May 27, 2005

Nice editorial sa Inquirer

Sabi ko na, hindi lang ako ang may position against tuition fee increases. :)

High cost, low quality
Posted 00:14am (Mla time) May 27, 2005
By Inquirer News Service

TENS of thousands of Filipino parents bought into pre-need educational plans because they wanted to assure quality education for their children. In the beginning, such plans were premised on the assumption that government-imposed limits on tuition increases would persist. When the government "liberalized" education in the early 1990s, pre-need companies were faced with a choice of either limiting benefits to plan holders to the amounts assumed when the plans were sold, or to simply honor the plans as open-ended commitments to their clients.

Companies such as the College Assurance Plan Philippines Inc. decided to pay out benefits to plan holders above and beyond what had been assumed when the plans were sold. This worked for a surprisingly long period of time. However, when concerns over the fiscal viability of this commitment began to erode the financial prospects of such companies, and government launched investigations and put a stop to the frantic selling of new plans to finance old ones, the whole system collapsed.

The result is the demise of a genuinely Filipino innovation -- the pre-need educational plan -- and untold misery for hard-working families who put their faith in these firms. The manner in which the industry collapsed does not speak well of how both the executive and legislative branches of government handled their responsibilities. However, educational institutions themselves have, so far, and unfairly, escaped their fair share of the blame.

When the government removed the cap on tuition, it did so on the urging of educators who maintained that the bulk of the increases would be used to increase the salaries of teachers and improve school facilities. The brain drain had already severely handicapped education in this country, and wider latitude in determining fees was, educators insisted, something that would ultimately raise the quality of education.

International test results, however, have shown that the quality of education has not improved -- at all levels. This is particularly glaring when one considers how most private educational institutions have continued to pay dismal salaries to their staff, while charging higher fees for academic and non-academic services and tuition.

Already caught between a rock and a hard place, parents have increasingly resorted to transferring their children to public elementary and high schools (which, surprisingly enough, are also in many instances increasingly able to attract teachers from private schools, as they now apparently pay competitive wages) and state colleges and universities. Aside from very well-known schools that don't feel the need to compete actively, only the diploma mills churning out nurses, for example, are showing increases in attendance.

Parents and students alike know that quality comes at a cost, but the increasing cost of education hasn't resulted in an increase in quality. What they have resulted in, apparently, is an increase in profitability. Education is big business, at all levels.

The country's leading economic players have aggressively entered the education market -- tobacco tycoon Lucio Tan in the University of the East and Thames, insurance and banking magnate Alfonso Yuchengco in Mapua Institute of Technology -- injecting an entrepreneurial approach to education, which wasn't there even when prominent families with business and political interests (the Laurels and Lyceum of the Philippines, or the TaƱadas who used to own Manuel L. Quezon University) established and managed colleges and universities. It is not unreasonable to expect that the widening exposure of prominent businessmen in the field of education will inject a more profit-oriented attitude toward the running of the institutions they've bought, as shown, for example, in the highly emotional debate over the absorption of Mapua into the newly minted Malayan University of the Yuchengcos (who themselves are facing difficulties with their educational pre-need firm, Pacific Plans Inc.).

We do not want a return to a regulated regime, as far as the management of institutions of higher learning are concerned. But it is time for the boards, faculties and students of such institutions to seriously consider where profit making and education serve complementary, or mutually exclusive, purposes. If the Commission on Higher Education, for example, due to political pressure, cannot shut down substandard institutions, can it be expected to enforce even minimum standards of quality? And if not, doesn't this place a heavy, but urgent, burden on parents and working students?

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