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A Smart Future

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ALCU vice president Dr. Ellen Presnedi shares the benefits of the partnership with CHED and their future plans for building smart campuses for LUCs.

BY MARIEL ABANES

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANUEL GENEROSO

 This free education, what a relief!” Dr. Ellen Presnedi, vice president of the Association of Local Colleges and Universities (ALCU), comments about Republic Act 10931, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act. Better known as the Free Tuition Law in the Philippines, its implementation served as a huge help for underprivileged students not just in major state universities, but also in locally run schools nationwide. The inclusion of local universities and colleges (LUCs) in the picture—a first in the history of the country—is a big step towards bridging the gap in the education sector.  

 

    “The standard of our public schools now, even with our local universities and colleges, has adapted the           standards of SUCs and even private schools… I believe we are more competitive now than before.

     THE AID As chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Prospero “Popoy” de Vera himself recalls, the ties between the commission and ALCU were severed for decades—until 2017 came and there was a turnover of events.

     The Free Tuition Law paved the way for LUCs to gain access to grants that weren’t available before. What used to be dependence on local government alone bore into something larger, which further capacitated institutions as well as their students. “Because of that, we are now well-supported,” Dr. Presnedi says. “Now, it’s both. We have the national government’s support, as well as subsidy from the local government.” The better part of the deal? Students don’t need to pay their fees anymore. Before, HETs/LUCs had so many collectibles from their students.

     The students usually belong to the socio-economic status of Class C (around 10%), Class D (60%), and Class E (30%), the ALCU vice president further explains. “So you can just imagine, they’re really struggling.” At present, the aid carries a total of 1,332,691 beneficiaries around the country, with around 53,000 coming from LUCs. Despite education being given practically for free, this isn’t to say that the quality of education LUCs would offer their students would be lacking.

     Apart from this benefit, ALCU is also closely working with CHED to provide services for LUCs to enhance and upgrade their programs and facilities. “CHED has a continuing monitoring and evaluation program that they ask us to comply with on a periodic basis. So I believe that’s one way to ensure that we comply with the standards and policies required,” she shares. ALCU also encourages and assists their member schools to apply for accreditation run by the Association of Local Colleges and Universities Commission on Accreditation (ALCUCOA). With a total of 111 member institutions, only six among them are not yet recognized.

     However, they continue to work hard to provide support and service to reach the required status. They currently have the biggest membership in Region V with 18 member schools, followed by Region IV-A (CALABARZON) with 16, Region III, X, and XII with 13, and the National Capital Region (NCR) with 12. Through this initiative, Dr. Presnedi is happy to report that the number of enrollees have significantly increased over the years. Instead of opting for a private university, students are assured of quality education in public institutions. “We are proud to say that the standard of public schools now, even with our local universities and colleges, has adapted the standards of SUCs (state universities and colleges) and even private schools. We can compete now. I believe we are more competitive now than before,” the vice president affirms. Dr. Presnedi calls this aid a true “blessing.” Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the economy, the budget for education is steadily maintained to assist the youth. The timing, she says, is very good.

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A SMART FUTURE

     As the opportunity opened for ALCU to participate in CHED-run programs, they intend to make the most out of it. The help didn’t just come in the form of scholarships—the organization is looking further into turning LUCs into smart campuses. While LUCs weren’t included in the recent release of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) education subsidy, the association is eyeing an appeal when the third installment of the project rolls out the following year. “Our plan is to make sure that we will gain our share from Bayanihan.

     We will make a lot of representation,” Dr. Presnedi asserts. “We want to be part of that also, so we are working on it. We expect that in Bayanihan 3, with their allocation of about P30 billion, we’ll hopefully take our part from that.” Once they accomplish their goal, ALCU will equip their member schools with more advanced technology.

     The vice president is in full confidence that the way to the future is through technology, and she doesn’t intend to go off the rail tracks and instead ride on it full-speed ahead. With both the students’ and their faculty’s digital reliance, ALCU is working hard to make what they call “Project Connectivity” happen. “The coping mechanism of LCUs largely depends on their internet connectivity. As for NCR, we are more privileged because we have stronger connectivity than in the provinces. So they have more challenging issues as far as connectivity is concerned, and even their equipment or gadgets,” she points out. “Ang kailangan natin dito is ma-change ‘yung mindset natin, na magkaroon ng paradigm shift.     

     I believe that technology is really the key. So on our part, we want to establish smart universities and campuses,” she reveals. While ALCU waits for 2022, they have already started laying down the foundations of their ambition, which they visualize coming to life in two years’ time. First, flexible learning methodologies mandated by CHED are being used by their member institutions.

     They have synchronous online and offline mandates—where students make use of platforms like Google Meet, Google Classroom, Zoom, Facebook, and email. The students also learn through the use of printed modules that are distributed to them at the same time.

     They also have put up the e-library, which contains educational materials that students can easily access wherever they are. These, and other ideas included in their strategy, are aimed to benefit everyone under their wing. Gearing up for the future with the free higher education law as well as other calls for action, ALCU stands proud that they have come this far. “The LUCs have finally found our niche in the academe sector,” Dr. Presnedi muses. “Dati, people would say, ‘public lang ‘yan.’ Kapag state kasi, may pangalan ‘yan. But this time, we take pride especially with the new implemented law. Parang nagkaroon ng leveling up kasi same standards naman na ang pinasusunod.” So now, be rest assured that Filipino students, whether studying in SUCs, LUCs, or even private schools, can afford education that’s at par with excellence.

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