A bit of good news.
I’ve written before on how the University of the Philippines (U.P.) centennial celebration has brought to the fore the problems plaguing the country’s premier institution of higher learning, the most critical being its perennial lack of funds.
There are many reasons for this sorry state of affairs, including the usual bureaucratic inefficiencies. But the main cause is that the outdated U.P. Charter curtailed the university’s fiscal autonomy, limited its ability to manage its own administrative and financial affairs and kept it hostage to political interests.
Finally, with little fanfare, President Arroyo, herself a U.P. alumna, signed a new charter for the country’s foremost university that now puts it on equal footing with its international counterparts by, among other things, allowing it to significantly raise the salaries of its faculty, improve its facilities and enhance its research capabilities.
More importantly, the new charter grants the university enough leeway to develop and generate more income from its various assets, notably its land grants, and to manage its financial affairs with less interference from vested political interests. It also provides tax exemptions for donations and revenues used solely for educational purposes. An independent trust committee would advise the Board of Regents on investments. Under the new Charter, the regents can approve and enter into contracts like joint ventures, long-term leases or even outright sale of land (with the exception of The “academic core zone” of the campuses) owned by the university to be able to raise money.
The UP Charter of 2008 (Senate Bill No. 1964 and House Bill No. 2845) declares U.P. as a national university (finally, after 100 years) and recognizes U.P. as a university system and thus acknowledges the role of the university council (in each campus) as the highest policy governing body in each constituent university. In plain terms, U.P. is now more independent, both as a system and within its individual campuses. For starters, MalacaÃ±ang’s power to appoint the U.P. president and other sectoral representatives has been abrogated. The Board of Regents will now elect the university president.
U.P. employees will also be exempt from the Salary Standardization Law, and the university is now free to set more competitive wages for the faculty and non-teaching staff and thus stem the tide of U.P. academics and personnel leaving for the private sector and abroad. Presently, Ateneo and La Salle professors earn up to three times the salary of U.P. faculty.
It also institutionalizes the university’s long-cherished values of social responsibility and democratic access. Thus, the university will now formally provide venues for student volunteerism and “must relate its activities to the needs of the Filipino people and their aspirations for social progress and transformation”. Likewise, “no student shall be denied admission to the university solely because of age, gender, nationality, religious belief, ethnicity, physical disability or political opinion or affiliation”.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, principal author of the Senate version, explained:
Many of the problems of UP are borne out of a small budget to reform and improve many of its services. With the ratification of the UP Charter Act, the university will finally be able to generate income through the use of its resources and assets which could be used to improve its curricula and salary system.
As President Arroyo further expounded during the signing ceremonies:
With UP as the National University, the primus inter pares among state universities in our country, the leader in academic standards, and the primary seat for advanced studies, research and advancement of intellectual thought, this law ensures the hundred-year tradition of producing the best minds. With this law, may the minds produced by UP become modern-day exemplars of the famed Oblation, that enduring symbol of the University’s offering of itself to the Filipino people.
This brings the promise of better things to come from the university as it enters its second century. But it remains to be seen whether the Board of Regents can really insulate itself from the corrosive effects of Philippine politics. The process of appointing the members of the BOR still rests largely upon the Chief Executive.