By BENJIE OLIVEROS
When asked whether he would increase the tuition during his term, new UP President Alfredo Pascual replied with a resounding “No.” That was a bold declaration coming from a “dark horse” and an “outsider” who won the race for the UP presidency and a successor of former UP president Emerlinda Roman who presided over the raising of the tuition from P300 per unit to a whopping P1,000 per unit. Roman even declared that it was not the last tuition increase.
It also came as a surprise as the business background of Pascual, who was with the Asian Development Bank for 19 years, was expected to prevail and a lot of people thought that he would follow the footsteps of Roman, who also came from the College of Business Administration.
New UP President Alfredo Pascual is not really an outsider because he graduated from UP Diliman B.S. Chemistry in 1969 and earned his Masters in Business Administration in 1972. And he was the alumni regent right before he was elected as UP president. But he was up against UP bigwigs such as Diliman Chancellor Sergio Cao, UPLB Chancellor Luis Rey Velasco, former VP for Academic Affairs Maris Diokno, former UP Law Dean Raul Pangalanan, Dr. Leonor Briones, UP professor and former Treasurer under the Estrada Administration, and Benjamin Diokno former Budget Secretary and also a UP professor.
It would be a tough task ahead for UP President Pascual because he is presiding over UP at a time when its budget is being slashed and it is slowly losing its identity as a state university where poor but deserving students could get quality education and become a leader in his or her chosen field.
For 2010, UP submitted a budget of around P18 billion but received only a third of that, around P6 billion. And it is not expected to get any better. The Aquino administration appears to be hell bent on allocating the lion’s share of a meager education budget to basic education, especially with the K+12 program. This shift in budgetary allocation was recommended by a 1997 Philippine Education Sector Study, which was funded by the Asian Development Bank. So it appears that the country is headed toward where most countries are: having 12 years of subsidized basic education while tertiary education would become prohibitive. As it is, the P1,000 per unit of UP is already turning back potential students from poor backgrounds.
How then would UP President Pascual achieve his vision of academic excellence, of UP regaining its position as the center of learning in Southeast Asia, and of UP playing a leading role in the development of the country and in producing the nation’s leaders in different fields?
First, UP President Pascual said, he would continue knocking on the doors of Malacañang for a higher budget for UP because it is the state’s duty to do so. This would be tough considering the neo-liberal thrusts of the Aquino administration. One journalist even asked Pascual if he thinks he would be successful in getting the Aquino administration to give a bigger budget to UP considering that President Aquino and the people surrounding him in Malacañang are all from Ateneo.
Nevertheless, it is the most principled thing to do and this would align UP President Pascual with the progressive students, faculty and employees of UP.
Second, UP President Pascual vowed to make the operations of UP more efficient, with the use of technology, and in the process, reduce costs. The ticklish issue here is whether there would be lay offs, which would put the UP administration in conflict with the employees union.
Third, UP President Pascual aims to “fully utilize the idle assets and resources of UP.” He cited as example, the idea of making the 12,000-hectare land owned by UP in the Laguna-Quezon area productive. He is also planning to lease 100 hectares from the land of UP Diliman, which, by his account, constituted 500 hectares, with 300 hectares currently being used. When asked whether this would not lead to the further commercialization of UP, he replied that for as long as commercialization would not dictate to UP what and how to teach or unduly influence its research agenda, he sees nothing wrong with it.
Fourth, UP President Pascual intends to intensify efforts at soliciting donations, especially from the alumni.
With these efforts, UP President Alfredo Pascual targets to raise P300 to P400 million in additional revenues annually for UP’s modernization, creation of more professorial chairs, UP initiated researches, among others for the academic advancement of the only national university in the country. This, he said, should not be used as justification to slash the budget of UP.
To address the problem of access of the poor to UP, UP President Pascual plans to revive a student loan program but more akin to the study now pay later programs in other countries such as the federal and private student loan programs in the US where payment is deferred until six months after graduation. His administration also plans to tweak the process of processing STFAP applications. Changes in the processing of STFAP applications are absolutely necessary. Bulatlat.com has featured stories of deserving students having to go through a tedious process that took months, nay years.
Part of the plans of the new UP administration is to review the admission standards to measure not only achievements and aptitude but also potentials for leadership. With this, UP hopes to cast a wider net to get the best and the brightest among high school graduates all over the country. But to be able to do this, UP President Alfredo Pascual is challenging Congressmen and Congresswomen to invest in the basic education of their constituents and to fund review classes for graduating high school students.
Will UP President Alfredo Pascual be successful in in his goal of achieving academic excellence and efficient operations for UP? Will UP regain its stature not only of being the premier center of learning in the region but of developing national leaders, as well as eminent persons in various fields? The dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. and CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison were all products of UP. Will UP’s voice be heard again in national discourse?
We certainly hope so. But UP is a microcosm of Philippine society. Nothing short of earth shaking measures challenging the prevailing thinking that envelops Philippine society and brings it deeper into crisis could make a difference. The golden years of UP was when academic freedom prevailed and the university presented a challenge to the dictator Marcos. It was also the time when true “iskolars ng bayan” populate the university. That was the administration of another outsider Salvador P. Lopez, and that momentum was sustained through the martial law years.
These are tough times ahead for UP President Alfredo Pascual. But if he would be able to unite the UP community – administration, faculty, students and employees – to face up to the challenge amid an atmosphere of academic freedom, then his administration would make its mark in the history of UP.