“Philippine education system and its funding pattern follows the neoliberal education framework, which considers education not as a public good, but something that you need to buy.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – “Anyare UP (What happened, UP)?”
It was the question in the mind of many alumni of the University of the Philippines-Diliman when news came out about students who became homeless after their applications for dormitory were rejected by the administration.
But it was only one of the woes faced by UP students and the academic community, alongside problems in the academic calendar shift, the socialized tuition scheme (STS), and decreasing state subsidy – features of the premiere state university’s gradual shift to commercialization. This was the topic in a forum organized by the Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) held on Aug. 18, at the College of Education theatre in UP Diliman.
Ramon Guillermo, All UP Academic Workers Union (AUPWAU) national president, said that UP is a public institution, and should serve the interest of poor students. He said policies such as the recently implemented academic calendar shift and socialized tuition scheme would further deprive the poor Filipino youth of a chance to enter UP.
High cost of education in a state university
Donn Bernal, a third year Psychology major said it was his dream to study in UP.
“I was really shocked to find out how expensive the tuition is here in UP. In the first semester of my first year, we had to get a loan to pay my tuition,” Bernal said during the forum.
UP has one of the most expensive tuition in all state universities and colleges in the country. During President Gloria Arroyo’s term, UP increased its tuition from P300 per unit to ($6) to P1,000 ($22).
When the STS was implemented, cost per unit became P1,500 ($32) for the default bracket A http://www.up.edu.ph/up-unveils-new-socialized-tuition-system/. Every semester, a student has to apply for STS. If not, they will automatically fall under bracket A.
But applying for STS does not guarantee that the student will pay a lower tuition, as STS application goes through a rigorous screening process.
Although the STS categorizes a student’s tuition according to his household income, Bernal said, a student has to present documents to prove that his family is impoverished to get into the lower bracket. “Sometimes you fall under a bracket that is not fit for you,” said Bernal.
He said from P18,000 ($389), his tuition went up to P32,000 ($691) in his second semester in UP. He was forced to stop studying because his family could not afford his tuition. Now, he is back in UP and is a councilor of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy student council. He said he aims to strengthen the campaign to junk STS.
“I knew how it felt, and it is really painful that you cannot afford the tuition in a state university. That is why we should act to stop UP from losing its public character,” he said during the forum. He said there are many more out there like him, who are also struggling with the high cost of tuition in UP.
Xena Mikaela Cledera, 18, a third year Electronics and Communications Engineering major from Bicol, said she always has to file an appeal for reconsideration when she gets a higher bracket. Her father works as a call center agent and her mother is a housewife. Her siblings are all studying.
She said, she too, gets anxious every time she applies for STS. Good thing, she said, she is now under bracket E2.
An article in the Philippine Collegian, said one out of 10 students received free tuition under STS this semester. This translates to only 4.8 percent or 2,963 students out of the total estimated 60,000 students in the whole UP system.
In UP Diliman, 1,285 or 8.5 percent out of 15,043 students were granted free tuition.
Guillermo said the academic calendar shift only meant to accommodate more foreign students.
“Does the academic calendar shift really mean cultural interactions, political discussions, and intellectual enrichment? No. The UP shifted its academic calendar for two things: to raise UP’s rating as an international university; and two, to earn more profits out of foreign students,” said Guillermo.
Guillermo also said that Filipino students are now on the brink of losing their chance to study in one of the prime universities of the country because slots will be given to those who can pay – including foreign students.
Clarifying that his group is not being xenophobic, he said they are against the academic calendar shift because of the possibility that the university will soon lose its public character.
Guillermo explained that UP is paid by the Filipino people’s money through tax. It is only right that UP should be a school primarily for Filipinos and not for the foreign students.
“It will come to a point that poor Filipino students will be competing against high-paying, foreign students for public education. That should never happen,” he said.
Even with UP’s high cost of tuition, students and professors are also struggling with poor facilities and lack of proper ventilation.
Cledera said large classes in UP now reach up to more than 100 students in one class. Now that the regular semester is held over the summer, she said the heat during classes is very distracting. The heat maybe an external factor, she said, but the reality remains that it is not conducive to hold classes during summer season.
Guillermo also said that not all rooms in UP have air conditioner or has enough number of electric fans, and this is a problem of both professors and students. “It is difficult to teach in such situation,” he said.
He said one requirement of quality education is the teacher-student ratio. “The more time that the teacher can give to his or her student or can devote to discussion with them, making sure that they understand what you’re talking about in class, the better that education is,” Guillermo explained.
For the past five years, the Aquino administration has not prioritized education in the government budget, said Kabataan Partylist executive vice president Marjohara Tucay.
Tucay said that government’s top priority is actually debt servicing, which eats up P740 billion ($16 billion) in the 2016 proposed budget, with P394 ($8.5 billion) billion for interest payments and P347 billion ($7.5 billion) for the principal amortizations.
On the other hand, the budget for education is only P504 billion ($11 billion), said Tucay.
In fact, UP’s budget for 2016 will be reduced by P2.2 billion ($48 million). From its current P13.1 billion ($286 million) budget, UP’s proposed budget for next year is only P10.9 billion ($238 million),.
Tucay said this is in line with the Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform (RPHER) which aims to “rationalize higher education, improve its internal and external efficiency, optimize resources utilization and maximize resource generation.”
He added that for the past years, there is an increase in tuition and other fees of state universities and colleges to fill in their meagre budget.
“Philippine education system and its funding pattern follows the neoliberal education framework, which considers education not as a public good, but something that you need to buy,” said Tucay.
He said the struggle should not only call for the increase in budget in education but also strongly resist commercialization of state colleges and universities and its schemes, such as STS.
Meanwhile, CONTEND said they strongly condemn the intensifying “marketization” and commercialization of policies that “aim to squeeze every ounce of super-profit from students and parents just to recover the costs of spending for education and infrastructures.”
They said as teachers and educators, they strongly affirm their conviction that education is about service, and producing well-informed and critical students. “Education is about caring and nurturing our students to become active citizens.”
They added that as a public and national university, they cannot define and treat education as a commodity, where students are considered as clients and customers.
“The neoliberal corporatized policies enacted by Aquino’s RPHER have no place in the academic community that operated on the principle of collegiality, where decisions reached through collective and democratic processes,” CONTEND said.