Upholding Quality in Higher Education

| Written by President Angelo A. Jimenez

University of the Philippines (UP) President Angelo Jimenez joined leaders of the country’s education sector in the 1st National Higher Education Summit on May 15, 2024, at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City. Organized by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Philippine Normal University (PNU) in celebration of the commission’s 30th anniversary, the summit had the theme Access, Quality and Competitiveness at the Core of Higher Education Reforms.

With the theme in mind, President Jimenez shared UP’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has initiated reforms which address the changing landscape of higher education in the country.

 


 

A pleasant morning to all our colleagues and friends in the higher education community, and many thanks to CHED for inviting me to speak at this Summit. The task assigned to me this morning is to briefly share my reflections on upholding quality in higher education with a focus on teaching and learning.

 

Quality in Context: The Paradigm Shift in Education and its Implications

 

Since the 1990s, the higher education landscape has undergone significant changes due to several factors: 1) advancements in technology, notably the increasing ubiquity of Artificial Intelligence; 2) globalization, which demands internationalization and comparability of qualifications; 3) natural challenges such as climate change, zoonotic diseases, and potential pandemics that disrupt learning environments; and 4) pressing societal issues—such as the enduring poverty and growing inequality in the Philippines—that require practical solutions.

These transformations have compelled educational institutions worldwide to adapt, shifting their focus from mere knowledge transmission to fostering learning that emphasizes the application of knowledge and skills in real-world contexts, or competency-based instruction, and promoting lifelong learning. This shift aims to better prepare individual learners for the evolving demands of the labor market and to navigate the changing rhythms of life.

While we had been aware of the implications of these rapid changes for teaching and learning long before the COVID-19 pandemic, it took the pandemic to jolt our academic leaders into strategically charting the direction of academic reforms and the corresponding administrative changes in their respective institutions, redefining teaching and learning approaches and investing in the technologies in support of these approaches.

 

President Jimenez delivering his speech at the 1st National Higher Education Summit. Screengrab from the CHED-UNIFAST Facebook page. To watch his speech in a streaming video, please click through the photo.

 

A significant focus has been placed on adopting student-centered methodologies, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and seamlessly integrating technology into the curriculum. Enlightened by neuroscience and education research, the paradigm shift in education reflects a broader understanding of learning as a collaborative and dynamic process where the learners learn more effectively by exercising their brains through active engagement with course material, construction of their own knowledge, and application of critical thinking skills as they immerse in solving the complex problems.

A major challenge in implementing the paradigm shift in teaching and learning is the need for a mindset change among faculty members, pushing them out of their comfort zones. This shift requires moving away from traditional lecture-based classes, which are less effective in “exercising the brain” or stimulating active learning, towards more engaging, interactive, and personalized educational experiences. Such a transformation demands considerable time, which faculty might otherwise devote to research and other activities. Additionally, faculty members must grapple with understanding Artificial Intelligence and the algorithms of social media platforms to enhance critical thinking skills in today’s diverse and technologically savvy student population.

At the end of the day, upholding quality in teaching and learning in line with Education 5.0 translates into, first, emphasizing the human aspect in technological applications and promoting a holistic approach to education, focusing on student well-being, ethical leadership, and societal impact; and second, ensuring that graduates possess not only technical expertise but also 21st century thinking skills—critical thinking, creativity, entrepreneurship, ethics, systems thinking, comfort with ambiguity, and a growth mindset.

Incidentally, I am told about Professor Allan Bernardo’s analysis of the PISA questionnaire which reveals that students who took the exam have the lowest growth mindset—i.e., the perspective that their skills and intelligence can be improved with effort and persistence. About 65% hold a fixed mindset especially among those in the lower socio-economic groups.

Beyond thinking skills, ours is the responsibility of honing interaction skills—communication, empathy, negotiation; self-management that we sometimes refer to as emotional intelligence—self-awareness, accountability, adaptability, persistence, initiative, integrity; and leadership skills even for students who do not take on leadership functions as students through various activities—strategic vision, empowerment of others, project and performance management.

Because our people continue to suffer from 19th and 20th century problems, we need to develop our ability to solve myriad problems at different levels to serve our people. This also means meeting standards of academic excellence in all academic programs through an institutionalized system of regularly reviewing and revising them—including totally changing them–to adapt to the changing demands of the times.

