Licuanan proud of leveling opportunities in public, private education

Mara Cepeda
Licuanan proud of leveling opportunities in public, private education

LeAnne Jazul

Many of the first batch of scholars in state universities and colleges graduated with honors. It shows that 'talent and intelligence is normally distributed, but opportunity is not,' former CHED Patricia Licuanan says.

MANILA, Philippines – In the 7 and a half years she spent helming the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), former chairperson Patricia Licuanan wants to be remembered for levelling the playing field between private and public education. 

Licuanan, who resigned from her post on January 15 after Malacañang asked her to do so last week, was asked in a Rappler Talk interview what she believes is her legacy in CHED.

She served as its chairperson for two terms, from 2010 to January 2018. (READ: Duterte appoints Prospero de Vera as CHED OIC)

The former CHED chairperson was particularly proud of two programs focused on giving financial aid to poor students: the Expanded Student Grants-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation and the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) Law

The UniFAST Law seeks to “harmonize, reform, strengthen, expand, rationalize, and re-focus” all ongoing student financial assistance programs of the government.

As for the grants-in-aid program, Licuanan said CHED worked with the Department of Social Welfare and Development to pick deserving students from poor families under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, who were then given “generous” scholarships and other allowances.

Licuanan called the program a “challenge” because it was supposedly the first time state universities and colleges (SUCs) encountered the poorest of the poor among the student body. 

“To make that transition [during the] first year was really challenging for us. We had to negotiate with the universities to just modify their admissions policies and have remedial programs and bridging programs,” sad Licuanan. 

During the interview, Licuanan said she was “getting goosebumps” as she recalled about 80% of the first batch of poor students under the program graduated in 2016.

“And of those, so many of them graduated with honors, which shows that, basically, talent and intelligence is normally distributed, but opportunity is not. So if you single-mindedly again give opportunity to those who don’t have it, then they prove that they can complete like everyone else. So we’re very proud of that,” said Licuanan. 

These two programs will now be subsumed under the free tuition law, which was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017.

Duterte already appointed commissioner Prospero de Vera III as CHED officer-in-charge. (READ: Licuanan says exec director Vitriolo helped kick her out of CHED

Improving management of SUCs

Licuanan also said she “worked very hard” in improving the quality of management in SUCs under the Philippine Higher Education Career System (Phil-HECS).

Phil-HECS is the professional advancement and career management system for SUCs’ senior executives, patterned after the Career Executive Service Examination Process in civil service. 

CHED coordinates with the Development Academy of the Philippines for the training programs of the SUCs’ senior executives. 

“So it was a training program, but it was also a program for giving certain credentials to aspiring executives of higher education institutions so that it also becomes less politicized,” said Licuanan. 

The former CHED chairperson also said she focused on efforts to improve the commission’s programs introduced even before her term, including adding more centers of development and centers for excellence in SUCs, talking to industry leaders to determine future in-demand jobs, and making courses to answer that demand. 

“I feel like I spent a lot of energy on ethical governance, good governance in CHED and state universities and colleges,” said Licuanan. – leve

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.