Taking on the policy landscape of higher ed
The mandate of reasonable supervision and regulation of all educational institutions is a game-changer introduced for the first time in our 1987 Constitution and shifts the state’s mandate on education from one of control from the 1935, 1943, and 1973 Philippine constitutions. This reinforces the constitutional guarantee of academic freedom for all institutions of higher learning.
In the Second Congressional Commission on Education’s (EdCom II) first Standing Committee Meeting on Governance and Finance on March 8, 2023, there was a consensus on strengthening academic freedom in Philippine higher education, referencing the deliberations on Republic Act No. 7722 and quoting the late senator Edgardo J. Angara, in saying that “learning should enjoy what we call academic freedom and, therefore, higher education has less regulation and more promotion.”
Despite clear constitutional mandates, these dynamic concepts of academic freedom and reasonable supervision have not been fully operationalized in a manner that is inclusive, supportive, and consistent.
This is echoed by co-chair Sen. Sonny Angara, in the same standing committee meeting, as he emphasized how the pandemic made us realize the lesson on adequate flexibility in education to react to the changing times, as he also highlighted the concomitant exaction of accountability. The need for accountability mechanisms not only for good governance but also in terms of student outcomes is imperative.
Certainly, academic freedom should not be relegated to an empty and meaningless constitutional principle for scholarly discussion or be used as a shield to cover for incompetence and low-quality standards of academic institutions. Academic freedom is meant to create an atmosphere conducive to academic inquiry in pursuit of excellence, unhampered by unnecessary state and external interference and control.
These continuing discussions prompted Rep. Mark Go of Baguio City, one of EdCom II’s commissioners and the chair of the House committee on higher and technical education, to come up with a proposed legislation to strengthen the establishment of all higher education institutions and operationalize academic freedom.
In the consultation meeting for higher education of EdCom II on April 25, 2023, I shared some key points for legislation which include:Uniformity in government quality assurance mechanisms of all higher education institutions. While the establishment of state, local, and private higher education institutions differ, the government’s mandate of setting minimum requirements should be common and uniform to all of them. In relation to the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHEd) oversight function, a law should clarify, in no uncertain terms, that state universities and colleges, and local colleges and universities are under the reasonable supervision and regulation function of the CHEd in setting minimum requirements to offer degree programs in these institutions.
Mindful of the complementary roles of public and private sectors under the integrated Philippine higher education system, the competitive neutrality principle should be integrated into education in the recognition of academic programs in government-established higher education institutions to prevent a state-dominated Philippine higher education system.
In balancing academic freedom of institutions and the quality assurance function of CHEd, a law should clarify the mandate to set minimum mandatory requirements for government recognition to offer academic courses and programs, and the promotion of optimum quality standards of higher education institutions over and beyond the government minimum requirements to operate. Specifically, a law shall mandate CHEd to establish a system that provides incentives and wider autonomy for higher education institutions that consistently manifest and adhere to excellence and high-quality standards validated and affirmed by voluntary accreditation organizations.
Indeed, we continue to see the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our society, as it changes the way we live, learn, and work. But even then, we cannot yet fully grasp the many transformations that are bound to happen through this technical revolution. But one thing is certain, our response, particularly from our higher education sector, should be integrated, comprehensive, and with more emphasis on accountability for quality and outcomes of graduates. We need to ensure and establish a policy environment where academic freedom can thrive and flourish so that new discoveries, innovations, and truths can be pursued and ultimately maximize the contribution of higher education to human capital development and economic growth of our country.
Joseph Noel M. Estrada is chief legal officer of EdCom II and author of the book, “The Education Act: A Compendium of Philippine Education Law, Jurisprudence, Practices, & Regulations” (2019). For comments and suggestions to the EdCom II, please email email@example.com.