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Local resources, global directions in the service of the CICM Mission
by Dr. Wilfried Vanhoutte

Saint Louis University of Baguio City aims at being an excellent, missionary, and transformative institution of higher education in the fields of instruction, research, and community extension. Founded by Belgian Catholic missionaries in 1911 as a small missionary school, the institution steadily grew as it opened its first college courses in 1952 and obtained university status in 1963.

The campus along Bonifacio Street was sufficiently spacious to allow the construction of several buildings until the early ‘90s. Meanwhile, the student population had begun to exceed 20,000, and would continue to rise into the new millennium, reaching 30,000 in 2013, while the number of faculty members has also risen to around 1,000.

“Outside” Bonifacio

In 2010, a new campus was inaugurated at the SLU Maryheights campus in Bakakeng, Baguio City. The School of Accountancy and Business Management (SABM), including its flourishing Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, found a new home in this green and scenic environment. The inauguration took place as the university was preparing for its centennial celebration, which motivated the choice of name for the new building. Fr. Séraphin Devesse, the Belgian missionary who started a class with 10 boys in 1911, was given honor as the SABM building was named after him.

In 2011, SLU commemorated its centennial jubilee with the theme, “Light that transforms,” a referral to SLU president, Rev. Fr. Jessie M. Hechanova’s presidential motto of “A mission to transform” and the legendary qualification of SLU as “Light of the North” by the late bishop William Brasseur, CICM. Fr. Hechanova, CICM, saw the centennial theme as a fitting reminder of SLU’s enduring mission to improve the lives of people entrusted to its educational care and to make an impact on society as a whole.

In 2013, another new building has been opened for occupation by the School of Teacher Education. This building, called Fr. Gerard Decaestecker Building, in honor of the first rector of the college section, is located in the SLU Navy Base campus. More importantly, the laboratory intensive new edifice will house the senior high school (grades 11 and 12) starting 2016, when the current high school curriculum will be expanded with two additional years.

The building symbolizes, therefore, one of the most transformative structural interventions in the Philippine educational system in history, as mentioned by the SLU president in his opening message during the inauguration ceremony last Aug. 17. It was most significant too, that Bro. Armin Luistro, secretary of the Department of Education, graced this event.
 
While addressing the audience, he encouraged SLU to go on spearheading excellent practices in education, like those advocated by the Institute for Inclusive Education, and to continue exploring local culture in the spirit of late Father Gerard Decaestecker, CICM, as it provides the fertile soil in which education is to be rooted.

The SLU Navy Base campus will be in the center of one of the major educational reforms in the history of this country. The university management also hopes that its Laboratory High School can accommodate students from public schools in Baguio and surrounding provinces that can no longer be accommodated in their respective schools after finishing grade 10. 

PPP in the education sector

A lot of public schools have yet to invest in additional buildings and infrastructure or are simply lacking space for expansion. A good number – if not all – of their students will therefore need to finish their high school training in grades 11 and 12 elsewhere. The DepEd is aware of the problem and plans to come up soon with a blueprint for the organization and activation of so-called PPPs (or public-private partnership arrangements), that will allow selected students from the public sector to study in private institutions with a subsidy, or a kind of partial scholarship, to be paid by the government either to the student or directly to the private institution.

It is expected that the general framework for those PPPs will be in place by next year. Through its wide facilities at the Navy Base campus, the SLU Laboratory High School will be able to welcome a number of public school students in its grades 11 and 12 that offer an advanced preparation to either an academic career in college or a technical-vocational track, that will enable graduates to apply for a quality job right after finishing high school.

Accommodating public school students might not only lead to the use of the school’s premises and infrastructure to their full capacity. It also means founding cross-sector arrangements that primarily aim at development, without the risk of wasting time and resources through sectarian considerations.

SLU is prepared to take up its responsibilities towards the communities of the Northern Philippines, in the light of the challenges that are being faced by the upcoming reforms in the educational system. Such challenge is also expected in the college level, as the Commission on Higher Education is preparing a set of measures that should bring the quality of Philippine higher education at par with that of other Asian universities. 

Five-year plan

Achieving international standards is precisely one of SLU’s key directions for the next five years, as reflected in the most recent version of its strategic planning. Classrooms and laboratories are being equipped with some of the latest didactic technologies. Faculty members and students engage in cooperative efforts to produce more scientific publications, including articles in international peer-reviewed journals, as the university strengthens its research capacities. While this goal does not necessarily call for additional buildings or campuses it may justify the continuous upgrading of laboratory infrastructure, library resources, and the ongoing special formation of teaching staff and researchers.

Knowledge is not a goal in itself, but should be used in the service of the communities, nearby and worldwide. Extension programs, aiming at community empowerment and the improvement of the living conditions of the poor are being drafted in line with the university’s core values of Christian spirit, competence, creativity, and community involvement, and with the missionary orientation of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Since the CICM is an international congregation, its spirituality boosts that of SLU to accommodate more foreign students and faculty in the future, to increase the number of exchange programs with other institutions,  and come up with joint or dual degree programs.

The rapid expansion of the SLU’s population has necessitated the dispersion of the university over four campuses, due to the lack of space in central areas along General Luna and Bonifacio streets. An additional concern for the SLU administration was the environmental burden caused by congestion in the city. The over-concentration of vehicles in the city’s central business district is adding to noise and air pollution, while it reduces effective transportation due to long queues and traffic jams, regularly making it difficult for students and employees to arrive on time for their class and for their work.

Decentralization

Therefore, decentralization can be seen as the university’s private contribution to a more rational use of space in the city, in view of a better quality of life for all. In this way, it provides evidence and indirect support for a balanced  integration of the City of Baguio and its neighboring five municipalities (La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay) into a metropolitan network that could draft a large-scale urban and sub-urban planning and efficiently supervise its implementation. Recently, SLU inaugurated its housing project (the SLU Centennial Village) in Kamog, Sablan, Benguet, where 100 units have been made available for faculty and employees eager to have their own house.

Through its dispersion over different campuses, SLU knows what it means to delegate, to coordinate, and to cooperate. To understand what this means, it suffices to think of what is needed to assure daily transportation for thousands of students to the newest campuses, or to provide basic student services like guidance and counseling, student affairs and security, ATM and payment, etc., in those new sites, without compromising on quality.

For this multi-faceted commitment to serve the local communities through its culture of excellence, the university was offered the Business Initiative Directions World Quality Commitment Award in the Gold category in Oct. 29, 2012, at the Concorde La Fayette in Paris, together with institutions, agencies, and businesses from 54 countries around the world that are active in various sectors or disciplines. The award is believed to confirm the excellence of the SLU strategic vision and standards. It also offers an encouragement to continue the recently adopted track of intensified marketing and internationalization, given that education has become increasingly competitive and globalized, calling for the continuous self-improvement of institutions.

With renewed spirit, SLU finds these evolving challenges in the world where it is situated as opportunities for carrying on the CICM mission of social transformation in the area of education.

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