In line with the 2015 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integration, different member states have been called to establish mechanisms to promote solidarity within the region. Although the main goal of the integration is economic in nature – to create a free market among ASEAN member states – Southeast Asian higher education institutions (HEIs) were told to adopt a unified academic calendar.
De La Salle University (DLSU) is set to implement this shift in the coming academic year 2015-2016, as announced last November 2013. In an official memo from DLSU President and Chancellor Officer-in-Charge Br. Dennis Magbanua FSC released earlier this month, it was confirmed that the academic year 2014-2015 will begin on August 24, 2015 and will end on August 11, 2016. In between the current and upcoming academic years, there will be a transition period where a special term will be offered to all batches.
To augment the academic requirements, especially of graduating students who will be affected by the change in schedule, the special term will be held during the months traditionally allotted for the first term. This 11-week special term will run from May 4, 2015 to July 21, 2015. This was communicated by former DLSU President and Chancellor Br. Ricky Laguda FSC to the Lasallian community during the University’s town hall meeting last June 2014. As of press time, the courses that will be offered during the special term have yet to be finalized by the Academic Council.
“Not advisable,” says CHED
As early as the beginning of the calendar year, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) already expressed that changing the academic calendar is not advisable among colleges and universities because of climatic factors and other socio-economic and cultural considerations. In addition to these reasons, the proposed academic schedule goes against the Department of Education’s calendar. Although this is the case, CHED reiterated that HEIs can start their academic years whenever, provided that they do not go against any law.
Despite CHED’s claims, some HEIs like the University of the Philippines (UP) and University of Santo Tomas (UST) have already implemented academic schedule changes effective this year. The two universities only had a little over six months to prepare for the shift from the moment they publicized their plans. Meanwhile, DLSU, along with Ateneo de Manila University, shall follow suit by next academic year.
Learning from others’ experiences
The execution of the shift in calendar in the University of the Philippines (UP) garnered mixed reactions from university stakeholders. Some state that the move was hastily done, while some noted that it was implemented smoothly.
Ernest Mandap, a Political Science student from UP-Diliman, shares that the academic schedule change felt rushed. “The [registration and enrollment] schedule was not well organized during the summer break and the start of classes. Faculty members were not as prepared as they should have been with their lesson plans.”
On the other hand, Computer Engineering student Gabriel Lizares says that the UP administration communicated to students several options that could make the transition smoother. UP students had a choice between having a four-month summer break or getting two midyear semesters for those who wished to remain in school during the extended summer vacation.
Jomar Silva, also a Political Science student from UP Diliman, is for the calendar shift, stating that one of the immediate benefits of the shift was that classes were not affected when Typhoon Glenda hit Metro Manila. Silva shares, “There still has been no suspension of classes yet due to typhoons.” Lizares, on the other hand, explains that the new academic calendar is also advantageous from an academic standpoint.
“Instead of having two short breaks during the year we now have just one slightly longer Christmas break that should help keep our learning momentum going,” he posits.
Silva feels that it will take time in order to know if the shift in the academic calendar is beneficial to UP in the long term.
In UST’s case, the administration’s plan of shifting to a new academic calendar was not communicated effectively, according to some students. Most only found out about the shift during enrollment last June. Ysabel Go narrates that she only learned of the schedule changes through an online post by the UST Student Council. Although this was the case, Go claims that the shift was surprisingly carried out smoothly.
Go observes that the only detriment to the smooth implementation of the change is the weather and the university’s location. “UST is flood-prone, regardless of the season, while having classes during the hot season will only make things worse,” Go shares.
The UST administration has mandated a secondary set of uniforms to counter the discomfort that these weather conditions could bring. Go also mentions that a lot of students reacted when it was announced that the university’s institutional Christmas celebration, Paskuhan, will be celebrated on a different month. “I hope that it [Paskuhan] will be the last institutional event that will be affected by the change,” Go laments.
Positive thinking and some waiting
In a memo issued last December 2013, Laguda stated that the new academic calendar will result in numerous advantages, naming easier mobility of students and faculty, longer term breaks, and improved administrative work, among others.
In the DLSU Research Congress last March, Economics Professor and University Fellow Dr. Tereso Tullao, Jr. identified reasons as to why HEIs in the Philippines are changing their academic calendars. Tullao believes that the change in academic calendar shall pressure HEIs in the country to improve on key academic areas such as research.
Other benefits of the academic calendar shift which were mentioned by Tullao include the promotion of cross border education and that it can serve as a building block for the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community.
University stakeholders are still left pondering on what could happen during the planned academic calendar shift. The administration has communicated only brief, tangible plans about the shift, almost a year after the calendar shift announcement.