Philippine higher education: Put the right people in charge

By Flor Lacanilao

This is a review of some issues I have discussed related to higher education. Although some have asked why I often repeat what is already said, I remind those in science that I repeat only what is important, for emphasis, like in a scientific article. Here, the principal result is often mentioned five times. It is usually made the Title of the article, stated in the Abstract, Introduction, and Results sections, and explained in the Discussion.

My concern is the ignored issues in Philippine education reform — which should start with higher education. Studies have shown, “It is doubtful that great progress can be made at the primary and secondary levels until a higher standard of science learning is set at the post-secondary level.”

Key to any reform is to put on top position the right person: in the CHED, universities, colleges, departments, and graduate programs. Violation of this widely accepted practice is prevalent in the country.

In a previous post, I mentioned that in UP Diliman, the country’s premier university, only 2 of its 22 deans are adequately published in leading ISI-indexed journals; 12 have no such publications, so too are the five top officials of CHED.

Of the seven autonomous universities of the UP System, only chancellor Caesar Saloma of UP Diliman is well published — with over 100 SCI-indexed papers. Three chancellors have each only 1 or 2 such publications, and the three others have no published papers indexed in SCI, SSCI, or AHCI (defined below).

Only those who have made major contributions to one’s field deserve top academic positions. To assess if one has such a record, search with Google Scholar for a list of published works and number of citations (which measure their quality and impact). Count only the papers published in respected ISI-indexed journals — that is, those covered in Science Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index, or Arts & Humanities Citation Index

You can get the same data easier and faster with the ISI database called Web of Knowledge, but this requires subscription. This database gives already-selected journal papers as described above.

Such journals are accepted worldwide as sources of reliable information. They contain valid publications or properly published studies, which define the persons to trust for academic and other functions.

Failure to observe a performance-based evaluation process is the reason for the deteriorating condition of our educational system. I have reviewed the problems in Philippine higher education (Google search or click Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education), and it can be summarized thus:

Putting in more money has been the usual answer to address problems. A review, however, does not point to the lack of funding as the reason. It is the failure to attend to the basic causes and needs — like putting the right people in charge.

Data show that, whereas billions of pesos were spent on various “innovative” programs, and have increased the country’s researchers to 7,500 in the last 3 decades, the overall research output has become worse — increased number but lower quality. The programs also produced increasing number of poor mentors and decreasing overall quality of graduates.

What can be done with the present situation?

(a) Review Democratic governance

This is based on the idea that two heads are better than one. But In research, for example, only a minority of researchers is properly published and fully understand how research affects human development. It is therefore advisable for published researchers to spend part of their professional time and effort to reading and thinking about the benefits of research.

Such extra effort would enable them to be more convincing in discussions and influence group decisions for academic reform. Further, it would also make them more confident to use their expertise in debates on national issues.

As it is, debates on science-related issues and education in the country have been dominated by nonscientists — giving personal opinion rather than study-based comments — and usually without any useful conclusions for policy-maling .

All these partly explain why increasing number of neighbor countries have been leaving us behind, in education, S&T, and national progress.

(b) A related concern is to focus on Problems preventing academic reforms

“America’s huge economic success comes from innovation, which is fueled by its research enterprise. And this in turn is driven by graduate education.” This reminds us of a university’s role in social and economic transformations. It will require developing few universities into research universities. The University of the Philippines Diliman is the best candidate to be the first in the country.

It is important for properly published faculty members to have majority control of decision-making bodies. Opposition to this kind of change will come largely from those unpublished in ISI-indexed journals. Such resistance has reduced the gains in some activities and has delayed overall reform,

Strong, visionary leadership and bold actions will decide UP’s development into a research university, to live up to its name as the National University, and to assert its leadership in producing new knowledge, reforming education in the country, and building a nation.

UP can still aim to be in the top 100 universities in Asia and the world’s top 500 (see Academic Ranking of World Universities). And we can hope to hear again that Centennial catchphrase — this time not as propaganda, but an honest, well-deserved acknowledgment from the entire nation — UP, ang galing mo!