Thursday, 3 November 2011

Philippine Government clamps down on oldest and largest maritime school

Courses stopped, 13,000 students hit.

The largest and oldest maritime college in the Philippines has been forced to close down its maritime education programmes for failing to comply with local and international standards. The Philippine State Commission on Higher Education (CHED) asked the 63-year-old Manila based Philippine Maritime Institute (PMI) to discontinue maritime education courses that catered to 3,500 deck and marine engineering graduates annually, prompting severe protests from students who are enrolled at PMI and have now been asked to switch to other colleges. Rattled by these developments, students, teachers and parents hit by the ban will hold protest rallies at CHED later this week.

CHED claimed on its Facebook page yesterday that a Quezon City judge has upheld its decision, denying a PMI petition for a temporary restraining order against the closure of the two courses.

PMI, established in 1948, is the largest maritime institute in the country. Its three campuses had come under CHED fire in recent times for a drop in the quality of education; CHED Director Julito Vitriolo said the closure decision was reached after the school failed to rectify deficiencies pointed out by CHED since 2006, involving shortcomings related to infrastructure and faculty. 

Many, however, see the CHED move as fallout of pressure by the European Maritime Safety Agency- EMSA- that has threatened to withdraw recognition of Philippine STCW certificates, a move that has rattled the MET administration in the country and precipitated a crackdown on maritime colleges. The fear is that thousands of Filipino seafarers would be out of jobs if the EMSA de-recognition threat became a reality. 

“We took action instead of causing problems for future seafarers who might not be accepted because of their qualifications,” Vitriolo commented.

CHED says that the two maritime programmes of PMI Colleges (Degree programs in Marine Transportation and Marine Engineering) would be closed 'in view of the consistent failure of the school to comply with the standards of said programmes in accordance with STCW and CHED requirements'. CHED has reportedly cracked down on tens of other maritime schools across the Philippines. It says that it would close down 'three more substandard maritime schools' soon. 

PMI had reacted angrily to the closure, saying that the CHED order was 'unfair and baseless'. It says that it has addressed "all non-compliances raised in recent audits such as facilities improvement and faculty development, including the installation of two full mission ship's bridge simulators in two of its campuses".

Meanwhile, affected students enrolled at PMI have asked the Commission on Higher Education to reconsider its decision to close the two programmes; Student council official Randy Padilla said in a press conference that CHED should first examine the effects of the closure order on students and teachers. “We were not properly informed of the order, for it was only announced two weeks after enrolment started,” he said, adding that students were confused and frustrated by the late announcement. He said that no assistance had been given by either CHED or PMI for transfers to other institutes after the closure order, adding that the ban will have serious financial and other repercussions on trainees' careers. “Other schools require a one-year residency to graduate, thus the closure will add a semester to a transferree from PMI,” he said. 

Padilla claimed that 13,000 students have been forced to shift programmes or transfer to other schools. Another student council official- engineering student Jovan Hebayan- told the Philippine Inquirer that almost half these students might be forced to drop out of school due to financial difficulties as most of the schools that offer similar courses charge twice as much as PMI.

“Why should we suffer and pay for the lapses of either CHED or PMI management? We must not foot any bill but rather be given consideration by both CHED and PMI management,” he said.

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