HEIs and SUCs as innovators
Previously, I cited World Economic Forum chair Klaus Schwab’s “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” In error, I said that electricity marked the first Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. In fact, it was steam power. Electric power pushed the second Industrial Revolution forward while electronics and technology ushered in the third.
Schwab submits that the fourth Industrial Revolution builds upon the third, and is characterized by the fusion of physical, digital and biological technologies at a pace and depth that we have never seen before. Technology’s prevalence is evident in all disciplines and fields of human endeavor. Aside from the obvious areas like IT, engineering, architecture and medicine, we have come to rely on technology in the media, the creative arts, politics and governance, and most of all, private enterprise. It is so innocuous that we no longer call it “high tech” but simply “tech.” Commerce and trade are still time-honored traditions, but the most valuable commodity today is knowledge and mastery of the digital world. Talent and creativity are the keys to sustainability, competitiveness, and even dominance, whether for private business organizations or entire societies.
This puts so much pressure on education systems the world over, especially at the higher education level, and perhaps more so for the Philippines. Our basic education is transitioning to K-to-12, which directly impacts on the viability of private higher education institutions or HEIs, and state-run universities and colleges, also called SUCs. The former are facing significant drops in enrollment as fourth year high school students move up to Grade 11.
But the Commission on Higher Education has set in motion a comprehensive instruction, research and sectoral engagement program (Irse) that is absolutely brilliant. On one hand, Irse mitigates K-to-12’s negative impact on the faculty of private HEIs through a system of grants and scholarships for master’s and doctorate degrees for faculty members who have been deloaded or otherwise displaced. On the other hand, the sectoral engagement component provides the displaced faculty with immersion opportunities in private business enterprises that are closely related to their field of study. Irse aims to create a corps of HEI faculty with upgraded academics and a more in-depth and nuanced appreciation of the competencies that the real world demands.
SUCs, for their part, were created by law precisely to bring higher education within reach of those who need it most but who cannot afford the expense. Thus, SUCs have a critical role to play in the context of the fourth Industrial Revolution as it applies to the Philippines. The wellspring of raw talent is in the thousands of students enrolled in SUCs. Given the government support that they enjoy, it is of great national interest that SUCs qualitatively raise their academic programs to approach global standards. This is an attainable goal, perennial funding shortfalls notwithstanding. The University of the Philippines has some measure of success in this regard, but only just so.
It is a sad truth that far too many of our college graduates, whether from HEIs or SUCs, do not have the skills and competencies they need to succeed in a tech-dependent world. They cannot communicate effectively and therefore have difficulty working collaboratively. Their critical thinking skills leave much to be desired.
In his piece on higher education’s role in the fourth Industrial Revolution published by the World Economic Forum, business development specialist Asmaa Abu Mezied wrote: “Universities need to think strategically regarding methods to utilize their experience in credentials, trust and identity to offer new services. It is no longer an option to keep doing things the old way; innovation and accepting change are now a prerequisite for survival.”
Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation, the main proponent of the Education Revolution in the Philippines.
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