MANILA, Philippines - The issue of alleged budget cuts for state universities and colleges (SUCs) has shone a spotlight on how the Aquino administration plans to solve some of the problems of the country's education system.
In an interview on Friday, Budget Secretary Butch Abad denied that his department made any cuts to the proposed budgets of SUCs for 2011. He said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allocated P23.4 billion for SUCs in 2011, which is P2.4 billion more than the P21 billion allocation for 2010.
He said the bulk of the P2.4 billion is for the higher allocation of personal services because of increased teachers' pay mandated by the Salary Standardization Law.
What was cut from the 2011 SUC budget, Abad said, were congressional insertions worth P1 billion for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and P1.8 billion for capital outlay including construction of new buildings and facilities.
"The congressional initiatives are part of the P65 billion inserted into the National Expenditure Program, which did not have a complementing source of new revenue. That is why President Arroyo vetoed it since it's conditional. She said this will be released if there is a new revenue source. Since we are in deficit, obviously we have no new revenue source," he told radio dzMM.
Abad, who is a former education secretary, said government has decided to put more money in basic education to improve the state of elementary and high school education. This is in line with the Department of Education's (DepEd) proposed K-12 program, which plans to implement an additional 2 years to the 10-year education cycle of elementary and high school students.
He noted that for the first time in 10 years, basic education is getting 20 percent of the budget.
"We really need to set our priorities right...Look at the state of tertiary education. If you ask around, certain tertiary schools are adding 1-2 years in their programs simply because they have to do remedial courses on English, Math and Science. If you do that, if you add 1-2 years in college, it is the students who pay because tertiary education is not free," he said in a separate interview.
"If we follow the proposal of the DepEd to add 2 years in both elementary and high school, that will continually be born by the state and that is a better way of investing because by the time the student reaches the tertiary level, mahirap nang habulin. It is more progressive to invest in elementary and high school because more people will benefit from it," he said.
Terry Ridon, national chairman of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), however, said there should be equitable distribution of the government's wealth to both basic and higher education.
Ridon said removing the budget insertions will contribute to the deteriorating conditions of SUCs particularly the University of the Philippines and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He reasoned that the congressional insertions were made because of the failure of national government to prioritize SUCs.
"The budgets of state universities and colleges have never been enough and is not going to be enough for next year," he said, adding that lack of funds forces these institutions to raise tuition and other fees.
The LFS chairman said SUCs are important because they provide an alternative to already commercialized private higher education.
For his part, Abad said the fact that some state colleges must add remedial courses to improve students' English, Match and Science colleges shows the problems faced by the country's educational system.
He also noted that the increased spending in basic education is meant to increase the number of students who actually go into college. He said that for every 100 students who enter elementary, only 14 graduate from college.
"We want to improve the condition of elementary and secondary institution so that we will have more students going into college," he said.
Too many SUCs?
Abad said the government is also eyeing the possible consolidation of some state colleges and universities. He said the Commission on Higher Education is set to review the situation of SUCs in the country "because legislators are establishing SUCs in every district or branches of existing SUCs in their towns and cities."
"It has reached a point wherein this situation is no longer manageable,. There are SUCs that really cannot afford to continue on existing simply because they do not have the funds. These are serious policy questions that are now being reviewed by the Commission on Higher Education," he said.
Abad said the administration is willing to support centers of excellence in tertiary education in certain regions such as the Mindanao State University, University of the Philippines and Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
"I believe in a very strong UP system, in an MSU system, in a PUP system, but not in every district of the country because really that is not going to be manageable and even necessary... Tertiary education is really the responsibility of the private sector, with the state coming in to give support at certain colleges that are centers of excellence in the regions," he said.
He added: "If things turn out better for the finances of the economy, we can sit down with CHED and study the possibility of consolidating the SUCs, rationalize and provide funding for scholarships and teacher capability improvement in key strategic public tertiary education in all the regions."
Use your savings
Abad also encouraged SUCs to tap their own savings that now amount to P19 billion or an average of P66 million per school.
He said SUCs earn through the collection of tuition and livelihood projects such as the rent of land.
"It used to be that SUC earnigns went to the National Treasury, which is then reallocated by Congress. What we did is we gave them the privilege so that their earnings will not go to the treasury but can be used for their own projects," he said.
He said the University of the Philippines has the biggest savings at P11.9 billion cash balance as of end 2009 while the lowest is Mountain Province State Polytechnic College at less than P200,000.
He said poorer SUCs can tap the Higher Education Development Fund of the Commission on Higher Education, which is estimated to reach P750 million next year.
"Since we lack the budget, the government has to mobilize all agencies to use their money instead of just leaving it inside the banks so that they can help. The students have to learn about this. What are they planning to do with this money?" he asked.
In the case of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, he said PUP officials should also review its existing tuition rates, which is currently at P12 per unit. He noted that plans to increase tuition in PUP led to violent protests earlier.
"Kailangan din nilang tignan ang tuition fee structure kasi halimbawa kung hindi ako nagkakamali 12 pesos per unit ang bayad nila sa PUP," he said.
CCT project questioned
The DBM chief, meanwhile, rejected a proposal to cut the P21 billion allocation for the government's conditional cash transfer project, which provides cash incentives to poor families to keep their kids, 14 years and below, in school.
In the ANC interview, Ridon said the CCT project should be given to basic social services such as higher education and not to a mere doleout program for poorer families.
"We think money is better spent in really educating our people. I don't think (CCT) is for the long term. It's giving people fish, not teaching them to fish," he said.
For his part, Abad said Ridon should go to CCT beneficiaries and relay his proposal. He said the cash allocation is an equitable distribution of the government's wealth since it helps children in poor families to finish elementary and high school.
"I wish you can tell that to CCT beneficiaries. You know, P1,400 a month for someone who has nothing, and the prospect of keeping their kids in school, getting regular immunization and getting prenatal and postnatal maternal care is not throwing away money," he said.