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Finally, Our Own University?

By next school year, 42 years after it came into being courtesy of Congressman Jose M. Alberto, the Catanduanes State Colleges will officially become a university.

According to Senator Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture, the bill authored by Congressman Cesar Sarmiento proposing the conversion the CSC into a full-fledged university has already been approved by the Upper House. Sarmiento’s buddy in the Senate, Chiz Escudero, however, says that while the bill has been approved at the committee level, it still has to be formally okayed by the Senate membership.

The remaining process is just a formality and the bill’s enactment into law before the end of the year is a crowning achievement on the part of Congressman Sarmiento, whose patient lobbying for the bill among fellow legislators deserves credit. More importantly, the solon has done it right in his very first term, something two congressmen before him failed to do even with three full terms of nine years.

Already, Dr. Minerva Isorena-Morales, the presumptive first university president, has already submitted to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) the proposed additional programs in preparation for the 2013-2014 school year.

The news is cause for celebration not only in the academic world but also among the rest of the community in this island province. For the existence of a university here right on the Catandunganons’ doorsteps at least ensures that their children will have a chance at quality education comparable with those offered by mainland Bicol and Manila institutions of higher learning.

But let us postpone popping the corks off wine bottles and lighting expensive fireworks, for here is CHED’s plan of amalgamation and typology threatening to disrupt the islanders’ dream.

Under its amalgamation proposal, if we understand it correctly, the existing state colleges and universities (SUCs) in the Bicol region will be merged into one regional university system, with Bicol University at its center. By typology, a source in the academe says, the affiliate SUCs will only offer their best courses and nothing more.

The CHED claims the proposed set-up of Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) will avoid duplication of programs within the same region. It will also involve a moratorium on new HEIs offering “oversubscribed” programs such as business administration, nursing, hotel and restaurant management, information technology, teacher education, and maritime education.

Simply, whatever the status of the CSC next year, it will become a mere adjunct of BU, with Pres. Morales reduced to performing the job of a chancellor under the BU president and with only engineering, agriculture and forestry management as its flagship courses.

A CHED official has been quoted as saying that amalgamating the SUCs will “effect more simplified and rationalized external governance and shared quality assurance management, instrument of fiscal prudence, render greater efficiency and economy, promote greater synergy among component units of RUS, allow more developed units to assist developing one, and enable better compliance with global standards.” He, and the rest of CHED officials who pursue amalgamation and typology forget that there are island provinces like Catanduanes whose college-age youth may not be that rich enough to go to the mainland or Manila to study courses which will not be offered at the Catanduanes State University.

And how will CHED, a mere commission, try to take away the CSC’s university status that will be granted through a charter enacted by Congress? Once it earns university status, CSC will have proven that it has complied with the minimum standards and thus earns the right to operate as such.

CHED should not lose sight of its mandate to provide greater access to higher education to greater numbers. Rather, it should encourage the growth and development of HEIs in geographically-isolated provinces like Catanduanes. To do otherwise would be to unduly deprive CSC of the status it has earned and to dash upon the rocks of ill-advised “reforms” and uneven budgetary allotments the dreams of Catandunganon youths.

Source: Editorial, Catanduanes Tribune

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