LTE: Make public school tuition affordable, not simply higher or lower

Letter to the Editor
14 October 2011

President Noynoy Aquino’s recent directive to state universities to raise tuition to cover funding gaps is a grave misunderstanding of public higher education. Quality education “at all levels” is a citizen’s right in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. When the law further mandated the State to take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all, we thought that was why the state set up publicly-funded higher education.

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To be genuinely accessible, public education must be considered mainly a public good – offered, consumed, and financed by society as a whole. This is why people generally have a sense of injustice or rage when it is actually or constructively “denied”. But because higher education has private benefits – individual social mobility, increased personal satisfaction – the consumers are required by economics to contribute as well.

Current tuition levels in public higher education institutions are usually below P200 per unit, a little less than the regional minimum wage per day. But tuition has a disincentive effect; variances discourage students from choosing courses or schools, and often, from enrolling at all. Because low-income students are more price-sensitive than their wealthier counterparts, high fees in public schools clearly spread inequalities.

When the University of the Philippines raised its tuition ceiling to P1,500 per unit, it set apart a “millionaire’s bracket” to effectively reduce unintended subsidies to students who can pay. Five years on, the number of “millionaires” has reportedly tripled, in large part to a series of procedural memos that made students prove they weren’t millionaires instead of the other way around. We haven’t quite figured out if this means that the smart previously pretended not be, are becoming, or have always been more affluent.

What is clear is that the new tuition scheme made UP, a public school, one of the more expensive schools in the regions. Tuition for the middle-income class in UP Visayas and UP Mindanao is P600; surprisingly comparable to Panay’s private school leader Central Philippine University at P670 per unit and Ateneo de Davao at P870 per unit, excluding miscellaneous fees.

Politicians have been quick to suggest other income sources: exploitation of land grants, commercialization of assets, and all sorts of activities not originally accomplished by public schools. This does this solve the problem completely; it adds pressure upon schools to maintain academic and business reputations, or sometimes, choose between them.

Solutions to the problem must consider the aggravated teaching strain on public schools. Although public school students only account for 34-39% of those enrolled, state-run schools comprise 28% of the total number of higher education institutions in the country.

This means public schools on the average accommodate more students – or in the parlance of business, more sales per store. In 2010, there were 294 graduates per public school, compared to 185 per private school. During that academic year, there were 1,785 enrollees per public school, and 1,073 per private school. (The drop-out trend is another matter.)

In the end, only the true socialists have been left to defend absolutely free public education. Thankfully, there have been no radical proposals to make the entire higher education system private, but it might be too early to tell. While the government works out which way to go, the principled consensus however, cannot go below this: there must be affordable public tuition, in the context of the people’s purchasing power. As President Aquino prepares to raise tuition for public schools, we hope he also plans to make our parents richer as well.

Clarification on the UP budget cut:

Budget Secretary Butch Abad has denied there were cuts to the UP budget, despite his own computations. UP in 2011 got P6.17 billion including the automatically appropriated salary standardization and retirement premiums. For 2012, the Budget department proposed P5.97 billion which clearly accounts for a difference of P202 million.

Secretary Abad prematurely adds P654 million for unfilled positions, even if he has qualified it to be conditional upon justification of expenses. The controversial Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF) is an account for common outlay but for all state colleges and universities. In truth, our share could very well go to some other school which has a more reasonable request, or a more pressing need for the money.

In any case, the Lower House reportedly inserted P200 million for UP’s capital outlay. No other state university or college received a similar increase after committee deliberation.

By Krissy Conti
UP Student Regent

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