THERE is a monkey wrench stuck in the country’s higher education system.

Over the years, Philippine higher education, once the envy of the region, has been undermined by the relentless mushrooming of universities and colleges, many of questionable quality, and the inability of authorities to enforce even the basic standards.

Poor-quality schools, many of them state-run or business-oriented, are in fact dragging down the national passing rates in board exams, barely producing graduates with minimum competence.

Experts blame the surplus of colleges and universities — partly due to state sanction and also because of the prospects of quick profits in a sector considered immune from economic downturn — for the moribund state of the country’s higher education system.

The previous three Congresses alone have converted 24 small-town and agriculture colleges into state colleges and universities (SUCs), mostly at the bidding of local politicians, spreading the limited government education budget thinly.

The Philippines now has the biggest number of higher education institutions in Southeast Asia, according to a study by the Asian Development Bank last June, which questioned the “rapid expansion without sufficient attention to the conditions of success.”

The Philippines hosts a total of 5,184 higher learning institutions, double than that of Indonesia and 10 times the number of that in the more affluent Thailand.

In contrast, there are more Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian schools in the annual ranking of the world’s top 500 universities by a London publication, where only two Philippine institutions, the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila, made it.

To ensure the quality of tertiary education in the Philippines, the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) was created by Republic Act (RA) 7722 or the Higher Education Act of 1994, and was given the mandate to “promote the exercise and observance” of higher quality education for the continuing intellectual growth, advancement of learning and research, and the development of responsible and effective leadership.

Sub-par

One of Ched’s functions is to implement effective plans to develop government-owned schools, made up of 112 SUCs with 326 satellite campuses, and 70 local government universities and colleges.

The Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), meanwhile, is tasked to administer licensure exams and give recommendations to Ched.

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Using state licensure exams as a gauge of the quality of education, may schools, private and public alike, seem to be falling way behind.

According to the latest available data from the PRC, out of 1,254 colleges and universities in the country that participated in at least one of the licensure exams in 2005, 99 schools registered a zero passing rate.

A total of 360 government schools had an average passing rate of only 35 percent while 1,254 private institutions registered an average over all passing rate of 36 percent.

PRC data from 1999 to 2003 showed that private schools University of the Visayas, Medina College, Feati University, National University, and the University of Northeastern Philippines had the lowest passing rates in the country. A total of 118 out of 402 low-performing or zero-rate schools were state-owned.

Sub-par schools are rampant in popular and commercial courses like nursing, accounting, education, and engineering.

For instance, Martinez Memorial College, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasay and the Unciano Colleges and General Hospital-Manila were the three lowest performing schools in nursing in 2005, recording a passing rate of less than 20 percent.

In the 2005 Certified Public Accountant boards, the Divine Word College of Legazpi, University of Luzon, and University of Pangasinan produced only 46 passers out of a combined total of 471 examinees, or a passing rate of of a dismal 10 percent.

The 2005 education board exams saw even more low performers and zero raters such as Perpetual Help College of Pangasinan, Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP)-Sta. Mesa, La Consolacion College-Manila, Saint Thomas Aquinas College, and Isabela State University-Iligan, among others.

The chain of AMA schools turned out having more low and zero passing rates compared to others in the Electronics and Communications Engineering boards. Even established engineering schools like the Technological Institute of the Philippines in Manila and Quezon City performed unsatisfactorily.

Many SUCs have been underperforming in licensure exams, yet most of them participate in only less than 10 boards.

For instance, the Cagayan State University, Palawan State University, and Pangasinan State University, which have several branches, participated in less that 10 examinations. Historically, only around one out of three examinees have passed licensure examinations.

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Likewise, in Aklan State University, Isabela State University, and Cebu State College of Science and Technology, which also have multiple campuses, only about one in three examinees have passed the board exams.

PRC chief Leonor Tripon-Rosero said the declining quality of higher education in the country is reflected in the performance of these schools, and it’s up to school administrators whether or not to improve quality.

“It is down to the quality of education because there are some schools that adversely open without even complying with the standards of Ched,” Rosero told the Varsitarian.

The PRC has made recommendations to avert low and zero passing rates, recommending incentives and sanctions to improve quality, more state funding, and linkages with Congress to strengthen the enforcement of education standards.

But poorly performing schools, which are supposed to have been closed by Ched, still continue to operate.

In 2003, the PRC recommended sanctions on all schools that continue to perform poorly, such as the reduction of government subsidies. Schools with consistent zero or sub-par passing rates were also advised to terminate programs producing dismal results in licensure exams.

A recent report of the Commission on Audit (COA) called on the Ched to close nursing programs in certain schools which have performed erratically in licensure exams.

