Victor and Gina Ordonez
As countries progress along the development trajectory, the availability of a competent human resource base becomes a determining factor of progress. Countries progressing from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy to a technological and knowledge economy recognize that an adequate supply of higher education graduates is a necessary pre-condition for achieving and sustaining advanced levels of development in this globalized, competitive, fast-changing world, as the tiger economies of Asia have proven.
Until about thirty years ago the Philippines boasted a well-established higher education system that provided relatively democratized access for over a century, enrolling proportionately more students than all but five countries in the world. From the 1980’s to the present, however, as many other countries witnessed phenomenal higher education growth rates, enrollment rates in the Philippines did not. More alarmingly, contrary to prevailing economic wisdom where higher ratios of higher education graduates within a population is meant to correlated with improved economic development, this seemed not the case in the Philippines where many graduates seem ill-prepared to handle the complex workforce demands of the modern workplace.
One symptom is the performance deficit of graduates in various national licensure exams certifying entry to various professions. In exams of the Integrated Bar given by the Supreme Court, for example, only 27% of candidates pass the examination. For teaching candidates the pass rate for the national Licensure Examinations for Teachers (LET) examination, is just 31% and for accounting graduates taking the Certified Public Accountants exam only 24%.
Another symptom: Employers and the business community in general have warned that an inadequate supply of well-trained and prepared graduates is limiting the performance of the business system, and forcing a downward projection in expansion plans. For example, leaders in the service outsourcing industry, an area of projected rapid growth, complain that out of every 100 applicants for call center operator positions, only two have adequate skills; and managers of these centers are even harder to come by.
Clearly the quality of higher education is a matter of national concern. The challenges in assuring workplace preparation and quality have figured largely in the evolution and development of the accreditation movement in the Philippines. The right balance between government regulation, private sector-led accreditation, and adaptation to the requirements of the existing work environment should be constantly monitored. It is in this context that various efforts at establishing accreditation for quality have evolved.
The Philippine Higher Education System: Context
The Philippine higher education system evolved much earlier than its Asian neighbors. Its first universities date to the seventeenth century, founded by the Spanish colonizers to educate a local ruling elite that would serve as its surrogates. With the arrival of its American colonizers in the early twentieth century, the education system was somewhat democratized at all levels, encouraging democratic access and private initiative. By the 1950s, the hundreds of higher education institutions had developed, mostly religious or private in nature, a pattern that persists to the present in a system comprised of 125 public universities and colleges, and 1300 private universities and colleges. The quality of these institutions varies widely. Whereas a handful are world class, ranking in the top 500 universities of the world, others are little more than glorified high schools. Very few, or sometimes none, of the graduates from these poorer institutions pass national credentialing examinations.
Responsibility for governing this system was located...