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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, May 5, 2014

UNIVERSITY of the Philippines president Alfredo Pascual has expressed concern that the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT), which in becoming more competitive, may cause UP not to be able to recruit the kind of students the university wants to eventually count among its alumni.

We understand. Any recruitment process will, hopefully, recruit the kind of students UP is looking for but, inevitably, there will be errors of two types. The first type of error is to recruit students who turn out to be the kind of student that UP does not want, and the second type of error is to deny entry to students who would have benefitted from UP’s intellectual stimulations.

It is not a perfect world. Last year, around 83,000 students took UPCAT but only 12,000 of these were offered places at UP.


Students take UPCAT in July. They have had just over three years of high school education. The UPCAT examinations test the students’ knowledge about all aspects of their school education. Hence UPCAT is finding out what students really understand compared to what they swotted up for a test covering the last grading period.

Pascual mentions that UPCAT is testing the excellence in subjects such as mathematics and science. UPCAT does not examine whether students have creative potential in subjects such as creative writing, literature, fine arts, and theater arts.

We would mention that our schools do not put much emphasis on the creative arts. This is regrettable. Many students graduate from high school without ever writing a proper essay.

Unfortunately, there is an emphasis in school on rote learning at the expense of understanding, particularly creative understanding. For example, students are taught that correct spelling is desirable so they learn lists of words that they do not understand. How sad.

Pascual is looking for ways to adjust the admissions system so that UP recruits an optimum mix of students who would excel in both arts and sciences. If this means we shall see a different format for UPCAT, then I am all for it.

Historically, the function of UP was to provide quality, state-funded education to poor but deserving Filipinos. This desirable objective was dented in 2008 when UP’s fees were more than tripled overnight. The costs per unit at UP Diliman went from P300 to P1, 000. This meant that the semestral fee (18 units per semester) became a tough P18, 000 instead of the previous, manageable, P5, 400.

Similarly UP Visayas, with its campuses in Iloilo and Miag-ao, imposed a tuition hike of 300 percent [P600 per unit instead of P200]. Annual fees tripled from P7,200 to P21, 600.

To be fair to UP, this was not its fault. A change in government policy relating to UP’s funding was the culprit.

If UP wants to return to quality, state-funded education for poor but deserving students, then it could make representations to the government. The budget for elementary and secondary education has tripled over the past five years. We believe that tertiary state institutions, including UP, should also benefit from a government which recognizes that quality education is a possible, though difficult, means of extricating students from an otherwise overly-challenging poverty trap.

UP is finding that, increasingly, it is students from private schools who are filling an increasing number of the places available for incoming freshmen. This corresponds to an increasing disparity between private and public education.

With substantial hikes in many public school teachers’ salaries, we are entitled to look for higher standards. Teachers are held back by inadequate resources: books, chalk, over-crowded classrooms etc. It is high time for teachers to articulate those factors which prevent them from maximizing the potential of their students.

Education should be the great leveler. Instead it is exacerbating the inequalities of our society.

We wish UP well in its attempts to have a meritocratic but all-embracing admissions policy.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 05, 2014.


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