Why higher education needs urgent attention

AS soon as there was no more doubt that she would be the country’s next vice president, Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio manifested her willingness to take the basic education portfolio. And that sent the proper signal, as it was the proper move. Basic education was going to receive this administration’s fervid attention. But higher education should be a pressing concern.

In some past column, I had occasion to write that while many think that, as between basic and higher education, more resources should go into basic education, the fact is that higher education must be paid heed — and seriously — because those who teach in basic education are products of college and university schooling, particularly teacher education courses.

I have complained more than once that one of the agencies of government heavily weighed down by bureaucracy is the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd). One has layers of policies, standards and guidelines covering almost every aspect of higher education, leaving hardly a sliver of the academic freedom that the Constitution, in no uncertain terms, guarantees to all higher education institutions. CHEd, especially under Prospero de Vera, has been one agency that has thumbed its nose at the Anti-Red Tape Act. For the school year 2020 to 2021 up to the present, the Cagayan State University has heaved and hoed to get what is rightfully its due under the provisions of the Universal Access to Quality Education Act. It took a Senate committee reprimand for de Vera to cause the release of the funds he ordered withheld in his desire to control the appointment of the president of a state university.

In fact, one former commissioner went so far as to demand that physical arrangements be introduced into the university to suit whimsical tastes, including inscribing the university’s mission, vision and objectives in glass! Millions were spent on refurbishing a convention center because this particular commissioner wanted to show it off as a model to other state universities and colleges (SUCs), forgetting that the Department of Budget and Management keeps purse-strings tightly knotted when it comes to SUCs.

The interlocking, contradicting and confusing maze of CHEd memoranda have made many university and college administrators not academics, not researchers, but bureaucratic experts — functionaries able to meet all the impertinent requirements of this rut ​​in the higher educational system. Deans and academic officials pander to every whim of CHEd because no one gets the coveted titles of Center of Excellence or Center of Development or is granted autonomy unless one is able to meet the multifarious demands of this monstrosity of an agency that is quick to find ways of reminding universities and colleges of their state of vassalage!

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State universities and colleges — that once were free to craft programs and device delivery methods responsive to the particular needs of localities — have been drawn into the tight, unwelcome embrace of CHEd’s bureaucracy. Now, they must obtain certificates of program compliance that CHEd will not issue until volumes of documents are submitted. I have many times wondered if CHEd really reads all the documents it requires for submission. When a state university or college, through its governing board, decides to open a program or offer a course — a power granted to the governing board by the charter of the university — CHEd has made of itself the official interloper that constructs a barrier of obstacles standing in the way of innovation, creativity and responsiveness.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has ordered the end of the tenure of all presidential appointees. That should include the CHEd chairman. It is obvious that he has been attempting to curry favor with the new administration by inviting key personalities in the new administration to even the most innocuous of CHEd events that he organizes — to gain “pogi points.”

Higher education is one of those fields where the saying “Sometimes, more is less” applies — for the plethora of rules, memoranda, policies, guidelines and standards issued by this unwelcome and awkward bureaucratic machine certainly does not contribute to the optimal performance of colleges and universities. Universitas scholarium et magistrorum… that is what every university is. Let each university govern itself. It is after all the home of scholars and masters and experts. CHEd’s harpings should be nothing more than static — like the unwelcome hiss one gets from an empty channel!

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