ACCORDING to the QS ranking 2020, the University of the Philippines is in 356th place, the Ateneo de Manila University in the ranks 601 to 650, the De La Salle University in the ranks 800 to 1000 and the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in 801 up to 1000.
No Philippine university has made it to the top of the world so far. That can’t be because we don’t have the talent. Filipinos have achieved top positions in science and industry. Let me qualify that. Some Filipinos have noticed. Many don’t even bother to stand! But it is institutional performance that is being measured here, so there is no point in asking why the national state university, theoretically the best one can have in the Philippines, only ranks 356th and Ateneo and La Salle, The huge sums of money asking for fees are 300 to 500 notches below!
One thing is clear: the University of the Philippines, which admirably defied all attempts at regulation and thwarted attempts by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) to interfere, does best in the Philippines. The point is clear: an institution doesn’t need a CHEd to be excellent. Indeed, it could be that the autonomy it enjoys enables excellence to flourish. It is not hindered by red markings, nor is it derailed by attempts by politics to challenge the freedom of research, research, publication and expression that has always been its hallmark.
At Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University it is hardly any different. They allegedly enjoy the “autonomous status” conferred by CHEd. But even without this they would be really autonomous in administration and operation – even more so in academic research and research. Its administrators, professors and researchers are heavyweights. What CHEd has in abundance is bureaucrats. A good example of their expertise comes from personal experience. We at Cagayan State University were required to submit a report, which we dutifully complied with. A few days later we were told that the report had to be in Excel format. Neither Ateneo, De La Salle nor UST do comparatively well because of CHEd, but still. These are universities that have brought together impressive members of the faculty and have given research a high priority. Excellence in education has always been the hallmark of Jesuit education and they didn’t need a CHE to push them in that direction. The Brothers of Christian Schools were just being organized to administer and operate schools that the communities around them could rely on for quality education. The UST, long before CHEd, was the Spanish colonial government’s regulator for higher education in the country.
Soon we will realize that colleges are best when left to their own devices. After all, people are judgmental, and if they are not, it is not the job of the government, nor any of its agencies, least of all CHEd, to distinguish for them. Students with the means – both intellectually and financially – will jostle for places at high-performing universities and colleges. The regulatory intervention by the CHEd, which is intended to encourage colleges and universities to achieve excellence, has not really succeeded. If anything, it has produced experts in circumventing rules and requirements. After all, the tradition of the university began with men (there were hardly any women in the competition at the time!), Settling in campuses traditionally recognized as zones of autonomy, and each of them collecting students according to their fame and prestige. So it was with Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus. This is how it was, my parents told me, whenever the late, esteemed judge Ricardo Puno taught. Students flocked to his classes. Intelligence, fluency and intellectual acuity have the innate attraction.
If there are no radical changes, the major educational centers in the Philippines will soon see the CHEd regulations as nothing more than static, disruptive intrusion into their business. If CHEd is to be relevant, it has to reinvent itself as guardian of the autonomy of universities and colleges. Sanctions and censure have no place in university life. Rather, CHEd should provide the space in which universities grow and prosper. In any case, CHEd has to be different from the agency we have now, which is not even able to allocate state universities and colleges the amount that national government allocates to creative solutions to distance learning challenges!