Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feature Story: Dr. Patrick Azanza: An ICT Visionary for U.P. President

By: Prof. Ruby Rosa Jimenez

Since 2008, the University of the Philippines (UP), the country’s one and only national university, has been overtaken by the Ateneo de Manila University in the Times Higher Education - Quacquarelli Symonds (THE-QS) world university ranking survey. In fact, in the recent 2010 Asian universities ranking, Ateneo ranked 58th while UP ranked only 78th among 200 Asian universities. There are comments from inside and outside of the academic halls that the quality of UP education has declined through the years. The present UP administration insists that the university did not participate in the said surveys but some quarters are not impressed with what they termed as a lame excuse for not being able to live up to the university’s tradition of academic excellence.

However, some UP student leaders even publicly acknowledge the declining quality of UP education. Despite the congressional approval of the UP Charter of 2008 which aims to modernize UP, the present administration has yet to make concrete steps to upgrade the salaries of its faculty and staff, and improve the university’s instructional and laboratory facilities. The serious consequences of the university’s inability to address its management and financial woes is summed up in the tally of the 2010 board topnotchers where out of 25 licensure examinations, UP only topped in four disciplines, namely: architecture, teacher education (elementary level), geodetic engineering, and nutritionist-dietician. This is a stark contrast to the performance of UP in the past decades when it used to dominate almost all of the country’s professional board examinations.

It is under this condition that the members of the UP Board of Regents will soon choose the next President of the country’s premiere university. Several groups of faculty members, academic leaders, administrative staff, students, and alumni of UP have already been echoing their demand for change in the way the university is being managed. They could not bear seeing UP further slide down as it confronts the challenges of the 21st century. Obviously, the university needs someone who has both the vision and the proven ability to modernize the institution.

As announced by the UP Board of Regents, there are eleven contenders for the top post of UP and the youngest of them is 42-year old Harvard-trained educator and nationalist businessman, Dr. Patrick Alain Azanza. He is the former Chief Operations Officer (COO) of Asia’s pioneer and largest computer university and president of the Philippine National e-Learning Association (PNEA). At present, he serves as President/CEO of Winsource Business Solutions-Epicor (WBSIE), and Chairman of the Board of the Cosmotec Call Centre Inc. (CCCI); Raining Pesos, Inc. (RPI), and the Center for Community Preparedness and Development Inc. (CCPDI).

Among the eleven candidates for UP President, Dr. Azanza is considered one of the front-runners considering that he has wide support from various sectors such as big student organizations led by the Sigma Rho Fraternity, alumni, academic leaders, faculty, and administrative staff.

Dr. Azanza enjoyed a straight UP scholarship for his AB, MA and PhD from a grant established by Senator Edgardo J. Angara. He is also a graduate of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), and the University of California. He is an author of seven (7) books and more than fifty academic researchers and articles. His most recent research and publication output on the 400-year old Alamat ng Mandaluyong earned him the Most Outstanding Folklore Researcher Award from the Philippine Folklore Society, and another citation from the Linangan ng Literatura sa Pilipinas.

Dr. Azanza served as the youngest Director of the UP Human Resources Development Office and was awarded by then President Fidel V. Ramos the prestigious Lingkod Bayan Award, the highest award given to civil servants, for his outstanding performance and innovative programs as head of the government unit which resulted in the establishment of the one-stop clearance system, computerization of personnel records, and the streamlining of HRD process that reduced the number of days of processing time by 50%. The Lingkod Bayan selection committee was chaired by former Prime Minister Cesar Virata and co-chaired by Senator Jovito Salonga with Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, Civil Service Chairperson Cora Alma De Leon, and Metrobank Foundation President Aniceto Sobrepena as members. During the same year, Dr. Azanza at age 26, was also conferred as the youngest recipient of the UP Distinguished Alumnus Award.

