CONSIDERING the number of schools in every nook and cranny of the archipelago, the Commission on Higher Education (Ched), the agency tasked to monitor and ensure the quality of tertiary educational institutions, can only do so much.

A recent study conducted from January to November 2004 by the British Council, an international organization that promotes educational opportunities and cultural relations, showed that Ched has been having problems imposing its mandate due to internal lapses, political meddling, and the commercialization of education.

As a result, the country is bursting at the seams with colleges and universities, but young Filipinos’ access to quality education remain problematic.

Ched’s “gatekeeping” problem

The British Council study revealed that Ched must implement rigid and efficient strategies in overseeing the operations of around 1,400 colleges and universities in the Philippines, in pursuit of its duty as “gatekeeper” of the country’s tertiary education.

In previous years, Ched has been reduced to an agency that merely issues permits to operate, and recognizes schools as institutes of higher education, the study showed. A Ched permit allows a school to operate for two years, after which, a recognition should be given to the school to authorize its students’ graduation.

A status handed out by an organized body of educational institutions, however, attests to the quality of a school’s educational programs or courses. Associations of either public or private schools, or accrediting bodies—not Ched—monitor the performance of a university or college on the school’s request.

At the same time, the accrediting bodies only evaluate individual programs in colleges instead of the whole institutional system, which, according to the British Council study, is essential for quality control.

Josue Claur, British Council program manager for education, told the Varsitarian that the tasks of Ched and the accrediting bodies are difficult to distinguish in this kind of set-up.

“There are no clear demarcation lines between the accrediting bodies and Ched,” Claur said. “It appears that for Ched, quality assurance is not their work anymore because they have already given the permit and the recognition to schools operate and offer courses.”

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According to Dr. Jean Tayag, Ched director for policy planning, research, and information, the lack of resources and manpower has made Ched unable to monitor all the colleges and universities. She said Ched should focus its limited manpower to keeping an eye on “fly-by-night” institutions or those which operate without permits. Last year, Ched closed down 23 schools for illegally operation, Tayag said.

Re-evaluating Ched’s evaluation

The British Council suggests realigning Ched’s monitoring standards.

Ched has been focusing on input based-evaluation, assessing the performance of an institution on the basis of passing requirements like the number of students, faculty profile, and facilities, the study said.

As a result, the assessment of the outputs, or the school’s management system, student support, board exam results, and graduate employment status are neglected, which should not be, Claur said.

In the case of board exams, the study showed that schools in the Philippines sometimes only target passing rates higher than the national passing rate.

“The university should give careful thought to the reasons for this high failure rate, and should not regard its performance as satisfactory simply because it exceeds a low national average,” the study said.

The alarming performance of graduates in licensure exams may be blamed on the nature of the curriculum. According to Claur, the curriculum of tertiary education must incorporate more subjects useful to the students’ future line of work.

“The curriculum must be streamlined. Colleges and universities should focus on what the students will need when they graduate,” Claur told the Varsitarian.

He said Ched should also study the database of schools in order to assess the schools’ delivery of instruction.

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“Ched, for example, has the data on the number of research works done but it does not monitor the quality of research produced.”

But overwhelming data remained untouched at the Ched office.

“It is an open admission from Ched that it has ‘voluminous’ documents,” Claur said. “What they do is compile all these documents without processing and analyzing them.”

Business driven

The mushroom-like sprouting of schools in the country can also be attributed to Ched’s inability to limit the proliferation of businessmen who consider education as business ventures.

According to the study, some schools merely accept applicants for the first year without properly assessing their capabilities in meeting the demands of the program. Aside from opening more slots for the students, there are some tertiary institutions that recklessly offer courses that are in demand internationally. Some educational institutions also put out false advertising and propaganda to attract students, a Newsbreak report said.

“They [businessmen] are responding to the market that could give them a large profit. It’s fine to make some margin, but they shouldn’t try to earn at the sacrifice of quality,” Tayag said.

Even now, Ched does not have the capacity to project the demand of the market so as to limit the offering of the course, Claur said.

“When the demand for Nursing arose, Ched did not instruct institutions as to how many nurses the country shall need to produce to meet the demand in, say for example, 10 years,” he said.

Dirty politics

Political pressure hounding Ched also impedes the Commission from carrying out its task. Former Commissioner, Fr. Rolando De la Rosa, O.P., found this particularly difficult to contain.

During his brief stint as the Ched commissioner from April to October 2005, De la Rosa attempted to revitalize the education system through strict implementation of Ched standards and by closing down substandard nursing schools sprouting all over the country.

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“There is very little chance that any significant change in Ched could be effected in the near future with the excessive political intervention in the decision-making process,” De la Rosa said.

Interest blocks try to influence policy-making. And in this case, there are “politically-driven” representatives from Congress who want to “immortalize themselves” by establishing universities and colleges without educational capability.

“Many Congressmen has reduced the Congress into a forum to defend their parochial interests and to forge political alliances,” De la Rosa said.

Even if some schools lack the necessary requirements from Ched, politics still win in the end, especially if the congressman is influential, Tayag said.

No panacea yet

Despite the flak on its capabilities, Ched still disseminates information on which schools are performing well and those that are sub-par. A list of programs that have accreditation, permit, and recognitions can be found on the Ched website.

On the part of the British Council, despite the influx of substandard colleges and universities, Ched can perform its regulatory functions efficiently if it will define its monitoring procedures and implement them with an iron hand.

“If Ched is strong enough to implement its rules, it can still uphold high quality education, “Claur said.

It is inevitable that a strict implementation of Ched’s quality assessment system may lead to the closure of many errant institutions. The British Council said, however, that shutting down schools, is not the only resort.

“We do not suggest that Ched should close down schools. We recommend Ched and the higher education institutions to lift the quality of instruction we give to our students,” Claur said. Marlene H. Elmenzo, Jose Teodoro B. Mendoza, and Paolo S. Mariano


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