Aquino government’s ‘roadmap’ toward inaccessible higher education

“While it is good that the bicameral committee averted the heftier cut earlier passed by the Lower House and was able to bring down the number of SUCs that will incur budget cuts for 2014 from 79 to the current 26, it is still deplorable to know that there are still schools that will suffer large cuts.” – Kabataan Party Rep. Terry Ridon

RELATED STORY | UP’s ‘new socialized tuition scheme,’ still unaffordable for the poor majority


MANILA – Last December 2013, a bicameral committee of Congress passed the General Appropriations Bill of 2014 with 26 state universities and colleges (SUCs) receiving lower budget allocations than the previous year. Seven of the 26 SUCs are heavily damaged due to typhoon Yolanda that struck Eastern Visayas last Nov. 8, 2013. These campuses will also suffer budget cuts despite the evident need to reconstruct and rebuild the seven campuses.

During the first two years of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s administration, state universities and colleges (SUCs) received inadequate allocations in the national budget. In 2011, the budget of the SUCs was reduced by 1.7 percent. He admitted this in his Presidential message endorsing the 2011 national budget. “We are gradually reducing the subsidy to SUCs to push them toward becoming self-sufficient and financially independent, given their ability to raise their income to utilize it for their programs and projects,” Aquino said.

Organizations of the youth and students did not take this sitting down. Several protest actions have been launched against the massive budget cuts.

In 2013, the budget for SUCs was increased by 44 percent. From the previous P25.8 billion ($581 million) in 2012, it increased to P37.1 billion ($835 million).

“The SUC budget would not have been increased had it not been for the strong student-led SUC protests in 2010 and 2011. Aquino and his lackeys only seek to pacify dissent by giving token increases in the budget while continuing on its path of privatization and commercialization of higher education,” said Sarah Elago, national president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP).

Several progressive youth organizations also said the increase still does not meet the standard set by the United Nations (UN). The UN recommends that the budget for education should amount to six percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The said increase also does not even meet the required budget of the SUCs. “This is only 68 percent of the required budget of the SUCs, which is P54.6 billion ($1.219 billion),” Elago added.

Protest action of students at Polytechnic University of the Philippines. (Bulatlat file photo)
Protest action of students at Polytechnic University of the Philippines. (Bulatlat file photo)

Aquino said the increase in the budget for SUCs is for the implementation of RPHER or the Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform – the Aquino administration’s blueprint for public higher education.

The “reforms” under RPHER – new in name but essentially an old policy – were implemented by previous administrations. “RPHER is a continuation of old policies that were implemented by previous administrations such as the Higher Education Modernization Act (HEMA) during the administration of Fidel V. Ramos and Long-term Higher Education Plan of (LTHEP) during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” Elago said.

Rationalizing higher education

One of the objectives of RPHER is to “rationalize higher education, improve its internal and external efficiency, optimize resources utilization and maximize resource generation.” Under this objective, the revised Normative Funding Formula will be implemented to determine the SUCs’ budget for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) as well as its budget for personal services. The budget allocation will be based on the SUCs performance, enrolment and passing rates.

“It was meant to harmonize the course offering of SUCs with national thrusts and priorities,” said Elago. This means SUCs offering courses that would produce graduates in line with the government’s priority growth sectors such as agriculture and fisheries, tourism, business process outsourcing and emerging industries such as electronics, semi-conductor and construction industries will be given priority for budget allocation.”

If one of the quality indicators is not met by the SUC concerned, a lower budget will be allocated to it.

Also under RPHER, SUCs were categorized into three: the 22 “leading SUCs,” which include the University of the Philippines (UP), Philippine Normal University and Mindanao State University, 37 SUCs under “Tier 1 developing SUCs,” which include the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), Technological University of the Philippines and Rizal Technical University, among others, while the remaining 51 SUCs are classified under “Tier 2 developing SUCs.”

Elago said under this system, funding is preferentially given to “high-performing” SUCs over “underperforming SUCs.”

Leading SUCs, according to CHED Resolution No. 010-2012 must attain Level IV and III (the highest SUC levels), must have at least one center of excellence or two centers of development and must be part of the Philippine Higher Education Research Network (PHERNet) or Higher Education Research Center. Tier 2 SUCs must have a center of excellence or center of development, must be at level III or IV, and be the best SUC relative to other SUCs in the region.

“This policy has a direct effect on the 2013 budget for SUCs. According to data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), universities classified under ‘leading SUCs’ will receive a budget for capital outlay amounting to P15 million ($338,272) to P1.4 billion ($31 million). On the other hand, the capital outlay allocated for Tier 1 is much less, amounting to P7 million ($157,860) per SUC. Tier 2 receives the lowest allocation at only P4 million ($90,206) at most as capital outlay,” Elago explained. (See table for example)


“At first, the increased budget may seem helpful to universities such as UP. However, the system fails to consider that a lower performance rating and lag in development in some SUCs are also due to the insufficiency of the budget. Under such a policy, the funding received by state universities and colleges are not truly based on their needs.”

Lower budget results in increases in tuition and other fees
During the first two years of the Aquino administration SUCs did not receive budgets for Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) and Capital Outlay. Thus, even if the government increased the budget of several SUCs for 2013, the tuition monitor of NUSP revealed increases in tuition and miscellaneous fees in SUCs in some regions.

“The year 2013 is characterized by intensified commercialization and privatization of education and basic social services. SUCs either increased its tuition or imposed new fees. Exorbitant and redundant fees remained.”

