Toward a “Transformative University”: UP officially launches Strategic Plan, Ten Flagship Programs

| Written by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

UP President Angelo Jimenez answers questions from members of the media during a pocket interview right after the media forum. Photo by Kevin Christian Roque, UP MPRO

Having recently unveiled his administration’s motto—”Honor and Excellence in the Service of the People”—University of the Philippines (UP) President Angelo A. Jimenez launched the UP Strategic Plan 2023-2029 and the Ten Flagship Programs under it in a special forum and panel discussion with five prominent media personalities.

The event was held in the morning of June 18, 2024—UP’s 116th Foundation Day—at the Malcolm Hall Auditorium, UP College of Law, in the Diliman campus, and brought together officials of the UP System and the different UP constituent universities (CUs), UP faculty, employees and students, as well as members of various media outfits.

Following a video presentation introducing the UP Strategic Plan 2023-2029 and the UP System’s Ten Flagship Programs to the members of the UP community and the members of the media present, the five media panelists took to the stage to ask questions of the UP President, who then discussed each Flagship Program in further detail.

The panelists, who are all UP alumni, were: Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and host of the public-affairs program Investigative Documentaries on GMA Network; Iris Gonzales, journalist, blogger and columnist for the Philippine Star; Nina Ricci Alagao-Flores, news anchor and co-host of Mata ng Agila International on NET25; Roby Alampay, Asia Regional Adviser for International Media Support, founder of PumaPodcast, and anchor of The Big Story and The Chief of One News on Cignal TV, which also owns TV5; Dr. Anna Cristina A. Tuazon, columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Associate Professor at the UP Diliman Department of Psychology.

Serving as moderator for the discussion was Cecilia “Ces” Oreña-Drilon, broadcast journalist, former senior correspondent for ABS-CBN Corporation, and current host of the public service program Basta Promdi, Lodi via RMN-DZXL, and Usapang Bilyonaryo on the Bilyonaryo News Channel 24 on Cignal Cable.


Ces Drilon, in her role as moderator, introduces UP President Angelo Jimenez to the audience at the start of the panel discussion. Photo by Kevin Christian Roque, UP MPRO
Closing the media forum at UP Diliman’s Malcolm Hall that launched UP’s Ten Flagship Programs (from left to right): UP Executive Vice President Jose Fernando Alcantara; Roby Alampay of TV5 and Cignal TV; Nina Alagao Flores of NET 25; Malou Mangahas of GMA, The Mangahas Interviews; UP President Angelo Jimenez; Iris Gonzales of the Philippine Star; Dr. Anna Tuazon of the Philippine Daily Inquirer; Ces Drilon of, who served as moderator; and UP Vice President for Public Affairs Rolando Tolentino. Photo by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO


The UP Strategic Plan 2023-2029 

“Honor, excellence, service. These three key words perennially hover over the heads of the hardworking and dedicated team that put together the Ten Flagship Programs under the guidance and leadership of PAJ,” said UP Vice President for Public Affairs Rolando B. Tolentino in his welcome remarks and introduction of the panelists. “To operationalize this Strategic Plan, UP has launched 10 Flagship Programs. Each of these programs represents the University’s mission to innovate, lead and serve.”

The UP Strategic Plan 2023-2029 outline’s the University’s thrust toward “Transformative Education in the Service of the Nation” for the next five years. The plan outlines three broad strategic themes: Teaching, Research, Innovation, and Creative Work for a Sustainable Society; Public Service for the Common Good; and Consultative and Accountable Governance for the Well-being of University Constituents. 

“My goal is for UP to truly serve the people, by ensuring that we not only strengthen our academic capacities as a leading national and global university, but also look beyond the traditional confines of the academe and work towards national development and social justice,” Jimenez has previously said.


