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PH education Asian laggard

Fund cuts take toll on region rankings The Philippines continues to struggle to match the educational developments in other Asian countries, the Quacquarelli Symonds University ranking released this week shows. The country’s top five universities managed to be included in the top 300 schools in Asia but fared poorly against many educational institutions in other Asian countries. The University of the Philippines improved to 67th place in 2013 from 68th place in 2012, but Ateneo de Manila University dropped 23 places from 86th in 2012 to 109th in 2013. The University of Santo Tomas fell two places from 148th in 2012 to 150th in 2013. De La Salle University placed 151st in 2013 ranking, down from 142nd in 2012. The University of Southeastern Philippines, a Cebu-based institution established in 1927 offering Arts and Engineering courses, stayed at 251st rank. Quacquarelli Symonds, a British company specializing in education and study abroad, said the quality of Philippine institutions have been falling since 2009. While UP has maintained relative stability, other schools have lost substantial ground, the company said. “Philippine universities have struggled to match the rapid development seen in countries such as China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea,” said Quacquarelli Symonds head of research Ben Sowter. “Asia is one of the most dynamic and rapidly developing regions in the world, so the various cuts to university funding implemented since 2009 have made it very hard for Philippine universities to remain competitive.” The company pointed to the rising ratio of students to faculty and a decline in influential research as areas of weakness. Only one Philippine university made it to the top 100 for student-to-faculty ratio, and none made it for research papers per faculty member. Though University of Santo Tomas is the eighth best institution for research citations per paper, it is the only Philippine university to make it into the top 100 in this regard. Also on Monday, the Freedom from Debt Coalition said the Philippine government’s “social debt to education” has reached P3.763 trillion, with the Aquino administration allocating less funds and giving a greater priority to debt payments than educational spending. In a news conference, FDC president Ricardo Reyes said in 2012, the budget for principal and interest payments amounting to P739 billion was three times more than the P224.9 billion set aside for education. That amount was only 15.03 percent of the national budget and only 2.2 percent of the gross domestic product, well below the international benchmark of 6.0 percent of gross national product, the group said. Reyes said spending on education has dropped since it peaked in 1955 at 30.78 percent of the budget, shrinking to 15 percent in several post-Edsa Revolution administrations. The budget for 2013 at 14.97 percent was even lower than the post-Edsa average of 15 percent, Reyes said. Citing data from Unesco and the World Bank, Reyes said the Philippines has the lowest education spending in proportion to the total budget (except Singapore), as percent of gross domestic product, and per student. He said the country’s spending level is below the East Asian regional average of 3.6 percent of GDP and South Asia’s average of 3.8 percent. “While we note the Aquino administration’s efforts to increase the education budget, we lament that these are not enough. The public education expenditure of 2.2 percent of GNP in 2012 is a far cry from the international benchmark of 6.0 percent,” said Marc Batac, FDC research official. Reyes expressed alarm over “two perilous trends” in the Philippine education sector that were missed out in the barrage of conflicting claims and the raging debates on its current state. “These trends are the mounting social debt incurred by the Philippine government to education and the increasing relinquishment by the Philippine government of its basic duty in providing education for the people to private or corporate business,” Reyes said. “The Philippine government continues to uphold a law on automatic appropriations for debt service which prioritized debt payments over other public expenditures, including such vital public services as education, health and housing,” Reyes said. FDC defines social debt as “the state’s unfulfilled obligations to its citizens, which can be approximated from the state’s commitments in its Constitution and its laws, the socio-economic targets set by all previous development programs and plans, and the international standards set by the United Nations and other international covenants.” The FDC also included all the unfulfilled commitments the Philippine government made to education in its series of Medium-Term Philippine Development Plans since 1986, other national policies and the promise of the 1987 Constitution of universal secondary education for all Filipinos. “Given the (lack of) priority that government accords to education, it is not surprising, therefore, that the right to quality education in the country effectively remains to be beyond the reach of millions of poor Filipinos,” Reyes said. Benjo Basas of Teachers’ Dignity Coalition, said that the perennial problem of the country’s school system again surfaced on the first day of school year – the lack of necessary resources such as teachers, books and other learning materials, chairs, classrooms, and even toilets. “It only shows that the government’s fund for education is not even enough to operate the existing program, yet we are talking about the more expensive K-12 program,” Basas said. Erika Erro, chairperson of Youth Against Debt, said another important manifestation of the increasing social debt to education is the high number of out-of-school youth. Citing data from the National Statistics Office, Erro said that one out of eight Filipinos, or around 6.24 million Filipinos, between the ages of 6 and 24, was an out-of-school youth. She added that 6 percent of the estimated 29 million children 5 to 17 years old are working children. “Two main reasons these youths are not in school are the high cost of education and the need to earn a living,” Erro said. Data culled from the Commission on Higher Education showed that only two out of 10 high school graduates went to college in 2011, Erro said. Based on the 2007 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey, the proportion of dropouts was worst at the tertiary level (16-24 years old), she said. “Out of every 100 college enrollees, only 19 will receive their college degrees,” Erro said. Fidel Fababier, secretary-general of Action and Solidarity for the Empowerment of Teachers, criticized the increasing tendency of the government to pass off its responsibilities to private businesses. This was compounded by the weak regulation of private schools, many of which continue to jack up tuition and other fees. With Gigi Muńoz-David and Christine F. Herrera
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