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Squeeze

/ 09:20 PM September 29, 2011

Thousands of students of state universities and colleges (SUCs) walked out of their classrooms last week to dramatize their protest over alleged reductions in the budgets for their institutions. A spokesman for the different groups that launched the “show of rage” said the proposed budget for SUCs in 2012 would be cut by P146 million and warned that this would lead to “higher tuition hikes and bloated miscellaneous fees, making education a privilege exclusive to those who can afford it.” Other groups have claimed that the budget reduction will be a lot bigger—P1.9 billion—with the SUCs getting only P21.8 billion next year compared to P23.7 billion this year.

How these groups came up with such widely different estimates of the budget cuts suggests either carelessness in the use of data or a deliberate attempt to create an issue where there may be none. Under the 2012 appropriations bill recently passed by the House of Representatives, the total allocations to SUCs is P23.6 billion. But this amount does not include almost P2 billion set aside in the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund for the hiring of some 5,569 new teachers and administrative staff. In addition, there is some P500 million included in the budget for the Commission on Higher Education for the development of SUCs. Thus the subsidies for SUCs in 2012 would reach a total of P26.1 billion or 10 percent more than the appropriation for this year, according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

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Even such an increase apparently would not satisfy some students and educators. CHEd Executive Director Julito Vitriolo said P26.1 billion is nothing more than a “survival budget” for some 110 SUCs, hampering their plans to raise the quality of education. “Because there is no dramatic increase in subsidy,” he said, “there is a standstill in quality.”

Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino said the amount the Aquino administration is allocating to SUCs is barely half of what they need for their effective operation. He said the SUCs should receive P45.8 billion from the national government.

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What Vitriolo and Palatino seem to have forgotten is that the SUCs have other sources of income. They charge tuition and other fees from students, they receive grants and donations, and they earn some big sums from the lease of land, such as in the case of the University of the Philippines. This year, in fact, the SUCs are expected to generate P11.89 billion from these sources and next year they are expected to earn P12.39 billion. The Department of Budget and Management also estimates that the SUCs may have some P22 billion deposited with banks. Thus, the SUCs could have as much as P60 billion to spend in 2012.

But it’s also true that some SUCs are being squeezed (UP certainly is not among them). And there is a very good reason for it. Vitriolo himself disclosed that budgeting for SUCs is now “performance-based.” The amount a public university or college gets now depends on “research output, enrollment and passing rate in licensure exams,” he said. In other words, SUCs now have to earn their subsidy.

This is something that should have been done a long time ago. There are just too many schools, including SUCs, that offer nothing more than false hopes to their students because of the poor quality of education. Many were established for no other reason than to feed the vanity of some lawmakers or promote their political ambition.

For several decades, for instance, Northern Samar used to boast about having the only state university in Eastern Visayas. Now the region has 10 state universities, with 10 different campuses to maintain, 10 different presidents, boards of regents, faculties and administrative staff. Instead of building up one good university, the government has created 10 universities with small student populations and even smaller academic reputations.

If the government wants to improve the quality of education, it should concentrate its resources on developing centers of excellence. Those institutions that cannot develop high academic standards should be allowed to simply wither away. Spreading its very limited resources among so many SUCs will just promote mediocrity.

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TAGS: budget, editorial, education, opinion, protests, state universities and colleges
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