For more than ten years, Dr. Azanza served as Vice President for HRD, and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, and as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) of AMA University, Asia’s pioneer and largest computer university with 41 branches nationwide and 5 international campuses. He was the chairman of the University Conversion Committee that was responsible for the transformation of AMA Computer College into AMA University. He was also the Chief Operations Officer (COO) responsible for putting up the eighteen branches of St. Augustine School of Nursing; the AMA School of Medicine in the Philippines and Bahrain; and the Norwegian Maritime Academy (NMA).

In 2008, he served as an international consultant/team leader for an Asian Development Bank (ADB) project that formed Transyulquirilish, a US$ 75 million road equipment pool company in Central Asia responsible for the rehabilitation of the traditional Silk Road that bridged Asia to Europe during ancient times. Aside from these, Dr. Azanza served as a member of the Board of Directors of the British Alumni Association, and was a training and management consultant at DOH, NEA, NAPOCOR and PEZA.

UP must deserve the title of national university

Dr. Azanza wants to define the role of UP as a global research university in the fast-paced, borderless milieu of the Third Millennium. He says that UP has been left out and could not compete with reputable universities worldwide mainly because of its failure to keep abreast with the latest trends in curriculum development, instructional methodologies, laboratory facilities, and research technologies.

A national university must focus on the promotion and development of the country’s economy, social conditions, technologies, industries, language and culture. It has to think for our nation. UP has to mobilize its resources for the genuine service of the FIlipino people. Dr. Azanza cites National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) of Taiwan, as an example of an outstanding public university which has gained a reputation of being a global research university after it successfully established the foundations of Hsinchu Science Park, the recognized “Silicon Valley of Asia”. NCTU’s rigid training and research orientation gave birth to, Acer, the largest manufacturer of notebook computer in the world; as well as the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s biggest semi-conductor manufacturer. Both companies were able to generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of revenues for Taiwan. NCTU presently collaborates and have joint technology researches with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Dr. Azanza said that UP has to work hard to deserve the national university title granted to it by virtue of Republic Act No. 9500, otherwise known as the UP Charter of 2008. According to him, “UP has to create or at the very least support industries that will promote our country’s economic and social development. It has to be able to provide practical solutions to our country’s social problems and issues. UP has to mobilize its resources to serve the needs of the nation. Thus, UP has to define its International Research Agenda in the context of recent developments in the global economies to make our country globally competitive. The present academic undertakings of modern universities abroad already focus on virtual economies, four-dimensional digital arts and music, nano engineering, light-emitting diodes (LED) technology, mechatronics, mechanobiology, stem cell, climate change adaptation, and outer space tourism. We have to leapfrog and move shoulder to shoulder with the world-class universities as we address the demands of the times.”

Promoting ICT-based programs and services of UP

Dr. Azanza brings with him fresh and innovative ideas especially in the field of information and communications technology (ICT) which is the underlying rubric of most developments and institutional transformations in the 21st century. His vision for UP as the country’s national university focuses on enabling the university to empower the people and the whole nation through ICT-based academic, research and extension systems and services. With Dr. Azanza at the helm of UP, we could expect not just fast student registration and enrollment process but even fully-wired campuses operating 24 by 7 on e-learning platforms with online research and extension services that can provide professional assistance to farmers, fisherfolks, health service centers, social service institutions, industries, local government units (LGUs), and national agencies requiring the expertise of UP faculty, researchers and extension workers – something that has long been done by national universities of neighboring Asian countries but has never been done successfully by UP. Dr. Azanza emphasized that there are many aspects of academic and administrative transactions which can be done online and paperless. He believes that since we are already in the Third Millennium, our systems and processes must therefore now be ICT-based.

Generating funds for UP’s modernization

Meanwhile, having inherited a cash-strapped government, the P-Noy administration has adopted "zero-based budgeting" and the result is a further reduction of UP’s budget from P6.9 billion in 2010 to the proposed P5.5 billion in 2011. UP’s budget in 2009 was at P8.2 billion. The next UP President who will assume in February 2011 will therefore be faced with a very tight budget which is most likely insufficient for the university to be able to sustain its role as the country’s only national university.

