By Nora O. Gamolo
After newly-appointed Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chair Patricia Licuanan publicly vowed to instill reforms in the higher education sector, the only youth-student partlyist in the Philippine Congress has expressed hope to dialogue with her.
“We look forward to Licuanan's promise of reforms. We hope that she is up to the task of facing the education crisis head-on," Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond Palatino said by way of welcoming Licuanan, whose CHED is tasked to manage issues concerning private college, graduate and post-graduate schools.
Licuanan has a sterling track record in the field of education. She served as president of the prestigiopus Miriam College, and is known as a feminist, being a trustee of the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics.
She has also expressed intent to go after errant nursing schools, whose numbers have risen due to the liberalization policies of the administration of, the predecessor of the current government of Benigno Aquino III.
Palatino said that to genuinely enact positive changes in the CHED, Licuanan should be able to check the controversial annual increases in tuition and other school fees, and make the agency more accessible to students.
“CHED must practice stronger regulatory powers over the unjust imposition of tuition and other fee hikes. Policies such as CHED Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 13, for instance, need to be reviewed and updated," he said.
CMO 13 does not include miscellaneous fees in the yearly tuition consultations of private higher educational institutions. In effect, school administrations are given free reign to arbitrarily increase miscellaneous fees either as smokescreen for tuition hikes or on top of tuition rates, explained Palatino.
"CHED must also uphold public higher education. Over the years, state colleges and universities (SUCs) have suffered the worst budget cuts resulting in commercialization, privatization and other income-generating ventures at the expense of our poor students," Palatino asserted.
"Increasing state subsidy for SUCs should be CHED's top priority. We hope Licuanan would take up the cudgels for higher state subsidy for education in the 2011 national budget deliberations, " Palatino said.
The government should allot at least six percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product to education, as prescribed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
He also called for CHED to promote students’ rights and welfare, and uphold their right to free association.
“We also hope that Licuanan develops CHED into a more pro-student institution upholding freedom of speech and expression of students. Until now, not all tertiary schools have their own student councils and campus publications. These institutions are basic rights of students," Palatino said.
Making CHED more accessible to students, Palatino said, would be a major positive development since the CHED Chairman is automatically represented in all Board of Regents of state colleges and universities.
Noting that licuanan also came from the private education sector, Palatino said "there should be no conflict of interest.”
“(Licuanan) should not dilly-dally in imposing sanctions against school-owners in violation of rules and regulations governing tuition and other fee hikes and other policies. The main problem with previous CHED administrations was their links and bias towards school owners and capitalist educators," Palatino explained.
He also urged Licuanan to support calls to amend laws such as the Education Act of 1982 and Campus Journalism Act (CJA) of 1991, review past administrations' labor export program, and re-orient the Pbhilippines’ educational system.
The controversial Education Act of 1982 “allows school-owners to arbitrarily raise tuition to their discretion” while the CJA of 1991 “has closed down campus publications since its implementation.”
Meanwhile, the government's labor export program "induces higher educational institutions to adjust their curriculum to one-sidedly cater to demands of the global market, driving away our nurses, doctors, teachers and professionals instead of urging them to contribute to national development.”
"We are open to a dialogue with Chair Licuanan to discuss pertinent issues and our proposal for policy reforms in the education sector,” Palatino said.