What the UP president thinks of fewer GE units in college

MANILA, Philippines – Last March 20, the University Council of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman voted in favor of a new General Education (GE) curriculum with a minimum of 21 units.

It was the last UP constituent unit to decide on the issue which has spurred much debate on campus. Critics say March 20 was the "twilight of general education," and a day when university education was narrowed down "to mere specialization and employability."

The group UP Sagip GE continues to oppose the shift to a new GE curriculum, coming out with position papers from different faculty members of UP Diliman.

UP President Danilo Concepcion, who assumed office just a month before Diliman voted on the issue, said he understands where the critics are coming from. (READ: New UP president urges concern, not just honor and excellence)

"On the one hand, I agree with the proponents or the people who are against the decrease. The UP… has to ensure that its graduates are well-rounded. But somehow we also have to make sure that our students are competitive, not only locally, domestically, but also globally," he said in a Rappler Talk interview on Wednesday, March 29.

Concepcion said he did not take any side in the debate and allowed the University Council to "have a full debate" and to "decide democratically."

"I was informed a big majority of the members of the University Council approved the proposal to lower the minimum requirement of GE units that a student must complete in order to graduate. I think they agreed to lower it to 21 units," he added.

One of the arguments for the new GE curriculum is the "need" to reduce 5-year courses like engineering to 4 years.

Concepcion said with Southeast Asian countries now reducing engineering to a 4-year course, the Philippines "will be producing graduates who are less competitive" if it does not follow suit.

"Because they'll be getting work one year after their contemporaries in other countries have finished their courses. And not only that, it will also be a great expense on the part of the student to stay in school for one year more," he explained.

He cited a study in the United States about law students, and the debts they have to pay after taking loans to finance their 8-year college education.

"According to this study, because of the amount of debts the student has accumulated to finish law, the amount of the cost of legal service in the United States has gone up, because that lawyer has to recover everything that he has invested, he has to pay all the loans that he incurred in order to finish the course," Concepcion explained.

He added: "And that may also be true in the case of engineering: another year of stay in college will entail lots of expenses, and that may be a gamechanger in the global market."

On Tuesday, March 28, UP Sagip GE called for the "revaluation and resurrection" of Diliman's GE program. They wore a "black sablay" – sablay refers to the sash worn by UP graduates – as they "mourned the death" of general education. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.