Seemingly underscoring the diverse and equally pressing stances of the various sectors in the UP community, the media forum was punctuated in the middle by a lightning protest by UP students sitting in the audience. The students held up placards calling out the commercialization of education, and chanted, “Serbisyo sa tao, huwag gawing negosyo!” and “Defend UP! Defend Acad Freedom!” in a demonstration of UP’s freedom and student activism. Photo by Kevin Christian Roque, UPMPRO


The Ten Flagship Programs

UP Executive Vice President Jose Fernando Alcantara delivers his closing remarks. Photo by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO

During the lively exchange that followed, UP President Jimenez fielded questions from the media panelists regarding the Ten Flagship Programs that fall under the UP Strategic Plan. [See below for a summary of the questions from the media panelists and Jimenez’s responses.] 

The Ten Flagship Programs are, as Jimenez described them during the forum, “not actual projects” but “thematics” under which the many new and ongoing projects being implemented across the UP CUs and the UP System fall. The projects under the Flagship Programs are given priority. “Who fills this up? Normally, of course, the administration. But most importantly, fini-fill up iyan ng CUs natin,” Jimenez explained in response to a question from Mangahas. “What we’re trying to do here is to make what we are doing explainable to anyone, so that they can have a sense of our direction.”

Falling under these three strategic themes are the Ten Flagship Programs of the UP System administration. In keeping with the Jimenez administration’s emphasis on service, several of the programs are primarily geared towards various aspects of public service, while the others strongly emphasize the University’s public service mandate as a factor in its initiatives to build up and improve its academic and research functions.  

In his closing remarks, UP Executive Vice President Jose Fernando T. Alcantara described the 18-month-long process of crafting of the Ten Flagship Programs. “Iyan ay dumaan sa consultation sa mga chancellors, sa mga opisyales, sa Vice Presidents ng ating administration, at nagkaroon tayo ng sampung Flagship Programs,” he said. “Itong sampung Flagship Programs na ito, sabi nga ng Pangulo, ay basket ng mga proyekto na magdudulot ng resulta sa limang taon an natitira pa sa ating administrasyon.”

He also shared UP President Jimenez’s answer to the question his executive team posed last year, which was what impact he would like to make upon the University. “Isang salita ang sinabi ng ating pangulo: ‘The need is very clear. In one word: transformative,’” Alcantara said.




UP President Angelo Jimenez’s Q&A with Media Panelists


Mangahas on Flagship Program No. 2, Inclusive Admissions

Q. What are the performance indicators that would show that UP has achieved inclusive admissions? What are the achievable targets for the year 2025 and the following years? Given that only 29% of those who qualified for admission to UP come from public high schools, many from geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA), how many UP qualifiers from poverty-stricken areas would you like to get?

PAJ: This program, democratization, will take several administrations. This has been going on for over a hundred years, but we’re laying the basis for it. I would be very happy if at least 50% from public high schools will be accommodated in UP. And we’re starting right now.

In past few UPCATs, we noticed that we would admit 12,000 to 14,000 students, 1,500 of whom come from GIDA. Of the 1,500, 40% do not enroll in UP due to lack of money. We have the Lingap-Iskolar Program for that. We have identified based on data science around 340 students. We will provide them full educational support. We’ve already set aside the money for that. We’re starting with 350 from the GIDA areas and the poorest families in the country. Just imagine the improvement, especially for those who’ve never had a college graduate in their entire family history—those histories of families where poverty has circumscribed their lives for generations out of mind. That is the magic there.” 


Alampay on Flagship Program No. 3, Research and Innovative Collaborations through Research Groups/Creative Studios and Technology Transfer

Q. Talk about entrepreneurship as a value and direction. Is this something that will differentiate the next generation of UP products? What will that do as a value and as a spirit for the kinds of alumni we want to have? Secondly, on the concept of innovation centers, what are the gaps that this Flagship Program can address?

PAJ: First, entrepreneurship is basically all those values together. It’s a state of mind, a habit, a method, and a system. Innovation [on the other hand], is bringing the laboratory into the market, and by market, I mean circulating and already benefitting people. Ang large gap dito is, very few of the research happening right now in UP have direct value to the industry. Schools are not business centers, so industry must come in and distribute this research to the market within society. 

