Which business can easily start in the Philippines

Top universities and diploma factories

With a college degree, young Filipinos can escape poverty. Paradoxically, only the rich can afford a proper degree. And even expensive universities don't always offer a good education. By Alan C. Robles

If you believe the critics, the main problem with the Philippine higher education system is that it is aligned with the American model: most universities are private, for-profit institutions. The national spokesman for the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), JC Tejano, says: “The only thing universities want is to make money.” Far too little is invested in quality, however.

According to government figures, there are 2,247 universities in the Philippines. 88 percent of them are private institutions. Of the country's 2.9 million students, only 60 percent are enrolled at private universities. One consequence is that state universities are mostly overcrowded and underfunded.

High costs

On average, there is little difference between the costs of private and public universities in the Philippines. The government's Council on Higher Education (CHED) estimates that students at a private university currently pay an average of 237,600 pesos (4,200 euros) for four years of study - at state universities the figure is 233,600 pesos. However, one has to know that among the private universities there are not only the best and most expensive, but also the cheapest and worst institutions. The best universities can easily cost 400,000 pesos.

Measured against the income of Filipino households, these tuition fees are hefty. According to the 2009 government survey, the median income for a family is only 206,000 pesos. Families from the lower third of the income pyramid only have an average of 62,000 pesos.

The universities increase their fees almost every year. According to the online magazine Bulatlat, the average cost per teaching unit in 2005 was over 330 pesos, in 2011 it was already over 500. In addition, there are costs for food, accommodation and transport for the students. These are not insignificant sums. Professors report of students who skip seminars because they cannot afford the fare. Others are unable to concentrate because they haven't eaten properly for too long.

The universities are also very creative in driving their bills even higher with other items. Some charge fees for “laboratory”, “energy” and “development”. A representative of the youth organization Anakbayan, Antonio Pascua Jr., pointed out last year that a university had imposed a so-called "restricted fee", the purpose of which was "completely obscure" to the students. The CHED chairwoman Patricia Licuanan therefore pleaded to all universities "to carefully examine the increase in their tuition fees every year". On behalf of the government, she called on all institutes to “spend their expenses wisely and purposefully in order to reduce the costs for the students”.

The sad truth is that at some point many students are unable to pay their tuition and drop out. The 2005 Bulatlat report suggests a dropout rate of 73 percent.

These students either quit entirely or move to cheaper universities. Although these are usually worse, there is still a trend towards higher fees. Student representative Tejano is therefore calling for all fees to be frozen. His organization is committed to reducing the cost of education.

However, the private colleges argue that they could not survive financially without the high fees. Licuanan from the CHED agrees: “High quality education has its price.” Therefore, the increase in fees is “necessary”, but it must be “justified, reasonable and transparent”.

Poor quality

However, the quality of training in particular is often questionable in the Philippines. There are a few top universities among private colleges. Its graduates can likely compete with those of other elite universities around the world. Most other private universities, on the other hand, seem to make a profit at the expense of quality.

A faculty member who does not want to be named says: "Some universities are actually not allowed to offer courses, they are not qualified." These "windy providers" and "diploma factories" demanded high tuition fees for inadequate training.

Other teachers also tell disturbing stories. For example from the university, which does not keep any books in its library. Its president believes that books are superfluous because everything can be downloaded from the Internet. A few semesters ago, another university was using a textbook on international relations from 1976. The world has changed since then: 1976 was one year after the end of the Vietnam War, 13 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and 25 years before September 11th .

Another professor reports that a university does not allow teachers to pay for copying examination papers. Either the teachers pay for the photocopies themselves, or they have to write everything on a blackboard.

The government of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III is aware of the problems. There are ambitious reform plans for the education sector, such as extending school time in primary and secondary schools (see box).

CHED chairwoman Licuanan also emphasizes that improvements are necessary. There are too many different study providers and courses. In addition, the content is often not practice-oriented, the quality of study is deteriorating, and access to high-quality higher education is becoming increasingly difficult. The CHED wants to improve these things by means of a university reform.

But the political clout of the CHED is currently under scrutiny. He has been trying to close the International Academy of Management and Economics in Manila for some time. This university bears the abbreviation IAME, which sounds a bit like the much more renowned Asian Institute of Management (AIM). The CHED accuses the IAME of “gross and persistent disregard and non-compliance with existing laws, rules and regulations”. Still, the IAME is still in business. Allegedly she has close ties to President Aquino.

The universities themselves are not the only problem, however. In general, the school education in the Philippines leaves a lot to be desired. Studies at universities can therefore often not even begin at a high level. The writer and scientist Isagani Cruz is visiting professor at Oxford University and has taught at various high-profile Philippine universities. According to him, the first year of study in the Philippines is closer to the level of high school in other countries.

For these reasons, higher education cannot contribute to economic growth and development. Bill Luz from the National Competitiveness Council states: “Business representatives complain about the low level of our training. In international comparative studies, we get poor assessments for primary education and the quality of research, especially in mathematics. ”Luz therefore calls for better cooperation between industry and science.

In fact, college graduates often do not have the knowledge and skills that employers demand of them. "Many university graduates work in jobs with low productivity," said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in a 2007 Philippines study. In the same report, the ADB complained that “well-trained employees are rare in the industry”. This is particularly the case in information technology and outsourced services such as call centers or accounting.

The World Bank came to a similar conclusion in its report on higher education in Asia earlier this year: there is a discrepancy between the education system, government programs and what the private sector needs. The World Bank's recommendation is hardly surprising: The Philippines would have to improve its universities in order to increase the professional skills of its graduates.