“It’s discouraging. It’s like scrounging for alms from an institution which should actually provide free education.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Bianca Guiang, a 20-year-old social work major at the University of the Philippines (UP), knows what it means to be flat broke. She and her sibling are both in college, and with her family’s gross annual income of P300,000 ($6,005), they are constantly struggling to make ends meet.
But what frustrates her is how she has to prove that her family is beyond dirt-poor and beggarly, just to avail of tuition subsidy from UP under its Socialized Tuition System (STS).
Under UP’s STS, students are automatically put in bracket A, meaning, they pay the base tuition of P1,500 ($30) per unit. They can apply for discounts, but this will depend on their household income and assets, which include household appliances and gadgets.
“If you have five Nokia 3310 cellphones, they will add those to your asset,” she said, adding that Nokia 3310 is an outmoded phone.
Guiang had her hopes raised with last year’s government announcement of a free tuition policy (FTP). But she ended up even more disappointed when she heard that the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issued its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) similar to UP’s STS.
In the IRR, students under Ched’s Student Financial Assistance Program (StuFAP) and Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) will be the priority for free tuition, while other non-graduating students can avail of subsidies after they are “ranked according to their per capita household income based on submitted documents of proof of income.”
“Why do we have to beg for something that, in the first place, should be given free to us by the state?” she told Bulatlat in an interview.
Apply for loan
When Guiang was in UP Baguio, she was under bracket B and paid P600 ($12) per unit. She transferred to UP Diliman in 2014 and also applied for STS subsidy, but was automatically placed in bracket A. It puzzled her why she fell under bracket A with her meager family income. In STS, a student whose annual household income is P300,000 ($6,000) or lower should be under bracket E, where he or she pays no tuition and gets a stipend.
But the complete opposite happened when Guiang applied for a discount. It was like the end of her dreams because she knew that they could not afford to pay her tuition at P1,500 per unit.
“Makakapag-aral pa ba ako? P1,500 ang per unit tapos 18 units pa ako (Would I still be able to study? It’s P1,500 per unit; I had to take 18 units),” she said.
Her older brother supports her education, while her parents pay for her youngest sibling’s tuition in the province.
Guiang persisted and filed her appeals twice. She was finally classified under bracket C, with P600 per unit. However, she said, they still had difficulty paying for her tuition. Since she is studying in the capital, she had to spend for her daily living and school needs.
“Hindi naman basta-basta mag-aral dito sa Manila (It is not cheap to study here in Manila),” she said.
In 2015, she stopped for a semester when her mother got sick and most of the money the family had went to medical expenses. She also had to give way so that her sibling can continue her studies. Guiang worked while she was out of school and was able to save for her tuition. But what she earned was still not enough, and she acquired a loan to be able to enroll the next semester.
In a report by the Philippine Collegian, the official publication of UP Diliman, at least one in four students acquired loans to pay for their tuition. This includes students who are covered by the STS. For academic year 2016-2017, at least 28 percent of students acquired full loans, higher by 7.33 percent than academic year 2014-2015.
Guiang continued to appeal her bracket until she was placed in bracket E, with free tuition, and a P2,400 ($48) stipend a month. She also applied for a scholarship in her college to fully support her education.
Guiang is still burdened with her daily expenses. The P2,400 monthly stipend is not enough to cover the cost of her dorm, food, transportation and school requirements. “I need a source of income to support my needs. I cannot rely on my parents alone, I know they have other expenses,” she said.
The Philippine Collegian reported that three out of four students wait for their appeal results after registration period. For UP Diliman, only 1,794 out of 4,543 appeals have been processed. Meanwhile, only few students were granted full discounts in the whole UP system. Only 2,230 out of 31,047 students or less than 10 percent were granted free tuition after the initial STS processing results.
Guiang said waiting for the appeal results and appealing again if the bracket is not lowered is degrading.
“Nakakapanlumo, nagmumukha kang busabos sa isang institusyon na dapat ay nagbibigay sa iyo ng libreng edukasyon (It’s discouraging. It’s like scrounging for alms from an institution which should actually provide free education),” she said.
UP Student Regent Raoul Manuel said that in the history of socialized tuition in UP, appeal rates system-wide are consistently high. “This only proves that socialized tuition does not provide affordable and free education to students,” he told Bulatlat.
He said they are disappointed that this UP policy that “bleeds the students dry” will be implemented in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) nationwide. He added that socialized tuition has become a scheme to earn profits from students. From 2010 to 2014, UP has earned at least more than P1 billion ($20 million).
Free tuition not socialized tuition
In a Bulatlat report, Marjohara Tucay, Kabataan Partylist president said it is the incessant increase of tuition in SUCs that has driven away poor students from studying in what is supposedly a publicly run university.
The explanatory note of House Bill 4800 or the Comprehensive Free Public Education Bill filed by Kabataan Partylist last January, says that neoliberal policies in education sector “slowly but steadily crept in public policy, thereby chipping and eroding the public character of our educational institutions throughout the years.”
From the martial law-era Education Act of 1982 to President Benigno S. Aquino III’s Roadmap to Higher Education, government has deregulated and privatized public education, and made it inaccessible for the poor majority.
Tucay said these policies, including the socialized tuition in UP, should be scrapped to ensure free education for Filipino students.