Great 21st century State University
Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - June 9, 2013 - 12:00am

 MANILA, Philippines -It becomes evident early on what the thrusts of a Pascual presidency – two years into a six-year administration – are: a research intensive university keeping pace with global standards, opening up academe to foreign students and faculty through exchange programs with other leading universities worldwide, and the development of idle lands granted to the system to help raise salaries and fund cutting edge research. 

The 64-year-old finance expert formerly of the Asian Development Bank assumed office in 2011 as UP’s 20th president, and so far, he says during the Wednesday morning STARweek interview in his second floor office at the administration building in the Diliman campus, the vision statement disclosed at his investiture remains on target, notwithstanding the occasional bumps on the road whenever UP lands in the news in a not so favorable light.

For one, Pascual says, UP will have to adjust curriculum when it loses two years of incoming freshmen a couple of years from now due to the K to 12 program. “We’re thinking of offering subjects in the last two years of senior high school,” he says, to make up for the lag time.

As for the regular evaluation and ranking of universities by the Quacquarelli Symonds, he says UP welcomes this and “it is important to get a good assessment” not only to see how the state university stands among other premier learning institutions, but by embracing the competition UP will inevitably take steps to improve and sustain its academic excellence.

“We’ll be compared whether we like it or not,” the former alumni representative to the UP Board of Regents says, adding such rankings are in line with a globally competitive Philippines, not just UP, which through its mandate should take a leadership role.

That there were no topnotchers from UP during the last Bar exams should not set off alarm bells. “It’s not the first time it happened,” he says, and that having a UP student in the top 10 of licensure exams has never been the objective, rather to get a 100 percent passing rate, or at least close to perfect.

He denies that the suicide of UP Manila student Kristel Tejada had spurred UP officials to review the socialized tuition payment scheme, saying this was on the drawing board from the get-go, in order to fine-tune collection of fees.

“Tuition fees are very difficult to raise,” he says, especially in state universities like UP.

But he takes pride in the fact that he was able to raise UP’s budget allocation from the national government to P10 billion from the previous P6 billion, thanks in part to UP alumni now in the Aquino Cabinet.

Then there is the development of idle lands, versus so-called commercialization, such as the Ayala Technohub off Commonwealth, and the UP Town Centre soon to be inaugurated at the site of the UP Integrated School, now relocated to the former Narra dormitory, which after having burned down has become a memory of old fogies.

And speaking of dorms, gradual renovation of the campus fixtures is underway, not to mention planned construction of over a thousand more housing units for faculty and staff.

Properties are also to be developed in Davao, and a plantation in the Laguna-Quezon area, yet for all these additional revenue is projected at some P2.3 billion, which Pascual says “is very small.”

There’s a five-hectare property to be tapped along Cebu’s South Road, where 3.5 hectares is to be allotted for business process outsourcing, a collaboration between academe and industry.

The P1-billion National Institutes of Health building in UP Manila intends to set the pace in health-related research, while the P150-million Philippine Genome Center is to lead gene level research.

The Philippine-California Research Initiative is a collaboration among Philippine universities led by UP with the University of California Berkely and UC San Francisco, and one of the projects is a dengue diagnosis kit up for final testing.

With the Department of Science and Technology, the university is helping implement in the next two years a P1.6-billion geo-mapping project that can predict flooding possibilities, setting up sensors in river basins to measure rainfall volume as part of disaster mitigation.

IBM too has donated the super computer Blue Jean, which through process of data can predict weather for the next seven days or more.

UP’s civic arm is called Padayon UP, which is involved in the government’s Project Noah that gears up during the monsoon season.

Padayon also helped out in the last elections through its Halalan website, providing facts check service regarding politicians’ campaign speeches and promises, and which received more than 50,000 hits.

Pascual says UP, as befits the times, is very much social media savvy, having Facebook, Twitter, YouTube accounts.

The ongoing project eUp (electronic UP) of course strives not only for operational excellence but also administrative efficiency.

The importance of eUp cannot be overstated, he says, because through it “decisions can be made based on real time information.”

As for staff benefits, a comprehensive medicare program is still under formulation at UP Manila, while a centralized analytical lab is in the works at UP Los Baños, but procurement has been difficult because of government rules. Review and amendment of the procurement law may be in store, he says.

In much the same way that due to the salary standardization law, salaries at the state university can barely keep up with the private sector.

“You can only do so much,” Pascual says, when asked this time about violence on campus, although CCTV can be a deterrent, big brother is watching at the university of the people.

UP in the 21st century cannot but be placed in a global context, more so in light of the coming ASEAN integration in 2015, which calls for the free movement of goods in the region.

Filipinos should be able to study anywhere and be competitive, he says, “we cannot close our eyes to such realities.”

So the university of our youth and restless minds continues to move forward under the leadership of the white-haired Mang Fred, how much it has changed in the new century and yet with something still unchanged, because not even a newly inaugurated light rail system can displace the trusty ikot/toki jeeps skirting the campus and its steady periphery.

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