According to Dr. Azanza, “It is in this context that the managerial expertise and financial creativity of a candidate for UP President is being challenged. When UP solves its fiscal problems it will have more institutional autonomy and can further promote genuine academic freedom.” How does he intend to resolve the budget deficiency problem of UP?

The good news to UP students and their parents is that Dr. Azanza, who is a former Chairman of the UPLB Student Council and the KASAMA SA UP, says that he will definitely not resort to tuition and other fee increases. Without abandoning the possibility of getting additional budgetary support from alumni and friends in Congress through their pork barrel, he said he would immediately embark on a massive and creative fund generation program that will ensure UP’s sustainability and modernize the country’s premiere state university as well as upgrade the compensation and benefits package of faculty employees to competitive levels vis a vis top private universities. According to him, UP has around 30,000 hectares of idle lands and a vast potential of intellectual properties that could very well serve as valuable sources of funds. Just like what ivy-league universities are doing, there are untapped network of alumni, businesses, and industries that can be mobilized to either donate funds or finance mutually beneficial research and development projects.

Also, Dr. Azanza emphasized that there are successful models that would show how universities abroad used Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to generate funds for the modernization of their respective institutions. However, Dr. Azanza cautioned that UP needs to be very careful and must make sure that as it enters into these PPPs, the public character of the university will not be diminished and the same will not result to the commercialization of UP education, much less end up to be onerous transactions with UP at the losing end. Stakeholders and members of civil society of known integrity must be made part of the review committees that will evaluate the viability of the projects and contracts that will be entered into.

If properly utilized, these PPPs can facilitate the upgrading of compensation and benefits package of faculty and employees, improvement of instructional facilities, laboratories, libraries and even construction of solar-powered buildings and classrooms, student dormitories, staff housing, educational centers, alumni hostels, arts and sciences museums, research and technology incubation facilities, modern processing plants, service centers, and environmental parks. We must carefully determine the revenue streams and make sure that once an acceptable level of investment recovery is met by our private partners, UP will get additional percentage of the income generated on top of whatever rent we will be paid for our leased properties. Technology transfer must also be ensured and the educational aspect of turning our private partners as field laboratories for our students must be in place.

Ensuring transparency and accountability

In any fund generation efforts, transparency and accountability to the public is important. Along this line, Dr. Azanza raised the following serious concerns: “When was the last time the incumbent UP administration made a public report and accounting of all funds generated including the proceeds of previous tuition fee increases as well as the earnings of the techno-hub and other similar projects? Were we efficient in utilizing the funds we generated? Was there proper allocation and prioritization of budget to programs and units? How did we utilize the funds generated through the UP Foundation and the various foundations of our colleges? Are we equitably sharing the generated resources to all our constituents including the ordinary faculty and students, or are they just serving the interest of a chosen few? Do we have interlocking directors who are acting like executives of government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) enjoying fat bonuses and honoraria?” He said these are very important concerns in order for us to maximize the impact and benefits of whatever resources we generate. There should be a trickle-down effect.

Making UP relevant to Philippine society

Dr. Azanza cited the importance for UP to establish an International Center for Strategic and Advanced Studies that will gather the talents and skills of our nation in order to address strategic issues of our society. According to him, there is a need to enlist every competent and willing faculty and researcher here and abroad to serve as either full-time, part-time or adjunct professors in order that we may have a wider base of brain power just like what Harvard University does. He intends to open modern independent laboratories, institutes and centers with a multi-disciplinary approach and fully-funded by industry partners. The Stanford University for example has BioX focusing on bioengineering, biosciences and biomedicine; Human Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute (H-STAR) to study human and technology integration; as well as the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) which serves as a nonpartisan economic policy research organization to provide expert advice to lawmakers, businessmen, and investors.

