Marcos' education priorities: Climb world rankings, keep free tuition law

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Marcos' education priorities: Climb world rankings, keep free tuition law
President Marcos and Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte repaint chairs in a classroom during a visit to the Victorino Mapa High School in San Miguel, Manila yesterday as part of the annual ‘Brigada Eskwela’ aimed at preparing schools for the opening of classes on Aug. 29. At right, a teacher arranges schoolbooks at the Baguio Central School, where parents, residents and members of the police force pitched in to help clean rooms and surrounding areas.
The STAR / Krizjohn Rosales, Andy Zapata Jr.

MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. believes the government and the private sector must pool their efforts together to improve the state of higher education after a recent Times Higher Education ranking showed Philippine universities' relatively weaker standing compared to other Asian countries.

Marcos said during the National Higher Education Day Summit on Wednesday that "much work still needs to be done" after no Philippine university broke into the top 100 schools in THE's 2024 Asia University Rankings.

The latest THE rankings show that the Philippines' best performing school, the Ateneo de Manila University, sunk from 84th place to the 401-500 bracket, while other schools dropped or maintained their ranking.

"I have stated it before but I will state it again that as far as my view of government service is concerned, the most important service that government must provide to its people is a good education. No country can prosper without a good educational background," the president said.

Improving the country's educational standards is the government's "highest priority" and the "front and center of this administration’s national development agenda," Marcos said.

To improve the quality of the country's HEIs, the president stressed the need to involve the private sector, which currently operates 1,729 universities and colleges nationwide. This is seven times more than the number of state and local universities and colleges, but student populations are much smaller in private schools, based on 2019 data by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).  

"As with all the important developments, all the important plans that we put together, we cannot say that this is only government’s responsibility. But we should also allow private parties to participate and not shove private parties to the sidelines," Marcos added. 

"When it comes to educating our youth, government and private schools are not competitors but must be regarded as equal partners," he said. 

Free tuition policy to stay

Marcos also vowed to keep education free in state universities and colleges (SUCs) — a policy that is wildly popular among Filipinos but has also triggered questions of sustainability among economists and spotlighted the lack of facilities in government-run HEIs. 

In his speech, the president touted the government's allocation of nearly P134 billion for state and local universities and colleges in the 2024 budget "so that more students can receive free tertiary education and more families will be eased of the burden of having to pay for college."

Marcos said: "We know that whatever is spent on education, we should never regard as an expenditure. It is an investment in our people,"

The total budget for SUCs this year is much higher than the government's initial proposed amount, which was around P100 billion, according to the 2024 National Expenditure Program. During the budget deliberations in Congress last year, 36 university presidents petitioned for the House and the Senate to restore the estimated P6.1 billion removed from their budget. 

Economist Edita Tan wrote in a 2017 study on the limitations of the free tuition law that the then-recently implemented Republic Act 10931 will lead to "increased pressure on the national government budget to replace the income that SUCs lose from tuition and other fees."

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