Identity Crisis: UP in the Face of Privatization

“The tuition hike dismantled the concept of the state university as being subsidized by the state,” said UP Student Regent Terry Ridon. “UP is now a private school under the management of the government.”

By Glenn L. Diaz
Philippine Collegian
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. 7, No. 22, July 8-14, 2007

Crystal is an incoming freshman, a behavioral science major, at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila. When her matriculation fees reached P21, 780 ($472.66, based on an exchange rate of P46.08 per US dollar), her parents were taken aback. It simply was not the amount they were expecting to pay for a supposedly subsidized education.

At the University of Santo Tomas (UST), a private school, the same 18-unit load amounts to around P24,300 ($527.34). The almost negligible difference between the two universities’ tuition and other fees is telling: Given the same policy thrusts of both the UP administration and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the distinction between state universities and colleges like UP and private educational institutions has been blurred.

Show them the money

In December last year, the Board of Regents (BOR), UP’s highest policy-making body, approved a 300 percent “adjustment” in tuition and other fees. Its proponents cited inflation as the primary reason. They argued that the P300 ($6.51) per unit cost, first applied in 1989, is only worth P98 ($2.13) today. Following the same logic, UP tuition rates will also hike annually based on the inflation rate.

In a BOR meeting in January, UP President Emerlinda Roman admitted that UP “didn’t increase tuition just to break even or earn a dismal P5 million ($108,506.94).” The policy is expected to earn P103 million ($2.23 million) to P154 million ($3.34 million) annually for UP.

Meanwhile, in February, CHED suspended its Memorandum (CMO) No. 14, issued in 2005, which imposed a ceiling on tuition hikes based on the prevailing inflation rate. Instead, CHED re-implemented CMO 13, issued in 1998, that revoked the limit. This effectively gave the legal basis for private colleges and universities to indiscriminately raise tuition and other fees. Not surprisingly, CHED permitted 88 schools shortly thereafter to increase tuition.

The Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), the largest consortium of private schools in the country, said the “unreasonable restriction” that is the tuition cap “endanger(s) the economic survival of private schools.” In addition, it “deprives the schools of much-needed revenues.”

Clearly, the underlying rationale behind the two decisions is unmistakably identical: income generation. And while private schools are often admittedly guilty of putting profit above service, it is an entirely new direction for a state university such as UP to take.

Access denied

National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) National President Marco de los Reyes said that the economic reasons cited by private schools are “ironic.” To illustrate, from 1997 to 2002, the average cost of one unit increased by 36 percent from P257.41 to P350.27 ($5.58 – $7.60). In the same period, the growth rate of college enrolment in private schools fell from 6.47 percent to 2.80 percent in 2002. In other words, private schools lose more students due to their decision to increase revenues through tuition hikes. When enrolment consequently drops, schools are once again compelled to increase tuition accordingly to cope with the loss.

In state universities and colleges, the situation is no less promising. In 1997, enrolment in public schools posted a massive 20.75 percent growth. In 2002, while overall enrolment dropped by 1.58 percent, enrolment in public schools posted a dismal 0.90 percent increase. These statistics show that students from private schools tend to transfer to public schools when faced with exorbitant fees.

Of course, their other option is to drop out of school altogether. CHED puts the college drop-out rate currently at 20 to 22 percent. Among these, 30.8 percent come from poor families, while 16.8 from non-poor families, while the rest are from middle-wage earners.

Palace intervention

In the wake of the tuition hike ceiling provided in CMO 14, COCOPEA promised its members that it would exhaust all available resources to circumvent it. It then tried to arrange a meeting between the CHED and President Arroyo. Two weeks later, CHED suspended the tuition cap and, in an internal memo, CHED said it was the president herself who “took the initiative” and exerted pressure on CHED to suspend CMO 14 and revert to CMO 13.

In UP’s case, Roman similarly pointed to government neglect as another major reason for the tuition increase. She argued that UP simply could not wait “for the miracle of state subsidy” to come. According to the UP administration’s primer on the tuition hike, “not only do we not get this (state subsidy), but what we do receive is proportionally lower than the previous year’s budget.” Furthermore, Roman believes that tertiary education is not a constitutionally-protected right anyway.

In addition, the UP tuition hike seems to be aligned with Arroyo’s Long Term Higher Educational Plan and other state policies, which are geared to reduce the number of state-run educational institutions and consequently state subsidy to education.

Spot the difference

These factors such as the drive to generate profit, the restrictive character, and Palace involvement have indeed made it difficult to differentiate UP from private schools.

UP Student Regent Terry Ridon even claimed that there is no more distinction between the two. “The tuition hike dismantled the concept of the state university as being subsidized by the state,” he said. “UP is now a private school under the management of the government.”

Meanwhile, to make matters worse for Crystal and her family, UP does not have a scheme that allows deferred payments through installments, which is typically available in private schools. The picture is clearly drawn: like Crystal’s, fewer and fewer families today are able to afford the cost of tertiary instruction. And going to state universities and colleges is simply not an option anymore. Philippine Collegian/Posted by(

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