TURNING POINT: Free Tuition in Philippine Education

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/08 August)– The grant of free tuition in state colleges and universities is probably one of the most interesting developments that ever happened to tertiary education in this country.

But without being cynical about it, what is really the percentage slice of tuition in the overall cost of college education?

In some state universities and colleges (SUCs) the total charge for miscellaneous fees could be much bigger than the tuition. Miscellaneous is a blank check that school management could write anything to raise more revenues from poor students – developmental fee, whatever that means,  medical fee, dental fee, insurance fee, athletic fee, library fee, computer fee, internet fee, publication fee, journal fee, Intramurals fee, student manual, ID, NSTC/ROTC fee, etc . Add the cost of fieldtrips or teambuilding and other out-of-town extra-curricular activities, and organizational fees collected by students themselves, and your eyes will roll eternally.

I suppose the biggest chunk of college education cost is in board and lodging, transportation and other out-of-pocket student expenditure which small farmers, fishers, market vendors, jeep, bus and taxi drivers, construction workers, and even rank and file employees of government and private establishments can ill afford to provide for their kids.

At a glance, who would really benefit from the free tuition grant of the government? Obviously, not the poor students of poor parents but the students of the middle if not upper middle class families. The really poor would be sidelined by the well-intentioned but less-thought-out legislation.

Come to think of it, the great issue in Philippine education is not so much affordability or access but quality and the right and fitting correspondence between the supply (knowledge and skills) provided by the educational system and what is critically needed by the economy. As it is, the supply is aplenty but is grossly inappropriate to various industry needs.

This should be what our educational planners should look into. The K-12 program ought not to stop simply at adding  rungs to the educational ladder but should  guide, shape and prepare the interest and inclination of the learners along the way vis-a-vis  the needs  of the economy. In many countries in Europe, for instance in Switzerland and Norway, degree programs  are optional for students to pursue, that is, after nine years of elementary schooling and subsequent apprenticeship which prepares them for vocations or future jobs of their interest and choice.

In Switzerland, most kids start an apprenticeship after elementary school. Depending on the chosen profession, an apprenticeship may take to as long as two to four years. Apprenticeships include all kinds of professions, from handicraft (mechanic, carpenter, mason, welder, baker, hairdresser etc.) to office worker (secretary, bookkeeper, IT specialist etc.). The apprentice will get trained in a company or organization, and will attend school for one or two days a week. Some companies even provide allowances and  additional classes on their own for their apprentices so as not to inconvenience them.

After apprenticeship and depending on their education, young people can either start a job or join other schools for further education.

The educational scheme is worth trying in rationalizing education in the country. The apprenticeship program is something the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Technical Education and Skill Development Authority (TESDA) may jointly examine to realign and integrate their programs.

As for tertiary education, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) ought to tighten the screw on unnecessary course offerings. Admission to degree programs should be strictly controlled. For the purpose, the CHED may hold national admission examination for degree programs. It may also conduct competitive scholarship examination for entry to state universities and colleges, especially for degrees in the sciences and engineering. Successful examinees should receive government support for school fees and  living allowances. In this regard, the competitive scholarship grant offered every year by the Mindanao State University  in the 60s and early 70s to the upper 5 percent of the graduating classes  in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan is a very good model on free education to poor but deserving students. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)