Is raising the standard of Philippine maritime education a quixotic goal? Maybe so. The glut of maritime schools continues, and we hear muffled complaints from school owners about how government inspections are carried out. One should hope, nonetheless, that the system is not beyond redemption. Listed below are some radical solutions to fix the underlying problems.

1. A free-market policy on maritime schools – This will surely raise eyebrows as the European Commission, through the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), has criticised the lack of state oversight on local maritime academies. But the fact remains that government inspections have failed to weed out substandard institutions. Not only are there no well-defined and credible guidelines for inspection. Some inspectors, because of their discretionary powers, can be as corrupt as rogue policemen.

2. Change in the perception of audits – Many maritime folks in Manila have a scant understanding of the audit process, whose main rationale really is to evaluate a system so that measures can be taken to correct certain deficiencies. They see EMSA audits as a matter of passing or failing the inspections — just as a student would pass or fail a school examination. They should know that neither term is ever used by the EMSA in its post-inspection reports.

3. School audits by an independent audit body – This seems the only way to address the inefficiency and corruption that have become the hallmarks of government inspections in general. Let an internationally recognised audit agency take charge of inspecting and evaluating the maritime schools using a set of guidelines formulated in consultation with the government, school owners and even the EMSA. Any maritime school worth its salt should be willing and able to shoulder the cost of the audit.

4. Certificate of Compliance valid for at least five years – Why should maritime schools be required to obtain compliance certificates more often than five years? That would only give unscrupulous government people more room to earn an extra buck.

5. A dedicated website about good maritime schools – One reason maritime diploma mills continue to thrive is the lack of public information. A website run by an independent and reputable organisation (perhaps an association of maritime schools) will help parents decide which schools can give their children a decent education. It should include information on tuition fees; details on training facilities and equipment available in each school; maritime faculty profiles; and graphs showing how the school’s cadets have performed in the state licensure exams for ship officers.

6. Package of incentives for schools – All stick, no carrot. This has been the main problem faced by well-meaning school owners. The incentives may include tax-free importation of vessels for training cadets; exemption from anchorage and berthing fees and subsidised fuel prices for training ships; accelerated depreciation on training equipment and other capital assets; and maritime faculty training grants (which could be funded by local governments in places known to produce plenty of seamen, such as Iloilo, Cebu and Davao).

Philippine education in general has become too commercialised, and regulatory agencies are hobbled by corruption. There will always be schools that fall below international standards. It is a fact of life. The main challenge to those in charge is to make sure that the better maritime schools can prosper in an environment that is not over-regulated. Let market forces decide the fate of schools that are hopelessly substandard. ~Barista Uno