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Amalgamation: An act of

rationalizing and strengthening


HEIs
January 28, 2014 01:38 AM

By: Dr. Rex Casiple


AMALGAMATION is defined as an act of joining or mixing together companies, movements,
clubs, or ideas. In the field of education, amalgamation ideas started in the country during
pre-Martial Law Era with the plan to incorporate vocational/technical institutions and
secondary schools into public colleges and universities.
During the Martial Law Era, the idea of a common governing board for all state colleges and
universities (SUCs) in a region to facilitate and simplify internal and external governance
started. Studies conducted by the Congressional Commission for Education (EDCOM) in
1991 concerning Philippine higher education system found out significant savings to the
government in terms of total higher education budget if the number of SUCs would be reduced
thru institutional mergers.
We agreed with the EDCOM’s position that “fewer but high-quality universities should arise
from a more rational classification of higher education institutions (HEIs)”.
Amalgamation may bring benefits and economic advantages to higher education in the
country through simplified and rationalized public HEIs governance; quality assurance
through better compliance with global standards; reduced overlapping of HEIs programs and
services; promote synergy among the system component units as it allows more developed
units to assist the developing one; and builds better academic and administrative capacity
among the public HEIs.
To support the move of merging the state colleges and universities in the region into one
Regional University System (RUS), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) studied
amalgamation models of other countries.
These models include the China Model of State-wide amalgamation, from 500 universities to
less than 300; Australia university mergers that led to the reduction of institutions from 91 to
31; and that of the Belgium, South Africa, Hong Kong, and Japan models.
The university mergers experienced in United Kingdom (UK) was driven by the need to be
competitive and to survive, or to unleash the academic synergy of academic institutions.
The United States university systems design was structural, state-based, government driven
and legislated. The system led to excellent, focused, non-competing programs; easier and
automatic transfer of student credits; effective response to needs of business and industry;
less competition for state funding with one system, among others.
In the Philippines, the public university systems are that of University of the Philippines
System (nation-wide), Mindanao State University System (Mindanao-wide) and University of
Rizal System (province-wide).
The RUS was first officially enunciated in the Long Term Philippine Higher Education
Development Plan 2001-2010, and now in The Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016
Legislative Agenda.
In Region XI, House Bill No. 5311 or “An Act Creating RUS in Davao” was indorsed by NEDA
in December 2009.
The other possibilities are RUS for CALABARZON and two RUS each for Region VI and
Region VIII.
The support of the Regional Development Council in Western Visayas (RDC-6) to this
significant move of the government to rationalize and strengthen our HEIs in the Region is
highly commendable.

Mergers: who benefits?


One academic’s experience of coalescing institutions was not a positive one, largely
owing to a lack of forethought or consideration
January 17, 2013

Some years ago, the university I work for merged with a further education college about
30 miles away. The merger posed some immediate challenges for staff: public transport
links to the college were poor; for those without a car, journeys required a train and a
bus, and the return journey took more than two hours.
My university had an emerging solvency problem at the time. I suspect that part of the
rationale for the merger was the fact that the further education college was solvent - but,
as it turned out, only in the short term. The merger was short-lived.
In the end, the university closed the further education campus and the work of the
college was transferred to another provider. Careers were disrupted, and staff working
in the college had to live through the unsettling transition of merger, demerger and
remerger with a new partner in a very short space of time.
What was it like to go through this for me, personally? At the time, the university was
characterised by its underinvestment in teaching and learning resources, teacher
development and research activity. So it was a struggle to be research active, to
maintain a small core of committed researchers, and to encourage others to widen their
horizons by conducting research, writing and presenting.
The merger with the further education college diluted our developing research interests
(and funds) even further, and careers did suffer for some of us in the university. Funds
flowed in one direction: to support the new partner. There was nothing to recognise or
reward teaching excellence for those of us who developed modules and programmes or
worked to improve quality assurance and the student experience.
Staff in the further education college were transferred on to a new pay scale, and a
“hybrid contract” emerged to bridge the gap between further and higher education pay.
The pay rises for college staff were up front and not tied to performance, while those of
us working in the university had no budgetary support or recognition for our
achievements. There was, therefore, some bitterness among established colleagues,
especially when they had to support new colleagues in the college or travel to the new
campus to teach programmes we had introduced there. Travel time was never
recognised, and travel costs were considerable. It mounted up over a month when you
were travelling once or twice a week, even though fares were refunded eventually.
There were other issues, too. We found ourselves operating two quality assurance
systems. We knew little about Ofsted, which was responsible for inspecting the college,
and our new colleagues knew little about its higher education counterpart, the Quality
Assurance Agency. Our quality assurance costs increased after the merger because we
suddenly had to use two “currencies”.
But the experience was not wholly negative. I found new and interesting colleagues,
excellent teachers who took advantage of the research opportunities created by the
merger; and some of those colleagues are still friends and still doing an excellent job for
the university today.
The two chief executives who drove through the merger between their institutions did so
as they prepared for retirement. Perhaps they thought it would put a nice finishing touch
to their CVs.
The idea of the merger was also to encourage students to progress “seamlessly” from
further education into higher education within the same institution. We acquired a small
number of students who took advantage of our access courses in the further education
college and transferred to our degree programmes, but not many - there was no
geographic or financial advantage to them to travel outside a town that already had a
university. That was pointed out to the two chief executives by many staff, both
administrative and academic, but to no avail.
How are things these days? There are still no significant career development
opportunities at the university - career profiles are flat. The university offset the costs of
the hybrid pay scale by making savings in other places - by not paying staff the two top
salary levels on the national pay framework agreement, for example. As academics, it
seems, we are still paying the price of a short-lived and ill-thought-through “strategic
opportunity”.