State U (2)
Last Wednesday I wrote about UP’s many unique and innovative academic programs and my hopes that more Filipinos could get into UP. But I ended the article revealing a little “secret”: my family has been supporting several scholars through college, and at a ratio of five non-UP students for every one UP student.
Why this contradiction? Because UP has become much too difficult for poor students to access, and the other state universities offer an alternative. Mind you, these other universities are not second-tiered alternatives, but offer, in their own right, specialized training.
As part of their policy of benevolent assimilation, the Americans, shortly after they occupied the Philippines, quickly put up an extensive public school system from the primary to tertiary levels. As early as 1901, the Americans put up the Philippine Normal College (now Philippine Normal University or PNU) and the Manila Trade School (now Technological University of the Philippines). This was followed by the Manila Business School in 1904 (renamed Philippine School of Commerce in 1908, Philippine College of Commerce in 1952, and Polytechnic University of the Philippines in 1978).
The original names of these schools reflected the Americans’ priorities: training teachers, technicians and people to run the civil service and private companies. UP came later, in 1908, to concentrate on other professions such as medicine, law and engineering, supported by a strong liberal arts program.
These pioneering state universities and colleges, including UP, expanded over the years putting up additional campuses (PUP now has 19) and creating more degree programs especially around their particular mandates. PNU produced not just teachers but administrators, including secretaries of education. The Philippine College of Commerce originally emphasized business, and also became known for its accountants. The Manila Trade School became the Technological University of the Philippines, moving into industrial education, engineering and architecture.
Parents wanted their children to get into these state universities not just because they were so cheap, but also because they offered quality education—some will say even better than private schools. Even more importantly, poorer families had a good fighting chance of getting their children into these state universities, including UP. Into the 1960s, public education received up to a third of the total national budget, and many public primary and secondary schools kept very high standards. Among our best professors at UP were alumni from public schools like Araullo and Torres, from working-class districts of Manila, able to combine academic wisdom with experiences from a life of hard knocks.
Over the years the state universities have suffered as education moved down in terms of national government priorities. Debt servicing and the military overtook social services in capturing the lion’s share of the national budget. Not only that, and this is not discussed enough, we had a proliferation of state universities and colleges, often because politicians were riding on the “edifice complex,” creating hospitals and universities (and naming them after their parents or grandparents) to win more votes. Today we have 112 state universities and colleges, including the UP system. The tragedy is that many of these state universities and colleges have very low standards, and yet compete for the already scarce resources allocated to the system of state universities and colleges.
The public school system has valiantly tried to hold the fort. There are still excellent public high schools that produce students who get into UP and other state universities. At my college, all my associate deans and coordinators are UP graduates, but there is a good mix of alumni from both public and private schools. I worry, though, on seeing our student parking lots becoming inadequate, and hearing much more English in the corridors than Filipino and other local languages. As standards in our public schools drop, it will become harder for their graduates to get into UP.
Choice, no choice
The other state universities have become a slightly more realistic option for lower- and middle-class families. PNU, for example, charges only P360 per academic unit. But miscellaneous fees do add up, as well as living expenses, especially if the student is from out of Manila, so the poor are again at a disadvantage. Even if they hurdle the admissions exams, they might not push through with enrollment in the state university. Upper class kids fret about having to choose between UP and private universities. For poor Filipino students, the choices are more limited: it’s a state university or no college education at all.
That was a long way of explaining why I’ve ended up with more scholars in non-UP state universities. We need more scholarships at UP but so do the other better state universities and colleges. I would prioritize scholarships for those taking professional courses like medicines and education, especially because the students at these universities are more likely to stay and serve in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, we need to review our entire public tertiary system. The pioneering state universities should continue to develop the sectoral or professional niches they’re known for. Geographically, regional schools like the West Visayas State University are important for increasing access to courses like medicine. It’s at least encouraging to see that after the University of the Philippines System, Mindanao State University has the second largest budget among state universities and colleges.
Another interesting development has been city governments twinning with some state universities for their constituents. PUP San Juan, for example, is practically San Juan’s “city college,” with local residents receiving priority for admissions. They must, however, still pass PUP’s entrance exams.
UP will retain an important role, especially for graduate education. Among the UP Diliman units, our College of Education, for example, has the largest number of graduate students, taking up such specializations as chemistry education, or education for special children. We also have unique units like the Open University, which offers distance education for certain degrees, and the School for Urban and Regional Planning, the only one of its kind in the region.
It should not be an “or” choice for national government, i.e., choosing between basic (primary and secondary) education and the tertiary. If government is serious about national development, it must support, to the fullest extent possible, all levels of public education.
If you go into this website, you’ll see a photograph showing the first batch of students enrolled in the UP School of Health Sciences in Banga, South Cotabato: http://www.up.edu.ph/upnewsletter.php?i=1193
All of them are scholars, nominated by their communities and subsidized, via UP, by taxpayers. If all goes well, each scholar will be able to get a degree in midwifery, nursing and finally, medicine, while serving their communities. Humble as the students’ origins may be, simple as the buildings may be, such campuses will spell the difference for many communities, if not the nation.
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