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PHL universities begin shift to international school calendar

(Updated 12:07 p.m. Jan. 3) Philippine universities will no longer be out of step with the rest of the world.

Adamson University will begin the next school year this August, with other Philippine colleges and universities expected to follow suit in moving their academic calendar by 2015, in order to align them with foreign counterparts.

Faculty and students of the University of Santo Tomas also told GMA News that UST's next school year will begin this July as part of a gradual shift to a later start of the calendar year, but this change has not been confirmed by UST's administration.

Most universities in the world begin the school year in August, September, or October, while the Philippines has stuck to its June-March calendar.

The Philippines is also the only member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) still starting its academic year in June, since Thailand adopted the September-May calendar in 2011.

With ASEAN integration in 2015 creating new opportunities to internationalize their campuses and the K-12 education system severely affecting college enrollment in 2016, Philippine institutions are feeling the pressure to shift their academic calendars.

The move, lawyer Joel Noel Estrada of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations explained, was proposed so that Philippine universities can be synchronized with those in other member institutions within the ASEAN grouping.
"[They can] easily come to us, at tayo rin pwedeng magpadala ng mga studyante, exchange programs, research programs. Pati mga graduates natin and professionals, meron nang mutual recognition. Ibig sabihin, professionals natin dito, professional din sa mga member ASEAN nations," said Estrada.

In an interview with GMA News Online, Father Gregorio Bañaga, president of Adamson University, said his school is almost sure of implementing the change this year, to make it easier for students to enroll from overseas institutions.

Citing the 22 nationalities represented at his university, Bañaga said, "Many of our foreign students could only enroll in the second semester after graduating overseas because it's too late for the first semester."

He added that Adamson will have two summer school sessions this year – April-May and June-July – otherwise, teachers will not have enough teaching loads with the March end of classes and the new start of the first semester in August.

"What will happen to teachers' salaries?" Bañaga said, referring to the four-month gap between semesters this year.

He said that the change still has to be approved by Adamson's academic council, which will likely support the move.

UP, Ateneo, La Salle may follow suit

Three of the nation's other top universities are likewise considering the move, according to a "24 Oras" report aired Thursday evening.

Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chairperson Patricia Licuanan said that the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University, and De La Salle University have expressed their intent to shift. Those universities are considered autonomous from CHED regulation and can adopt the change without its express approval.

In June last year, UP submitted a policy proposal seeking to change its academic calendar to match the schedule of its global academic partners. The UP administration is expected to discuss the matter on Friday.

The new schedule would allow both students and faculty to participate in summer training programs around the world in June and July. Classes are also less likely to be interrupted during inclement weather if classes are extended to April and May.

In early October last year, Ateneo also released its proposal to shift to an August to May academic calendar starting school year 2015-2016, according to its student newspaper The Guidon.

The report said the new academic calendar “will speed up the Ateneo’s internationalization efforts and will extend its scope for potential partnerships with other universities overseas. This allows for 'fuller participation' in the interchange among universities around the globe.”

Teresa Ricafort-Santos, Assistant to the Vice President for University and Global Relations of Ateneo, said they have conducted a study and administered an online survey about the proposal among the members of the Ateneo community. Her office will make a formal recommendation to the President’s Council, but the final decision will be made by the Board of Trustees, the report said.

At De La Salle University, the student newspaper The Lasallian reported in late November that there are plans to adjust its trimestral calendar starting school year 2014-2015. This means that instead of May, the first trimester will begin in the last week of August.

At UST, the student newspaper The Varsitarian reported last Dec. 7 that the university is planning to revise its calendar with an academic year running from September to June.

However, UST director of public affairs Giovanna Fontanilla said this has not been finalized. “We cannot say yet when we will have the decision. I still have to discuss it with our officials,” she told GMA News Online over the phone Friday.

Far Eastern University and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines earlier said their schools have yet to consider changing their academic calendars.

Impact on exam schedules

Ched's Licuanan, however, warned of the effects the shift would have on entrance and licensure examinations. 
"Think about this very carefully. It has repercussions on basic ed. What will we do? You will have students graduating from high school in March, and then wait until August and September? Licensure examinations when you graduate, and then wala ka nang period for review," said Licuanan.
She added that universities granted autonomy may change their academic schedules without seeking CHED's approval, but they would have to advise CHED of their plans. Universities that are not autonomous will need a directive from CHED before they can adjust their academic calendars.

CHED has created a technical working group to study if the shift in academic schedule will benefit Filipino students.

The Department of Education will also study the effects a new academic calendar will have on basic education, especially among graduating high school students.

In an interview, Education Undersecretary Toni Umali said there is "no compelling reason" for DepEd to change the academic calendar for elementary and high schools, which are not trying to attract foreign students.

Moreover, Umali said, April and May constitute fiesta season in the Philippines, when families engage in "quality bonding" time.

He said that a survey of students, parents, and teachers conducted by DepEd found only three regions in favor of shifting the academic calendar: Central Luzon, Western Visayas, and Western Mindanao. — With reports from Rie Takumi and Amita Legaspi/JDS/VC/YA, GMA News