I attended the forum, Kapekonomiya 2.0: Probing the UP Land Use ,held in the School of Economics Auditorium on January 10, 2014 to gather information and gain insight from its key speakers, Professor Ruperto Alonzo and Professor Judy Taguiwalo.
The use of UP’s resources such as its vast land of 493 hectares has created controversy in the public and the academe. The university has entered into lease agreements with the private sector to develop parts of its land property in order to obtain profits projected at billions of pesos meant to augment the institution’s budget that comes from government subsidy. These contracts between public institutions and private corporations, called PPP (Public-Private Partnership), are provided for in the university’s Charter which allows it to enter into agreements to develop its land and thereby create profits. The establishment and operation of the UP Town Center and the Techno Hub are therefore legitimate agreements entered into by UP with its private developer, the Ayala Land.
Every component group and community of the university such as its employees, the academe and the student population are at the receiving end of these project’s objectives and are necessarily stakeholders not only in its success or failure but also its consequences. There is a great need at all cost for transparency in how much profit is being generated and what specific targets are identified for allocation to benefit from the huge business endeavour. This necessity should keep the University’s different groups to be vigilant in critically evaluating conditions that the university is faced with every step of the way. It is claimed that from this partnership, Ayala Land will be greatly helping the university to come up with needed funds to sustain the university’s operations, carry out trainings, advance its research and rehabilitate facilities, such that private investments in UP have given reason for government to believe that UP is on the road to being able to create funds for itself. This creates the false notion that UP can be self sustaining. UP President Alfredo Pascual meanwhile makes a reminder.
But even if we develop all these, we cannot generate to replace the budget of UP. We can reliably generate P2 billion from UP properties all over the country but if we were to put UP at the forefront of higher education in Asia, we need to generate more funds to finance research, faculty training and development, student scholarships, and many more.
UP’s purpose, being the country’s premiere state university, is to be a graduate and research, public, regional and global university. In 2008, however, UP has ceased to be considered a premiere state university but a national university because of its involvement with private ventures. It is an irony that it should be at the forefront of championing the noble cause of all learning institutions considered State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) which is that education is a public right and it should be made accessible to the public and government should, without exception, be foremost in upholding this public right. It is suspicious that on the contrary in recent years only less than half of the proposed yearly budget for education is approved by government from its General Appropriations Act. UP is clearly commercializing the university by entering into Public-Private partnerships, empowering private companies as agreements expand into more ventures, and lessening government’s commitment to education by supposedly giving it priority through the subsidy it rightfully deserves. Sadly, it remains that the 80% of UP’s funds comes from the government and tuition fees, a picture that shows tuition fees on the rise and government subsidy being decreased now and then. One factors in the university’s land resources being developed by Ayala Land and can only imagine government’s hopes to convert a great public learning institution into a self sustaining entity. True enough, Aquino in his Budget Message in 2010 made it clear before the general public that there will be “lesser budget to push SUCs [State Universities and Colleges] to be sub-sufficient and independent”.
Amidst all these, clearer in its wisdom than the warning in Aquino’s 2010 budget message is Professor Taguiwalo’s title of her segment in the forum, “UP Diliman Land Use: A blueprint for the further erosion of the public character of UP”.
We must be guided that UP remains a public institution of higher learning, its great noble goal should not be confused with profits. It is an institution that should never be lured into selling education to private investments. It should remain the country’s premiere state university, putting education, a public and constitutional right, at the center of its character, never to be replaced by commercialization.