25 November 2007

The Future of Accreditation

I was asked to react to a paper on "PAASCU at 50: Raising the Standards
of Excellence in Philippine Education" by Fr. Antonio S. Samson, S.J., President of Ateneo de Davao University, at the PAASCU General Assembly held in Club Filipino, Greenhills, San Juan City, Philippines, last 23 November 2007. ("PAASCU" stands for Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities.) These are the remarks I made:

Fr. Samson raised several points. I shall react to four of them.

First, he has correctly pointed out that we have globalized in two ways. We have established linkages with associations abroad that now recognize our process, and we are about to accredit institutions outside the country. Our coming out into the world logically follows our looking beyond CEAP to non-CEAP schools. Globalization is an inevitable, necessary, and good development of PAASCU.

Second, Fr. Samson has pointed to the need to develop new instruments for new programs and new conditions. He mentioned architecture, marine engineering and transportation, and he also mentioned voc-tech and foreign students. We are expanding not only geographically but also disciplinally. A new condition is, of course, IQuAME. Far be it from me to champion this mongrel of dubious birth, but like Leibniz who thought that there is always something good in everything, even the most evil of things (I think it was Leibniz, because otherwise, my philosophy teacher Dr. Ramon Reyes, PAASCU president, will recall my grade), Fr. Samson has asked us to examine our consciences to see if we do not, indeed, focus enough on outcomes, as IQuAME claims it does. I agree that we should always be sceptical of ourselves, just to keep us honest, but I do not share his optimism that talking to CHED about IQuAME is worth our time. Having tried for more than ten years as a member of one of CHED’s technical panels to change CHED from within, I think talking to the so-called commissioners would be an exercise in superhuman patience. Fr. Samson would be better off talking to his fellow Jesuit, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, who is now de facto the Education Czar, since the real Education Czar, Mona Valisno, consults him. As for foreign students, we should be flattered that other people are asking us to teach them. The universities in their countries usually rank higher than ours in the Times Higher Education Supplement survey. That reminds me. Perhaps we might want to include in our graduate school area of research the requirement of Times that faculty publish in ISI-listed journals.

Third, about deregulation and autonomy. Together with some of the PAASCU members in this room, I was involved in this CHED project. Let me say that, if we were accrediting CHED in this area, we would not even recommend a consultancy to determine readiness. I do not share Fr. Samson’s optimistic view that, if CHED finally comes up with the list, some or even a few of our problems will be solved. Remember how we felt the first time around? The original lists raised more questions than they answered. By the way, the non-accreditors in CHED are now demanding that autonomous schools should follow the tedious process that non-autonomous schools go through to get permits for new course offerings. That’s what we get when people have no accrediting experience. As the late Education Secretary Raul Roco famously put it when he was asked why he did not approve of charter change, why change the charter when we can always do anything under it? Frankly, what does autonomy really give an institution that it cannot get if it knew how to get things done within the self-contradictory bureaucracy of CHED? And while we are on the subject of autonomy, Fr. Samson has correctly alerted our basic education schools to DepEd Order 32, series of 2006, which expands the arena of struggle about autonomy from CHED to DepEd. Since DepEd is even more self-contradictory than CHED, there is even more we can do because of that Order.

Fourth, Fr. Samson talked about institutional accreditation, which we have with our Level 4 and which we really have no choice but to have, since we practically do it anyway.

I want to say something of my own about institutional accreditation and autonomy and the general idea that some schools should be able to do pretty much what they want to do. If we look at the educational system as a whole, it is important that some parts of it, even just a few parts, should be at the margins, or probably better-put, at the cutting edge or frontier. Some schools should be innovating. In effect, they will be the R&D of the system. To innovate, these schools have to have autonomy in the real sense, that is, that they should not be subject to the confusing directives of either DepEd or CHED and perhaps not even to the clear criteria that PAASCU itself uses for accreditation. Because we are not divine, these schools are bound to make mistakes, plenty of them. Like the dot.com phenomenon, perhaps they will succeed only 10% of the time. But that 10% might spell the difference between life and death for all our schools.

Let me take a simple example. Fr. Samson mentions the decrease in enrolment in our schools. Within the paradigm that we now follow, that sounds like a really bad thing. If we look at autonomous or institutionally accredited schools as our R&D, however, this might not necessarily be a bad thing. After all, our taipans always say that every disaster spells opportunity. Maybe the decrease in enrolment is heaven-sent. Why and how should we profit from the apparently unstoppable exodus of students to SUCs, to call centers, to jobs abroad? This is precisely why we need autonomous schools to think for us, to think not just outside the box, not just to break the rules, but to do what academic institutions are supposed to do, to challenge received wisdom, to discover or constitute new truths, to shift the paradigm. We can call it institutional accreditation or autonomy or whatever, but whatever it is, we have to identify, not to reward, but to provoke institutions with proven quality to show us the way out of the educational disaster that we are currently experiencing.

When PAASCU was first conceived, it was, above all, a revolutionary idea. PAASCU should remain revolutionary. That is the only way for us to continue to make a difference. Thank you.

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