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University, built in a twinkling, seeks to train middle-level public servants

There's an "instant university" in this Manila suburb. It is called the University of Life, and it is the creation of Imelda Romualdez Marcos, the powerful First Lady.

"It is going up faster than a brochure can be prepared," noted Jose Conrado Benitez, deputy minister of human settlements. By employing some 10,000 workers , the university for 2,000 students was erected in about half a year -- including lecture hall buildings, dormitories, a track and field oval, tennis courts, squash courts, a swimming pool, an outdoor ampitheater, and so on. It was to be inaugurated this month.

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"When she gets behind something, it happens," said Mr. Benitez with satisfaction.

"It is the biggest joke in the Philippines," claimed former Sen. Benigno Aquino, a leader of the opposition. "It is a farout thing -- rock-baby -- flower children! It may be well intentioned, but what are they going to give out? Not even the wealthiest country in the world has thought of a university of life."

Mr. Benitez explains that the university will bring 400 students from Metro Manila and 1,600 from the rest of the Philippines. They will be housed, fed, given a stipend, and provided a "nonformal education -- problem-oriented training."

The idea appears to be to provide budding community leaders, middle-level civil servants and others with practical knowledge needed to bring about change in their towns, districts, villages, or offices. After a month's orientation program, they will spend three months studying "community change"; another five months in a specialization; and then design a specific development project for a month, go home and execute it for 10 months, and finally come back here for a month to report on their success or failure.

Many professors will be hired from abroad. Degrees will be granted in public administration, community development, and development economics.

One foreign observer of the project commented: "Lots of things here seem to be impulsive."

Mr. Aquino admitted that the final judgment of the project will come with results: Will this costly "University of Life" provide lower-level leaders that do facilitate development?

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Another, less controversial project of the First Lady and the Ministry of Human Settlements is the Technology Resource Center. It is an attempt to deal with a problem common to developing countries -- the unsuitability of much of advanced technology to a poor society.

Director General Arthur M. Alvendia explained that the goal of the center is to quicken and assist the application of new technology in small and medium-scale enterprises and in rural communities.

The program is concentrating on four industries: woodworking, garments, metalworking, and food processing.

In woodworking, for instance, it is organizing a village of some 30 small enterprises that will share in buying logs and equipment for sawing, kiln drying , and veneering. The idea is to get as much use of the wood and machinery as feasible. This Philippine Wood Exporters Development Association will produce, to a large extent for export, such items as furniture, clogs, coffins, toys, baseball bats, Bhuddist altars, trellises, pallets, and boxes. The project is supposed to be set up by year-end. The technology, involving considerable handwork, is being brought in from Taiwan and Hong Kong, where also is labor relatively cheap.

The center is also introducing pig-raising to villages, a mini-ice plant for poor fishing or farming barrios, a simple stove fueled by a newspaper, and so on.

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