October 09, 2019
THE year 2020 is going to be a dismal one for the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), going by the miserly budget Congress has allocated to it. Their Honors have shaved off a whopping P11.5 billion from CHEd’s budget.
And, to be fair to CHEd Chairman Prospero de Vera 3rd and his fellow commissioners, it is the members of the Congress and the Department of Budget and Manangement (DBM) that must explain to the people how one of President Duterte’s flagship, and more popular, programs — universal access to quality tertiary education — was sabotaged by them who hold the power of the purse.
As vice president of the Cagayan State University, I was present at the caucuses of both the Lower House and the Senate leading up to the plenary debates on the budget of CHEd and of the state universities and colleges (SUCs). At that time, there were stirring declarations of support for higher education. We were regaled by speeches delivered by Their Honors in varying degrees of flourish exalting the need for support of higher education. Even Sarah Elago, whose only agenda is opposing the government, chimed in and promised to support the budgetary proposals for SUCs. Rufus Rodriguez delivered a lengthy peroration on the urgency of support for tertiary education, going so far as to chide the DBM representative — seated just beside him — for its niggardly treatment of CHEd and of SUCs. In fact, we all left the conference rooms wearing wide grins — because we got stout assurances that the amounts that the DBM had characteristically pared off from our proposals would be returned.
And now comes the report that there might be severe cuts in the allocations for free tertiary education, owing to this “unkindest cut of all” — all of P11.5 billion. That is not going to hurt SUCs alone. In fact, private colleges and universities that benefit from “TES 1” — that kind of government aid that includes tuition and miscellaneous fees for enrollees — may bear the brunt; after all they collect fees from their students. While the United Kingdom’s Labor Party seems to have decided that they no longer want private universities and colleges and schools — no Eton, no Cambridge, no Oxford — that is not necessarily a good thing in the Philippines. It limits choice. In fact, it eliminates choice for while, in theory, the student and his parents are free to choose whether to avail of state or private education, in actual fact, the costs of private education do not always allow this choice to be real. In many cases, there just is no choice.
On the other hand, it might not be a bad idea for students of state universities and colleges to be made to realize that they are not necessarily entitled to a free ride through university. In many cases, the law granting universal access has induced in students a totally misshapen sense of entitlement accompanied by a lackadaisical disposition towards studies. Why study hard, when it matters not how you perform? You get everything free after all. Is that not so Filipino, so common a train of thought among our degenerate kind? In fact, when, in keeping with the UniFAST Law and Republic Act 10931, we instituted a credible admission test at the Cagayan State University, we received flak — insults and slurs from particularly left-leaning groups and politicians hungry for political mileage. But we persisted, because quality higher education must have its costs, at least in terms of human effort and intellectual labor.
To be sure, a rigid reexamination of priorities is in order. Taking only five or so minutes to decide on granting a largesse of billions of pesos in intelligence funds, and slicing off a huge chunk of what should go to higher education and the university schooling of thousands of Filipinos calls for plenty of explanation. But it is also necessary for students to be disabused of a sense of entitlement that makes them stupidly think that they are entitled to the benefits of higher education even when they do not deserve it and do nothing to make themselves worthy of it.
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