That is why our response is to promote S&T hubs—in Clark for the health centers, in UPLB for agriculture, in UP Diliman of course for other industries, in Mindanao, in Tacloban—almost all the schools will have a hub. An innovation hub must attract industry so that the work in our laboratories can be produced and distributed relatively more cheaply than if they were developed by a private company. This would be an example of our scientists solving real-world problems of real-world people using the scientific and financial resources, and mobilize industry as well to solve the problems of the people.


Gonzales on Flagship Program No. 4, Open Distance e-Learning (OdeL)

Q. OFWs are mentioned especially in this Flagship Program. What is that goal for this? Do you want our OFWs to eventually come back—to want to come back—or to be able to compete on a higher field wherever they are?

PAJ: We want to move [our OFWs] from areas of higher risk jobs to lower risk jobs. Naturally, if they acquire skills they can apply for better-paying jobs. We’re moving them from lower-paying jobs to higher-paying jobs, and we are going to increase remittances to the economy. My estimate is, if we target 10% of this population, that would be US$3-5B extra remittances for the national economy, which would provide a better macroeconomic stability for the country. Imagine this, for a program whose cost marginally approaches zero because we have the infrastructure already [at the UPOU]. We are going leverage technology to advance several goals—humanitarian and development goals—in one fell stroke.

You ask me, do I want them to come back? No. They have jobs there, and only we have hundreds of thousands of jobs here. What we’re trying to do is improve education in the Philippines so they never have to go abroad. This is based on experience and there’s no debate here. 


Alagao Flores on Flagship Program No. 7, Arts and Culture

Q. I’d like to hear more about the UP College of Fine Arts (CFA) Master Plan. What changes or enhancements will be implemented at the UP CFA?

PAJ: The first thing I did was to establish the President’s Committee on Culture and the Arts. The other is our plan to establish a National Institute for Arts and Culture Education. And the third is a National Institute for Arts and Culture Artifacts Preservation. 

These are based on the belief that I don’t think ideas can move people. You have to move people first. Until these ideas gain emotive content, even the brightest ideas cannot make changes. So, I want to use arts and culture as a trigger for us to move, to goad people into action. And this very broad area—from public arts, visual communication, even sports—is what I call the cultural cavalry, which will enhance first national identity and goad people to take action. Humans move because they are inspired.


Tuazon on Flagship Program No. 1, Academic Excellence

Q. How will you balance market forces, employability, work force needs, the needs of the industry with what we want, a Tatak UP education, which is active citizenship, nation-building, social justice, service, civic engagement? How will you make sure that the vision that you want in the core curriculum will balance those things?

PAJ: What I want are certain reforms that would reinforce the idea of service, to come up with a program wherein our students gain direct experience with service and are enlightened by it, ennobled and enriched by it. How can we embed learning with service and the other way around, service with learning? It’s an open question right now. We are redefining the idea of service because service is the raison d’etre of UP. 

And for practical, even selfish, reasons: every year I have to face an increasingly tight budget and I have to convince policymakers and politicians to advocate not just for more but even just to maintain [our budget]. That’s why we’re undertaking collaborations with fellow state universities and colleges [SUCs]. UP education will now include collaboration and knowledge creation with SUCs para mag-benefit naman sila. This requires developing values such as humility and kindliness. Sabi ko nga, kung papipiliin ako isang legacy lang ang maiiwan sa akin, I’d be identified with it, I have only one word, I would choose kindness.


Mangahas on Flagship Program No. 5, the Archipelagic and Oceanic Virtual University (AOVU)

Q. In the real world, how exactly would you steer this program, with its database, new virtual and digital programs, transdisciplinary courses, collaborations with other SUCs, etc.? How do you make sure this goes beyond virtual and transcends to reality?

PAJ: The major components of an archipelagic and oceanic virtual university are already with us—the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, the UP Marine Science Institute, UP Visayas and the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, the UP School of Archaeology. So, I don’t want to define the AOVU as simply a response to ongoing geopolitical issues. I’m using this to create a larger framework that can be used as a basis of unity. We are going to use this to create a unique national identity for Filipinos. 