At the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, P500 ($11.26) was added in the miscellaneous fees being collected from students. The Mindanao State University increased its tuition to P85 ($1.92) per unit per semester from P50 ($1.13) per unit or almost a P900 ($20.30) increase per semester. The increases in tuition and other fees in other SUCs are all in line with RPHER’s objective to “optimize resources utilization and maximize resource generation.”

The Abra State Institute of Science and Technology also increased its tuition from a base of P80 ($1.80) per unit to P100 ($2.26). The Benguet State University has an impending increase in tuition from $2.26 to P150 ($3.38) per unit. The Ifugao State University and Kalinga State College also increased its tuition from P60 ($1.35) per unit to $2.26 per unit and the Mountain Province State Polytechnic College from P75 ($1.69) to $2.26.

The Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute for Science and Technology (EARIST) imposed the collection of a development fee of P1,000 ($22.52), which resulted to a walkout of 5,000 students last November 2013.

(Bulatlat file photo)
(Bulatlat file photo)

Last December, the UP Board of Regents approved the 2013 Socialized Tuition Scheme amendments to the UP Code System. (Read separate story here)

For the year 2014, SUCs continue to face budget cuts in line with the RPHER’s objective to rationalize higher education. Although SUCs will receive an additional budget allocation of P1.269 billion ($28 million), Kabataan Party-list Rep.Terry Ridon said, this is mostly due to the transfer of the lump-sum allocations for scholarships and the provision of additional capital outlay to UP and four other SUCs. But the fact still remains that 26 SUCs, including the seven heavily damaged in Eastern Visayas, will still be receiving lower funds for 2014.

“While it is good that the bicameral committee averted the heftier cut earlier passed by the Lower House and was able to bring down the number of SUCs that will incur budget cuts for 2014 from 79 to the current 26, it is still deplorable to know that there are still schools that will suffer large cuts,” Ridon said.

“It is also important to note that our SUCs requested for P59.9 billion (1.350 billion) in 2014, and only P35.9 billion ($809 million) was approved – a little more than half of the original request. Clearly, the 2014 budget for higher education is vastly inadequate,” Ridon added.

Further commercializing education

The NUSP said UP’s socialized tuition scheme paves the way for the imposition of additional fees and tuition increases in private higher education institutions (PHEIs). “The increase in tuition, such as what happened in UP, becomes the basis for PHEIs to increase their tuition. If the government-subsidized SUCs could increase their tuition, why not the PHEIs?” said Elago adding that PHEIs only get funds for operations and maintenance through tuition and other fees.

As per NUSP’s estimates, tuition in PHEIs increased by an average of P150 ($3.38) to P200 ($4.51) per unit or P3,150 ($71.04) to P4,200 ($94.72) per semester under the Aquino administration. And for academic year 2013-2014, the NUSP said, the application for tuition increases of 367 PHEIs were approved by CHED.

The national average tuition rate per unit of $10.72 has once again been surpassed by the average tuition rate in the National Capital Region, which doubled to P985.05 ($22.21). “This means that parents should shell out from P20,000 ($451.03) to P40,000 ($902.06) every semester for their child’s education. And because SUCs could not accommodate the increasing student population, some students were forced to enroll in relatively expensive PHEIs or worse, some were forced to stop studying,” Elago said.

And while tuition in private schools are almost beyond reach, RPHER, on the other hand, will “phase out ‘inefficient duplicative programs’ particularly those that tend to crowd out the provision of such by private colleges and universities.” This means that a lot of courses that are being offered in PHEIs will no longer be offered in SUCs. The SUCs then will focus in the “formulation and offering of programs that are responsive to industry needs in the government’s five priority areas for job generation and economic development: semiconductor and electronics, business process outsourcing, tourism, agriculture and fisheries, and general infrastructure.”

The government even allocated P900 million ($20 million) for the Private Education Student Financial Assistance (PESFA) program and the Training for Work Scholarship Program (TWSP) also for the year 2013. The said programs will subsidize 97,821 students who will enroll in courses such as tourism, business process outsourcing, semiconductor and electronics, and agri-fisheries, all of which, according to Aquino “are in line with key employment generators.”

“Education is a basic right, but policies being implemented by the government only serve those who can afford the costly tertiary education. Those who cannot will end up as semi-skilled workers and not professionals who can help develop the country’s industries, including agriculture,” Elago countered.

Continuation of neo-liberal policies, continuing struggle for Filipino youth and students

As Aquino reaches the midterm of his Presidency, it is clear that the “righteous path” that this administration is taking is “righteous” only to the dictates of the foreign market.

Elago said the crisis in education – from basic to tertiary education has been worsening as Aquino continues to implement neo-liberal policies such as the K to 12 curriculum that aims to produce semi-skilled workers as cheap labor and RPHER that aims to commercialize higher education through incessant budget cuts and promoting income generation in the name of education.

“In accordance with foreign market dictates, the administration is further beefing up the Philippine labor force with the production of semi-skilled workers who could be exported and paid cheaply. Using this scheme, high school (or less) or technically educated workers would be produced, behind the rhetoric of international competitiveness. The Aquino government does not aim to produce highly skilled workers and intellectuals for genuine national and social development. Aquino, in this scheme, is being exposed as a puppet of foreign dictates led by the US,” Elago said.

Aquino further exposed himself as anti-student and anti-people by continuing what his predecessor had started – producing, exporting and exploiting Filipino workers for cheap labor and further squeezing dry the poor by further commercializing social services like education, said Elago.

But the youth and students know their rights and even as the struggle for meaningful change would take many years, the NUSP said, it, alongside other progressive youth organizations, would continue to fight not only for the future of the youth of today but also that of the coming generations. (

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