The COA noted that Ched had been able to scrap courses and programs in accountancy, civil, chemical, electrical, and agricultural engineering, chemistry, and customs administration, except nursing.

“No school offering Nursing programs has ever been closed in the exercise of Ched’s regulatory authority, thereby allowing these low-performing schools to continue offering the course to the detriment of their students,” the report stated.

In all, Ched was only able to phase out programs of more than 20 schools in 2005, according William Malitao, Ched Office for Programs and Standards officer in charge.

Mediocrity and business

Malitao explained that low performing schools continue to operate to take advantage of in-demand courses like nursing.

“Actually, nursing is the lifeblood of every school today, especially for the new ones,” Malitao said, pointing to the big enrollment in numerous nursing schools in the country.

According to the PRC, the nursing programs of some of the new schools have registered zero passing rates.

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Meeting just the minimum requirements of Ched, some new schools even manage to put up several branches across the country while participating only in a few licensure exams, mostly in nursing and computer courses.

Among these schools is AMA Computer University, with 27 branches, and ABE International College of Business Economics, with seven branches.

With numerous satellite campuses, AMA passing rates in licensure exams in 2005 averaged only 11.4 percent. Twelve branches had zero passing rates. From 1999 to 2003, only one in five exam-takers got a professional license,

PRC data also revealed that ABE had only a 22.4 percent passing rate in government exams in 2005, with five branches getting zero.

The Varsitarian tried to get the side of the AMA and ABE administrations but they declined to comment.

Although Ched has attempted to discontinue the operations of certain schools or programs which barely meet the requirements or have been registering a passing rate of a measly five percent and below in licensure exams for the last five years, its initiatives have seen few results.

“We try to phase out some of the programs, but one of the schools filed a lawsuit against us,” Malitao said.

Malitao said there have been court orders and counter suits, but in the end, that school won the case and continued to operate.

The Ched official admitted that the government is finding it hard to clamp down on commercialization in education.

“Actually, we do not have any law preventing these schools to be run like business companies or even be managed by top business personalities in the country,” Malitao said.

What happens is that these schools accept as many students as possible but do not give the quality of education students are supposed to receive.

On the other hand, there should be a “moratorium” on new SUCs, Philippine Institute for Development Studies public affairs chief and UST professor Edwin Martin said.

“We should somehow maximize our resources. Instead of creating new SUCs, (the government should) integrate them or abolish some that are not really performing well,” he said. With reports from Nikki Q. Angulo and Samuel Raphael P. Medenilla

4 COMMENTS

  1. I understand that HEIs have to be established primarily to allow the rapidly increasing Filipino populace. I understand the comment of an anonymous last Feb. 12, 2010. But the point is the study conducted by CHED on the performance of the schools reflects those schools for the last 1 decade. I think one decade is enough to see the problems and insights provided by educ. experts are fair, since there is some suspicious on initiatives and procedures regarding the establishment of SUCs and private universities.
    What I can recommentd is that CHED and PRC must use more reliable assessment tools to come up with a sounder and fairer judgment, and at the same time must be more aggressive to phase out a school’s degree program or the entire school due to low performance. Officials should make the biggest initiatives compared with the public, since if proper solutions are made, every Pinoy will experience an affordable quality education.

  2. Just like the rest of the government’s institutions, the CHED is extremely under-performing. The entire education system is continually nose-diving in quality. Why is implementation (and consistency) a difficult thing in this country?

  3. “The 2005 education board exams saw even more low performers and zero raters such as Perpetual Help College of Pangasinan, Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP)-Sta. Mesa, La Consolacion College-Manila, Saint Thomas Aquinas College, and Isabela State University-Iligan, among others.”

    –2010 nagkaroon ng College of Education (BS Elementary and Secondary Educ) sa PUP-Manila. Panu sila nagkaroon ng data ng 2005?

    “We should somehow maximize our resources. Instead of creating new SUCs, (the government should) integrate them or abolish some that are not really performing well,” he said.” — UST Professor Edwin Martin

    To Professor Edwin Martin, nag-iisip ka ba? Do you really think na yan ang solusyon sa problema? If SUC’s are provided with state-of-art facilities w/o increasing the tuition fees, Baka mawalan ng negosyo ang mga pari ng UST. (If you will argue na walang pera ang pinas, try mong tanungin sa malacanang kung magkano ang pinautang nila sa IMF)

  4. To be honest, in our case in chemical engineering, the board exam does not gauge our expertise in our field. Yung exam namin, out of this world. San pinulot mga tanong dun? Baguhin ng PRC yung sistema nila sa board exam. They should screen those examinations first.

    I’m sure that I share the same sentiments with all the ChE graduates that took the board exam.

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