They say that we are an archipelago separated by water. We are saying this: we are not separated by water; we are connected by water. Our multiethnicity, our multi-identity, and our archipelagic nature are in fact sources of strength. And this change in mindset is what we would like to put on the table to advance our objective as a people with a unique identity. Tama ‘yung blue economy: 60% of our inhabited areas are coastal areas. Science, technology, environmental protection—these are something we can put into play. So that is the intent of the AOVU.


Alampay on Flagship Program No. 10, Digital Transformation

Q. What is your current thinking/stance on AI, as it applies to teaching as a resource and as a tool, and at the same time what is your vision given this flagship area? How do you see AI impacting on our inward and outward targets?

PAJ: AI is good. UP is the first university in the Philippines to come up with an AI framework. I’ll emphasize three points: First, AI must be learner-centered or human-controlled. Second, whatever algorithms or other technologies are there must be transparent. And third, whoever uses AI must be accountable. Human control, transparency, and direct accountability. Because AI can do a lot of good, but anything that can do a lot of good can also do a lot of evil, depending on the intent of the user. 

Second, we do not decide whether or not to utilize AI. Whether we like it or not, it is here, so it is a matter of influencing the use and further development of AI to advance very human and clearly defined objectives. It is about how we can harness AI to define and advance what we want it to perform for us. 


Gonzales on Flagship Program No. 6, Active and Collaborative Partnerships

Q. How do you imagine the structure of this? If it includes corporate sponsorships, how do we strike a balance? How do you make this work?

PAJ: ‘Yung partnerships and collaborations natin, nasa schools lang talaga. We came out with the Mindanao Declaration last September, and almost a hundred—or more than a hundred na siguro—SUCs have joined us in knowledge co-creation. We’re going to collaborate with everyone, not as a superior or as a big brother or sister, but as an equal partner. 

Our collaborative partnerships adopt a quinto-helix framework. First is academe-government; industry-civil society; and finally, the environment. These are the four aspects of how we frame our collaborative partnerships. 

The other practical reason is this: Innovation can come from our labs, but the truth is, most innovation comes from industries. And it is bi- and even multi-directional. We cannot do without them because universities must have direct relevance in terms of people’s lives and industries. 


Alagao Flores on Flagship Program No. 8, Expansion of Public Service Offices

Q. How far-reaching is this Flagship Program? With regard to organizations and associations outside of the UP System, can you name one or two institutions UP has been working with?

PAJ: We do have a lot. For example, we have the Padayon portal that records all public service initiatives sa UP para meron tayong monitoring and reinforcement. We also have the Gurong Pahinungod program. We’re sending our teachers, students, graduates, to very remote areas and teaching Reading, Math and science. And right now, UPLB has partnered with CHED and SUCs to do free online review for the . These are some examples. 

The UP Resilience Institute has connections with practically all the major universities and all the major local government units (LGUs) to advance studies on climate change adaptation, disaster risk mitigation, land use and development planning. We have these kinds of partnerships with these LGUs, and this for me is what makes me proud to be UP, because this gives flesh and blood to the notion of Tatak UP.


Tuazon on Flagship Program No. 9, Quality Management System (QMS) and Quality Assurance (QA)

Q. We all know that UP’s processes, like the rest of the government’s, are very, very slow. At the same time, we do not have much control over our processes, and we have to follow government processes. How are you going to deliver on this vision of smoother processes? How does it work?

PAJ: For me, our service is an expression of our humility, so this is a moral imperative. But the fundamental difference is: UP is a public university, a government entity subject to all the rules. We are not subject to the harsh, unforgiving discipline of the market. So how do you find a replacement for the harsh discipline of the market? We have to find and develop that spirit of service that can somehow fill in what we don’t have. Right now, we are undertaking several things. We’re introducing a human resource culture.  and  have achieved ang PRIME HRM Level II from the Civil Service Commission. We’re targeting Level III; the other UP units are working on Level II. Second, the entire UP System will undergo ISO certification—by next year, that’s the target. This will improve our processes. We’re also developing open-source platforms and local apps for personnel portals, PUSO at tsaka BULSA, just to make sure that we are able to leverage technology to achieve two things: operational excellence and academic excellence.