Dr. Azanza is pushing for the creation of the National Institute for English and Comparative Literature (NIECL) given the advent of globalization that ushered in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual social and work environment. On the other hand, he claimed that the Sentro ng Wikang Filipino must be expanded and elevated as a Pambansang Akademiya sa Wikang Filipino in order to widen the scope in the research and development of our national language, thus, establishing it as the official research and publication arm of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino with a corresponding budget, building and staff.

Dr. Azanza who has worked for a long time with micro-entrepreneurs said that there is also a need to expand the role of the UP Institute of Small Scale Industries given the fact that 99.64 per cent of registered businesses are micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), with 69.9 per cent of our labor resources falling under the said sector. Furthermore, given the state of our national education, Dr. Azanza asserts that UP must also establish the National Center for Excellence in Graduate Teacher Education and School Administration in order to address the lack of competent master teachers and school principals especially in the public schools.

Promoting the regional focus of the different UP campuses

Dr. Azanza aims to make UP more efficient in utilizing its limited funds and resources by rationalizing the regional focus of its constituent universities. According to him, “UP cannot afford to offer all the courses that its administrators dream of. A National University must concentrate on offering courses that are crucial for the strategic development of our country. We must leave minor courses or curricular offerings beyond UP’s specialization to other state universities and private schools who have shown merit and distinction in said areas. Also, being the National University, UP must support other universities in terms of teacher training, consortia and research collaboration to assist in improving their expertise. We must do this in partnership with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and Department of Education (Dep-Ed).”

Campus security and the issue of informal settlers

Among the issues confronting UP is the security problem inside its campuses as well as the continued presence of informal settlers in UP-owned lands. Dr. Azanza explains, “We are spending so much for security services and yet UP campuses are not well protected. There are modern security systems that we can adopt without necessarily compromising our individual privacies. We must also learn from the model of Gawad-Kalinga (GK). If you visit a GK community, you would see how households are organized and trained to actively support and secure their community as part of the so-called kapit-bahayan.

As to the informal settlers inside the UP campuses, Dr. Azanza says, “I believe we must be a model of how the society must address this marginalized sector. For more than 30 years, UP has struggled but was never successful in addressing this problem. We must utilize the expertise of our colleges, particularly the College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD), School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP), School of Economics, School of Labor and Industrial Relations (SOLAIR), College of Architecture, and the College of Engineering so we can plan a viable solution to the problem. We must be humane to the legitimate poor but we must not fall into the trap of the syndicates behind professional squatters.”

Community service

Dr. Azanza who once served as an altar boy at UPLB St. Therese Parish Church is a well-known civic leader. He was recognized as an Outstanding Chapter President of Jaycees and was conferred the Best of the Best Community Project Award in the 2008 JCI Asia-Pacific Conference in Busan, Korea for his “Sulong-Dunong” project . He likewise served as executive director and national secretary-general of the Philippine Jaycees. He usually spends his weekends and holidays doing volunteer community service along with his family.

On being the youngest nominee

Asked if he is not overwhelmed by the fact that at age 42, he is the youngest nominee for UP President, Dr. Azanza who holds both a PhD in Educational Administration from UP College of Education and a Juris Doctor from the UP College of Law, and armed with two decades of experience as a top academic leader and creative financial manager replied: “Being young does not always mean one is inexperienced. Our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was an accomplished fellow at the age of 35. Alexander the Great who conquered three continents became a successful king of Persia at the age of 25. I think what really matters is not the age but the preparation and experience one has gone through.”

Obviously, if one will take a closer look at Dr. Azanza’s sterling academic qualification and managerial experience, he is certainly not a neophyte. He is a well-rounded academic scholar with very strong corporate leadership abilities. With his vision of a modern ICT-based global research university, should the Board of Regents pick him to be the next U.P. President, the country’s national university will certainly be in good hands.

(This article is reproduced with the permission of Professor Ruby Rosa Jimenez. She is currently an instructor at the University of Santo Tomas  College of Tourism and Hospitality Management. She has also taught before at U.P. Baguio)

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