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The State and higher education

By MST News | Jan. 07, 2013 at 12:01am
The Constitution of the Republic does not provide for State control of higher education.  In fact, control in even its most benign form would be antithetical to a clear constitutional grant of academic freedom the parameters of which are, by now, well established in jurisprudence, both local and foreign.  With good reason then does Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ advance the argument that the law purposely designed the Commission on Higher Education to be a “weak agency” so that there would be no derogation at all of the academic freedom that guarantees the flourishing of universities and colleges in their role of being centers of higher education as well as of research.  In fact the community of scholars and professors that a university is should be as independent as possible for such is the demand of scholarship and of academic pursuits.

Lately, the Commission on Higher Education promulgated CHED Memorandum Order No. 46 that announces what it professes to be its benevolent intentions: bringing Philippine higher education to world-class standards, but this in itself already rests on the wrong assumption: that the State can and should, by regulation, bring higher education to global standards.  The incentives given researchers and yes, the very space within which professors can teach without having to bother with an intrusive bureaucracy are what can bring Philippine higher education to international standards.  Truth to tell, basic and higher education have suffered immensely from the successive, unending and flippant experiments by those who head the regulatory agencies, including the mandating of subjects, curricula and even syllabi!

In fact, at present, aside from deciding which operate as colleges or universities and which do not, CHED determines how subjects are taught (it forbids, for example, e-delivery of courses), who should teach (its innumerable memoranda on standards prescribe the qualifications of professors and instructors -- with the result that those with PhDs are preferred, no matter how miserable they may be as teachers, over those with real expertise and with a genuine knack for instruction), and determines who should be taught, regulating class-sizes for example -- all clearly trespassing the margins of academic freedom. And now it proffers Outcomes-based and Typology-based Quality Assessment.

The whole concept of Quality Assessment initiated, engineered, monitored and administered by CHED violates the intendment of the constitutional guarantee of academic freedom.  At the time that an institution applies for a permit to operate, CHED’s effort at assuring itself of quality education should already be at work.  If CHED did not accomplish this when it issued permits and recognitions, why should it now think that by overhauling the entire higher education system through what it surreptitiously labels “Quality-Assessment” it will be able to achieve what it should have done in the very first place at the permit and recognition phases?

The memorandum also attempts to usurp the role of voluntary accreditation.  If CHED implements this scheme, voluntary accreditation will be superfluous as it is CHED’s scheme by which institutions are ranked, classified and characterized.  This negatives the voluntary character of accreditation.  It preempts voluntary accreditation schemes, subjecting all to the uniform typologizing of the CHED, vertical, horizontal or diagonal!

The Constitutional guarantee of academic freedom insulates higher education institutions principally against government intrusion into academe.  Noteworthy is the fact that in prescribing the State’s role over education, the word “control” will not be found.  But when the memorandum seeks to determine which institutions shall be professional institutions, colleges or universities by standards set by the CHED then the State through CHED intrudes into the very heart of the organization and operation of academic institutions.

If the CHED rues the proliferation of universities, it has only itself to blame.  No institution ever becomes a university without CHED’s fiat.  As for state universities and colleges, unless the CHED can find some way of limiting legislative power to create universities, there is no way CHED can stay the hand of Congress when it legislates into existence a state university or college.

Curiously, while CHED professes that it rejects that one-size-fits-all approach to higher education that is in effect what it accomplishes through this ill-advised memorandum:  In laying down the strict boundaries between different types of institutions and the minimum criteria each must meet, it is imposing one size on all.

What happens to those institutions that now enjoy “college” or “university” status but do not meet the ambitious schemes of the assailed CHED Memo?  In this respect, CHED is in a bind.  If it re-classifies them, such an adverse action would violate the long entrenched principle of respect for vested rights.  The right to the status of “college” or “university” vests the moment the CHED confers the category or title and can be revoked only for violation of the very grounds on which grant of the title rested, but not on the retroactive application of new standards and criteria.  On the other hand, if new universities and colleges must comply with the newly-prescribed quality- assessment standards, while already established colleges and universities are not required to, one will have the unequal application of the laws: there will be one set of colleges of universities complying with new QA standards, and others abiding by older standards.

We have exhibited tolerance for self-regulation in several areas of national life.  Movie directors and producers, for example are, to a considerable extent, self-regulating.  But if we rightly recognize the art thrives only when artists are free, why does CHED not seem to get the point that academe flourishes only when academics are free.  The moral lesson should be clear: Just as scientists should never be told how to do science and what science should be busy at, academics should not be told how to go about their business, least of all by government.  Self-regulation will also effectively deal with a concern that has been CHED’s constant and ready pretext for intervention: the protection of public interests.  In the first place, it is fallacious to make of CHED the exclusive repository of the standards of quality.  Who ordained the bureaucrats of CHED the supreme arbiters of quality in education?   In the second place, the academic institutions will be vigilant and jealous about keeping their ranks untainted by counterfeits and frauds.  And finally, the public itself should be trusted to make judgments about which institutions to trust and which to eschew.  If we trust the electorate to choose a president for the country and to elect into the chambers of Congress those who craft our laws, why should we not trust the public to make decisions about which institutions should educate their children?

Educators are right to be indignant over CHED Memorandum Order No. 46, and they are right about taking steps to see to its recall or rescission.  The clear message should be sent: The sacred grooves of academe are for academics into which the pettiness and silly minutiae of State intrusion are most certainly unwelcome!
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