I recently participated in a US-sponsored visit with EDCOM 2 legislators, members of the Higher Education Standing Committee, and other university presidents to various universities in the Washington, DC and Boston areas. During the visit, we observed several innovative practices adopted by our counterpart universities:

  • The creation of new interdisciplinary programs in response to societal demands, which significantly broke down the barriers of traditional departmental silos.
  • The revision of curricula to include one- or two-semester industry immersions, similar to our on-the-job training (OJT), but with formal agreements with firms allowing students to engage with technical teams, enhancing both their holistic understanding of their courses and their employability or entrepreneurial initiatives.
  • The customization of curricula to individual learners’ needs, featuring a broader range of electives.
  • The adoption of technology and educational platforms, such as Khan Academy’s modules for individualized learning and remediation, and the integration of specific COURSERA courses into the curriculum.
  • The integration of a community-based college/program within a comprehensive and reputable university to meet the demand for associate degrees and micro-credentials for part-time students, fostering the spirit of lifelong learning.
  • The development of stackable micro-credentials for part-time students, alumni, and degree enrollees.
  • The translation of academic knowledge into problem-solving solutions through support for solutions-oriented research and the creation of innovation hubs and spaces within the university, including collaborations with other international universities.

These observations highlighted major changes in higher education designed to adapt to evolving educational needs and challenges.

 

A Sampling of Reform Initiatives

 

President Jimenez delivering his speech at the 1st National Higher Education Summit. Screengrab from the CHED-UNIFAST Facebook page. To watch his speech in a streaming video, please click through the photo.

During our visit to various universities, I noted that many of the innovative changes aligned with Education 5.0 are also being implemented closer to home, within the ASEAN region and even in some of our own universities. Many, if not most, of our universities now offer a blend of synchronous and asynchronous courses, aiming to go beyond simply transferring traditional lectures online.

Several State Universities and Colleges have established industry-academe linkages that spur innovation and are developing Science and Technology Parks, which are variously referred to as S&T Parks or Knowledge, Innovation, Science, and Technology Parks (KIST). Additionally, universities like Mapua University have incorporated relevant Coursera courses into their curriculum and partnered with some of the most innovative entities. By coming together to share our initiatives and innovative programs, we can all benefit from mutual learning and collaboration.

It rests with us in the HEI sector to transform our universities, enabling students to adapt to the rapidly changing world of work and life, and equipping our nation with the human resources necessary to leverage its development and global competitiveness.

I would like to share a few strategic initiatives in UP aimed at addressing this imperative.

We are proposing to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) the institution of a core General Education (GE) curriculum designed to better prepare our students for a disruptive future. This curriculum may integrate modules on artificial intelligence, social media algorithms, computational skills, and more. Our strategic initiatives include:

  • Exploring the possibility for students to customize their GE curriculum by stacking 6 to 9 units from different GE courses that align with their interests and needs, and validating courses taken from approved educational platforms.
  • Institutionalizing service-learning, community engagement, and disciplinary or interdisciplinary projects within relevant courses to address specific societal problems.
  • Strengthening industry-academe and community-academe partnerships, and
  • Creating innovation hubs that enable faculty and students to collaborate on designing solutions to concrete problems.

Additionally, we are reviewing and revising administrative policies, structures, and programs to support these academic reforms.

We are also laying the groundwork for connecting our marine and ocean programs, currently housed in autonomous universities such as the Marine Science Institute at UP Diliman and the fisheries and ocean programs at UP Visayas, into an Archipelagic and Ocean Virtual University.

This initiative aims to enhance existing program offerings, introduce new virtual and digital programs, and develop transdisciplinary courses. We plan to collaborate with SUCs, foreign universities with similar programs, and various maritime industry stakeholders to develop the Blue Economy and Archipelagic Nation by 2050, in alignment with Pagtanaw 2050.

We are expanding our Open Distance e-Learning (ODeL) capabilities for national and global reach through UP VINTA (Ventures for International and Transformative Academia). This includes developing immersive and virtual learning technologies, creating Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and offering microcredentials.

Recognizing that intelligence is normally distributed but opportunities are not, we are further enhancing the inclusivity of our admissions policy. This includes reaching out to remote high schools, proposing a Hatid Scholar program for students who pass the UPCAT but decline to enroll due to financial constraints, and developing alternative non-UPCAT admission pathways that maintain academic excellence.

Like many of you, we are:

  • Leveraging our international linkages with partner universities to provide our students opportunities to study abroad and our graduate students opportunities to collaborate with foreign professors, with provisions for advisers to observe their mentees in situ.
  • Relentlessly pursuing digital transformation with initiatives like a Data Commons.
  • Facilitating problem-oriented research using data science tools and artificial intelligence through a newly established Center for Intelligent Systems, and enhancing biological research by linking the biobanks of different Constituent Universities and making these available to researchers across the System.

Finally, like most of you, we are enhancing our Internal and External quality assurance of academic programs and units and Quality Management Systems.

These are strategic and long-ranging initiatives we need to pursue, whose implementation and whose impact will surely exceed our terms in office. But that is what we are here for today—to look beyond the horizon to ensure that we prepare young Filipino minds today for the vastly more complex and more difficult world of tomorrow. I hope we can join hands in this noble endeavor, as ever in the service of our people.

Maraming salamat po!