Top universities mull September opening

By Helen Flores, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 04 2014 02:31 AM | Updated as of Jan 04 2014 09:11 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The country's top universities are considering revising their academic calendar by having it synchronized with the one being followed in Southeast Asia in which school opening is set in August or September.

The University of the Philippines (UP), Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), De La Salle University (DLSU) and the University of Santo Tomas (UST) have expressed openness to the idea but have not made a final decision.

Adamson University, meanwhile, is reportedly set to begin the next school year in August.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) said it is worried about the repercussions of revising the academic cycle on the educational system, particularly on entrance and licensure examinations.

The plan to change the academic calendar is in preparation for the economic integration of the Southeast Asian region in 2015. This means that from the current June-March cycle, the academic year will run from September to June.

Under the scheme, Philippine universities are expected to attract foreign students and facilitate the enrollment abroad of Filipino students and faculty members.

“This (revised school calendar) has to be studied carefully by these schools as there might be some repercussions, especially in the country’s education system,” CHED Chairman Patricia Licuanan said in a phone interview.

She stressed that changing the school calendar is not a requirement for ASEAN integration.

“This may not be for everybody,” Licuanan said, noting that the majority of the students of these higher educational institutions are locals.

“I don’t think any of these schools are ready to implement the changes this coming school year (2014-2015),” she said.

Licuanan said the CHED would only get involved when a greater number of higher educational institutions decide to follow the new academic calendar.

CHED has created a technical working group to study the implications of the changes in academic schedule, she said.

Meanwhile, the UP Board of Regents will discuss the matter in its meeting this month.

UP vice president for public affairs Prospero de Vera earlier said all of UP’s constituent universities, except Diliman, had expressed support for a revised academic calendar.

The DLSU administration released a copy of a memorandum last Dec. 2 regarding the proposal to shift its academic calendar starting 2015.

It proposed the start of the university’s first trimester on the first week of September.

The Guidon, ADMU’s official student newspaper, also reported on the university’s plan to move school opening to August starting 2015.

The Varsitarian, UST’s official school organ, likewise reported last Dec. 7 the university’s plan to synchronize its academic calendar with those followed in most countries.

CHED said the universities are considered autonomous and thus can adopt the change without its approval. Universities that are not autonomous would have to secure CHED’s approval before they can adjust their academic calendars.

The Philippines is the only member-country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) where the academic year begins in June. Thailand followed the September-May calendar in 2011.

The Department of Education is also studying the effects of revising the school schedule for basic education.

A recent DepEd survey showed only three regions were in favor of changing the academic calendar: Central Luzon, Western Visayas and Western Mindanao.

Meanwhile, Licuanan said CHED is strongly pushing for the passage of a bill rationalizing the distribution of slots for government scholarships and other educational assistance programs.

Licuanan made the call amid reports of alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for government scholars. The Supreme Court had earlier declared PDAF unconstitutional.

Licuanan said the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Higher and Technical Education (UNIFAST) bill, which is still pending in Congress, aims to address problems related to access, equity and distribution of student financial assistance slots.

The measure also aims to address problems in tracking the whereabouts of beneficiaries, payment recovery rate on student loans as well as compliance on scholarships and management.

“Since 2012, we have been pushing for the passage of the UniFAST bill in order to improve efficiency, optimize the use of scarce resources, broaden access particularly of the poor and steer grantees to priority courses that are needed by the local and national economy,” Licuanan said.

If enacted into law, the measure would address the low repayment rate in the agency’s Study Now Pay Later program, CHED officials said.

The Commission on Audit (COA), in its annual audit report for 2012 released late last month, pointed out several issues related to the implementation of the CHED Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) previously funded by legislators’ PDAF.

COA said CHED did not adhere to some of the provisions of its own StuFAPs guidelines.

“We have already discussed COA audit observations with them. These are old findings which we have already handled,” Licuanan said.