UP in 1910. In 2008, during its centennial year, UP was designated by Congress as the country’s national university, separating it from the other SUCs—but, for obvious reasons, we do not call UP an NU.
These early SUCs have established other campuses. PNU, for example, has five campuses: in Manila, Quezon, Isabela, Negros Occidental and Agusan del Sur. UP is now a system with eight constituent universities or CUs: Diliman, Los Baños, Manila, Baguio, Visayas, Cebu, Mindanao, and the UP Open University. CUs are sometimes confused as campuses when in fact each CU can have several campuses. UP Diliman, for example, has its UP Pampanga, which has campuses in Clark and in Subic.
Before we regained independence in 1946, the Americans established 26 SUCs in various parts of the country. After independence, local politicians scrambled to put up more SUCs, so today we have 111 of them. The youngest of these SUCs are the University of Rizal System (established in 2001) and the Batanes State College (2004).
Even before the free tuition policy, SUC operations have been subsidized by taxpayer money, allowing for very low tuition. PUP, for example, has been charging P12 per undergraduate unit since 1979. UP is on the higher end, with engineering courses running to more than P30,000 per semester—still low compared to private universities charging more than P100,000 a semester. But even the P30,000, which is paid in full only by those whose families earn more than P1.2 million a year, represents only about 20 percent of the total costs of running UP. The rest of the costs come from national government funds.
Despite the relatively low tuition and miscellaneous fees, students in SUCs still have to deal with the cost of living, and this is where even middle-income students constantly run risks of having to drop out of school.
Can the policy of free tuition and miscellaneous fees make a difference for the nation? I strongly feel that it will, and that we should have done this decades ago. But I will have to make my case in another column.
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