SUCs and budget cuts

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As published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Opinion section, 2 December 2011

When Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings released its 2011 results, it indicated that the University of the Philippines and several other leading Philippine universities such as the Ateneo De Manila University, De La Salle University and the University of Sto. Tomas fell from previous rankings. Given this drop in ratings of both private and publicly funded higher education institutions, the question on funding and quality becomes a critical issue.
(The QS Quacquarelli Symonds website says that they were founded in 1990. Today, QS is seen as the leading global provider of specialist higher education and careers information and solutions. Managing director Nunzio Quacquarelli says, “Our mission [is to] enable motivated people around the world to fulfill their potential by fostering international mobility, educational achievement and career development.”)
As expressed by previous demonstrations protesting cuts in the budgets of state universities and colleges, the uproar is understandable. Without adequate funding, the quality of service for education is compromised. But student activists and civil society should also make demands not just from the government but also from the SUCs and other higher education institutions to responsibly use the funds that are made available to them and to pursue partnerships that will be beneficial to their students and community.
Quacquarelli Symonds bases their rankings on six key indicators: academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty-student ratio, citations per faculty, number of international faculty members and number of international students. Focus is given on the quality of faculty present and the quality of teaching that is provided.
Teacher quality has always been an issue for our education system. In addition to that, our tertiary education system has to be responsive to the needs of industry. With the issue of the politicization of SUCs, there is a need to monitor and assess existing schools and determine whether they are employing quality teachers, using high standard curriculums, exercising transparency and accountability in governing their schools and most importantly graduating highly skilled graduates. With the current state of education in our country, it is difficult to implement policy changes that will provide the desired outcome and results not only for excellent schools but also for employable graduates. Quality is becoming a problem not just of the public education system but also of privately funded institutions.
According to the Department of Budget and Management, the SUC budget was increased by 10.1 percent in 2012 from P23.7 billion in 2011 to P26.1 billion in 2012. The DBM further stated that this is responsive to the government’s five priority areas for growth and employment: agriculture and fisheries, tourism, general infrastructure, semiconductor and electronics and business process outsourcing (BPO).
The DBM has also increased the Department of Educations’s Basic Educational Facilities Fund (BEFF) by 54.28 percent, from P11.3 billion to P17.4 billion. This is partly in response to the collective agreement between the government and the private sector to work together to make the construction and repair of school buildings a priority. Organizations such as the Philippine Business for Social Progress and League of Corporate Foundations have jointly participated in this effort through “Ten Moves,” a fundraising campaign to build 10,000 schools around the country.
It is clear that the government is trying to align policy objectives with its budget allocation procedures, but there is still a lack of understanding and communication with the people on what these visions and objectives are. There is a need for deeper consultation with the people through civil society. The public must understand the limitations of government while the government must consider in a more systematic and fact-based manner the needs and concerns of the people. This will help the government design policies that are responsive to the needs of the people. Through proper budget allocations and responsive fiscal policies, the vision gets translated to reality.
The Open Budget Partnership can be a vehicle for this. A partnership agreement among civil society organizations, academic institutions, professional organizations in finance, international development agencies, the Senate finance committee and the House committee on appropriations and the DBM, it aims to work together to promote transparency, accountability and participation in the preparation, authorization, execution and monitoring of the national budget. Based on the Declaration of Constructive Engagement for Open Budget Partnership, the objectives are: (1) to provide full access to government budget information to all Filipino citizens, thereby enabling transparency and accountability in the budget process, and (2) to increase the capacity of all Filipino citizens to understand the budget process, its enabling laws and established practices and analyze policy implications of government budgets. It is the belief of the partnership that an improved budget process will enable government to function better and improve its delivery of basic services for all Filipinos.
We need to actively participate in understanding where and how citizen’s taxes are used. There will never be enough to provide for everything, but we can make the partnership work. Through constructive engagement between government and the people through civil society, we can take a leap towards implementing the vision and policies we need for a better Philippines.

Ching Jorge is the executive director of Bato Balani Foundation, lead convenor of Young Public Servants and an Asia21 fellow of the Asia Society. Email Ching at chingjorge@gmail.com