Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 15 February 2014


Three cheers for University of the Philippines Diliman.

It refused to be rushed into approving the proposal to change the academic calendar from June-April to August-May and, when it was discussed in its University Council, disapproved it, calling for careful study. The 5-page proposal was apparently unsupported by any real evidence.

It is not clear why other constituent universities approved this proposal without asking for further study.

Adhering to the standards of UP, the Diliman community held a Diliman Forum early this week, and some of its best minds examined the issues involved. The limitations of space forbid me from giving full justice to everyone who spoke, so I will concentrate on the contribution of Noel de Dios (of the UP School of Economics). Bernadette Abrera’s historical perspective and Laura David’s study on the effects of weather will also be touched on.

The reason UP wants to change the academic calendar is stated in the proposal: to synchronize it with other Asean universities. This move, it says, will not be sufficient to internationalize the university, but it is a necessary condition. De Dios’ paper questions this premise. His paper is titled “Internationalisation and the University’s global standing: Does the academic calendar matter?”

The short answer is NO.

He looks at the evidence (which apparently the administration failed to do), and in particular the Quacquarelli-Symonds (QS) rankings of Asian universities, zeroing in on Southeast Asia. There are 19 Asean universities in the top 250, among which are UP, Ateneo de Manila, and Santo Tomas, and these 19 comprise his data set. What he does is to determine, using regression analysis, what brings international students to universities, and what brings international faculty to them.

For “international students,” his explanatory variables are academic calendar, faculty/student ratio, academic repute, papers/faculty (amount and quality of research papers), and international faculty. What he finds is that the academic calendar influence is never statistically significant. What are significant contributors to attracting international students are the papers/faculty and international faculty.

Explaining  how “international faculty” are attracted, his regressions show that papers/faculty, international students and faculty/student are the most consistent predictors.  Again, academic calendar is never statistically significant.

De Dios’ conclusions: “1) Changing the academic calendar is a large step not to be taken lightly without more thorough study; 2) By itself, the change is unlikely (or at least uncertain) to lead to immediate improvement in the University’s international character; more important binding constraints must be addressed; 3) More significant is the allocation of more faculty time to research and postgraduate education aside from the professions; “4) Internationalisation is not a goal in itself. It is desirable only if it helps the University achieve its real goals as a national and global research university; 5) Nonetheless, University conditions can and should be improved significantly to encourage a greater representation of foreign students and faculty” (he also gives specific recommendations).

In other words, the academic calendar change is not even necessary for UP’s internationalization goals. And that is an evidence-based statement, not an assertion.

Bernadette Abrera, chair of the Department of History, gives a historical overview of the academic calendar in the Philippines and states that the Educational Decree of 1863 legislated the school term by designating the school vacations for at least one and a half months “during the time of the greatest heat.” Most schools at the time were already opening in June (she points out that Rizal recorded the date of his first entry into college as June 16, 1875), although admissions were irregular.

The Americans continued the practice. And the next significant step was in 1963 when Education Secretary Alejandro Roces obtained Cabinet approval to change the school calendar so that it would start in September, instead of June, with the change being done over a three-year period, moving the opening date by one month each year for three years. He cited the advantages: that the country would have a more healthy population as borne out by the statistics of the Department of Health and the weather bureau, and that it would be more productive economically because the planting of rice and other crops took place mostly in June, July and August.

The objections from the private sector were based on the additional expenses (not detailed). The main objection then from the general public was that the schools would be open during the hottest months of the year.

After one year, Senators Diokno, Sumulong, Tañada, Rodrigo, Fernandez and Katigbak legislated that school opening be limited to between June 1 and July 31. And that put an end to that. Until today.

Now for Laura David of the Marine Sciences Institute. She showed graphs, charts, and maps on rainfall and temperature over 50 years, plus projections of projected changes in these two statistics. Her conclusion: There would not be much difference in the first semester due to the overlap of August, September and October, but temperatures would rise in the summer, with possible drought. Which puts paid to claims by advocates of academic calendar change that there would be less rainy-weather damage with a change. And it would mean more air-conditioning costs (which have not as yet been estimated).

What could they be thinking?