Mitos Magsaysay on Funding Higher Education

The high profile and well attended Harapan 2013 Senatorial Debates of ABSCBN last night brought together the most number of candidates (and their cheering supporters) at the grounds of the La Consolacion College in historic Mendiola.

Ten candidates from Team PNoy (Koko Pimentel, Jun Magsaysay, Bam Aquino, Risa Hontiveros), UNA (Mitos Magsaysay,  Ernie Maceda ), Kapatiran (JC de losa Reyes, Lito David, Marwin Llasos), Makabayan (Teddy Casino) and Ramon Montano battled it out in the close to two hour question and answer session. 

I joined veteran journalists Linda Jumilla and Tony Velasquez in the panel designated to question the candidates on their platform and advocacies. I drew Mitos Magsaysay as my first candidate.

With her consistent statements on making affordable higher education and health care, I asked Magsaysay the following questions:

Bilang isang propesor sa UP, natutuwa ako sa iyong desisyon na bigyan prioridad ang edukasyon sa iyong kampanya, lalo na ang panukalang dodoblehin mo ang budget para sa mga state universities at colleges para maraming makapag-aral na Pilipino.

 (As a UP professor, I am heartened by your advocacy to prioritize higher education in your campaign, particularly in your proposal to double the budget for state universities and colleges to increase access for more Filipinos.)

Magkano ba ang pinaguusapan nating pondo pag sinabi mong dodoblehin mo ang budget ng mga SUC? At saan mo kukunin ang pondong ito?

(How much money are we talking about when you say you will double the budget for SUC’s and where will you get the funds needed for this proposal?)

Siyam na taon kang nagsilbi sa Kongreso bilang isang kaalyado ng pangulong Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pero di mo naman nadoble o napataas ang budget para sa mga SUC noong panahong ito. Paano mo kami mapapaniwala na magagawa mo ito kung ikaw ay maging Senador samantalang oposisyon ka sa Senado?

(You served 9 years in Congress as an ally of President Arroyo yet you were not able to double or increase the budget for higher education during your time. How can you make us believe that you can do it under the Aquino administration where you will become a member of the opposition if elected in the Senate?)

Magsaysay didn’t give a figure on how much money is required to double the budget for SUCs. Per Department of Budget and Management (DBM) records, the budget for SUC’s in 2013 is P34.9B and doubling this would require some P70B in new allocations. Magsaysay did mention needing P80B for higher education (although it wasn’t clear if these was for public higher education and how this will be allocated across personnel services, capital outlay, MOOE)  and getting funds from the Conditional Cash Transfer Program (CCT) or getting loans from the ADB to finance the increased budget requirement.

But what really surprised me was her assertion that the Arroyo administration significantly increased the budget for SUCs, particularly capital outlay and that the Aquino administration has reduced funding for SUCs resulting in higher tuition rates for students. Dr. Rosario Manasan of the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) in a briefing at the House of Representatives in March 2012 entitled “Rationalizing National Government Subsidies to State Universities and Colleges” presented data showing that National Government spending on the education sector has been declining during the Arroyo administration (Manasan, PIDS Discussion Paper No. 2012-03, January 2012).

The data for higher education is just as bad. In the graph above, NG spending on higher education shrank from 0.55% of GDP in 1998 to 0.31% of GDP in 2005-2008 with a slight recovery to 0.32% in 2009-2010. Funding for the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) also fluctuated during this period.

Government per capita spending on students in SUCs has been decreasing since 1997 in real terms with SUCs picking up the slack through revenue generating measures such as commercialization of their assets and increasing tuition fees.

On the other hand, the Aquino administration increased funding to SUC’s by some 44% in 2013 with the University of the Philippines getting a 63% increase in its budget, the highest ever in its history.

Clearly, Magsaysay was not telling the true state of government financing for higher education during the Arroyo and Aquino administrations.

Magsaysay also asserted that the key to increasing funding for public higher education is to convince the President that investing in higher education creates high returns over the long term.

While I completely agree with her on this matter, I suppose the more difficult question to answer is this – If she can’t even convince PNoy and his allies to release her pork barrel, can she possibly have a higher batting average in convincing the administration to invest in higher education? 

This fact check was conducted by University of the Philippines Vice President for Public Affairs, Prof. J. Prospero E. De Vera III, DPA. Vice President De Vera is a professor in Public Administration at the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance in UP Diliman.