Problems of massifying access to higher education in the Philippines

In recent years, the Philippines has been attempting to subscribe to a hybrid form of higher education governance.

For instance, the post-Edsa administrations have enabled the restoration of elites that were struck down during the Marcos regime. This restoration has paved the way for the recently hailed conglomerates (the top 1 percent) to expand their corporate empires from agri-businesses and manufacturing industries, to services such as tourism and travel, education, and food chains, among other things. This has resulted in the continuous enabling of private education, which is always deemed to perform better than its public counterparts (as Milton Friedman argued in the 1980s when pushing for the neoliberal agenda).

On the contrary, recent policy configurations on providing universal access to tertiary education (Republic Act No. 10931 that enabled the implementation of UniFAST) are considered statist approaches in massifying access to higher education, which was only deemed before as a privilege given to the members of the middle and upper class. The precedents of these recent changes are: 1) As a developing nation, the Philippines is highly subservient to the mandate of intergovernmental organizations; and 2) the contemporary attitude of education policymakers who are both in the trifocal institutions (Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) and the legislative tends to be biased toward borrowing of policies implemented in other countries.

As an example, the K-12 curriculum (the predecessor of the newly launched Matatag curriculum) was a product of a collaboration between the Philippine state and the Australian government. Thus, in the process, the curriculum became highly Australianized. The convolution of policies has led to this hybridization, where private educational forces are still thriving and the process of massification and universalization of education also takes place.

However, occurrences create serious questions in considering this agenda: 1) Does the de-privatization of higher education support the idea that human capital development can be achieved by all? 2) How can quality be realized amid this universalization? 3) Will this hybridization form a new superstructure that could solidify and widen the divide between socioeconomic classes?

These questions are considered in line with similar trends overseas such as in Chile where the universalization of their higher education created a systemic conflict since many prospective university students failed to pass various college entrance examinations; which points back to the looming effects of low-quality instruction in basic education. This is evident since reports from the World Bank, Unesco, and Unicef in 2022 assessed that nine out of 10 Filipino children aged 10 years old are unable to read and comprehend simple texts; thus, the incidence of learning poverty in the country is high.

It is starting to take effect since industries are now requiring prospective job applicants to be bachelor’s degree holders and senior high school graduates are not entertained by employers since the assurance of quality of service to be provided is still wearing thin; which has left them no choice, but to continue their studies by entering higher education.

The path to quality universalization should be realized. For this to happen, basic education must be subjected to structural reform. This is where the EdCom II comes in; where the hope is not just to subscribe to the typical neoliberal orthodoxy in policymaking, but to also look into alternative forms of educational development through policies that can be used to consider all factors that will either make or break the structure of education.

Juniesy Estanislao