COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
In the aftermath of Kristel Tejada’s death, University of the Philippines President Alfredo Pascual created a committee to review the UP admission system. The group is making the rounds in the different UP units doing consultations with the faculty, students, and administrative personnel regarding the various aspects of the student population.
Earlier in the previous administration of UP President Emerlinda Roman, a staggering tuition fee hike was proposed to meet the financial needs of the institution alongside with the diminishing state subsidy given by the Philippine government. And Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with her globalization scheme treated the national university like a government-owned and controlled corporation that must generate its own funds.
Thus, two committees were formed – the de Dios Committee to review the tuition fee structure of which report was later subsumed in the Atanacio Committee that revised the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program STFAP. A 300% increase was planned.
To engineer a 300% increase in tuition starting school year 2007 the Atanacio Committee to Review STFAP made good use of math. The group based family income in determining the classification of students under the socialized tuition structure. Assets were then estimated of their monetary value and a small appliance like a television set which is accessible to the lower income families is given a higher multiplier coefficient (0.1552188) compared to an air conditioner (0.0752214) which is largely used by the higher income groups.
As a result of this income estimate manipulation, students became “richer” by jumping a step higher in the STFAP income brackets. Those who were previously exempt (Bracket D) from paying tuition have to pay P300 per unit plus miscellaneous fees. While those whose families who earn P11,300 a month or at least P135,001 a year have to pay P600 per unit plus miscellaneous fees.
The next tragic thing that happened after the Atanacio Report was that it was approved by the Board of Regents BOR in a blitzkrieg operation. That December 15, 2006 BOR meeting which was originally planned at Quezon Hall was surreptitiously transferred to Malcolm Hall to avoid confrontation with protesting students. Minus the student regent Raffy Jones Sanchez and faculty regent Roland Simbulan who protested to the sudden change of venue, the UP regents voted 7-0 for a revised STFAP that increased tuition from P300-P1,500 per unit and adjusted miscellaneous fees starting 2007.
Seven years into the restructured STFAP, we were jolted by the event of Kristel Tejada’s death for not being able to pay tuition and finish her course. The UP Manila freshman student committed suicide last March 15, 2013, two days after she was forced to take a leave of absence for her inability to pay the remaining P6,000 tuition she owed to the school.
It is quite ironic for a behavioral science student to easily give up at the start of her college education. Filipinas are known for their resiliency. But in a society like ours, education is life and a way out of poverty. And to be deprived of education by an oppressive payment structure is not an inducement for life.
In the previous STFAP bracketing, Kristel whose annual family income does not exceed P130,000 would be exempt from paying tuition. That would encourage her to pursue college education with vigor in order to help her siblings also finish school, she being the eldest of five children. Her mother being a housewife, it is only her father who is a taxi driver that earns for the family’s subsistence.
But in this re-bracketed STFAP, Kristel is now forced to pay P300 per unit tuition plus full miscellaneous fees that could total to an average of P10,000 school fees each semester. (Why, in the state universities here in Tacloban that charges between P3,000-P5,000 per semester we still hear of dropouts due to financial constraints.) Enrolling in UP for Kristel is hardly feasible.
Kristel Tejada’s death is symbolical, for it means that those belonging to her economic class or income level are prevented from studying at the national university which is being subsidized by the Filipino people. How can a family of seven (as in Kristel’s case) earning P11,250 a month at the most (Bracket D) pay a P10,000 tuition? That would be slicing P2,000 monthly to cover a five-month per semester period, leaving an average of P300 per day for food, shelter, and clothing. Indeed, it is hardly feasible and could plunge a family into a debt trap.
So for a time now UP students, faculties, and alumni have been agonizing over the university’s heart and soul as a result of the decision made by a manipulative few. Statements and commentaries overflowed questioning the validity, morality, and constitutionality (Republic Act 9500) of that 2007 Tuition Fee Increase. Indeed, “2 questions after Kristel Tejada’s death” (INQUIRER, 4/15/2013) by Dr. Ted Mendoza and Prof. Roland Simbulan, both faculty members of UP revealed the change in the demographics of the UP student population.
In that commentary it states: “The UP student population is now dominated by a “richer” segment of Philippine society at a ratio of 76:24 – meaning, roughly eight out of ten students are from “richer” families. These are the students who pay “high” tuition to enable UP to earn income from the fees.”
And since about 80-90 percent of UP budget come from Filipino taxes, the article further says: “It means that 80-90 percent subsidy is now enjoyed by 76 percent of UP students, who can afford to pay tuition. It means also that poor Filipinos who pay direct and indirect taxes are now subsidizing the education of the sons and daughters of richer families.”
Not that we should discriminate higher income groups from entering UP but as a state university funded by government funds, we should make that institution accessible to the poor and bright students who cannot afford to pay for higher education in the private schools. For social justice.
With the revised STFAP, the article declared that only 26.5 percent of UP students applied for the program with 10 percent paying high tuition amounting to P1,500 per unit for Bracket A and P1,000 per unit for Bracket B. The remaining 73.5 percent naturally paid full tuition plus full miscellaneous fees that could total to over P20,000 per semester in UP Diliman/Manila and a little lower in the regional units.
That rate is still comparable to many private schools here in the Visayas. How can the poor afford that? Even Kristel’s P10,000 minimum rate under the revised STFAP is still way above the other state colleges and universities which charge a total tuition ranging from P3,000-P5,000 per semester.
A rollback to an affordable level is imperative to democratize UP admission. And to rectify a wrong. The approval of the Tuition Fee Increase in 2006 was done in an irregular manner, reminiscent of the culture of corruption in the GMA administration. Two committees were formed to review the tuition fee structure and the STFAP bracketing and the final report released on December 8, 2006. By December 15, 2006 or seven days after, the final report was approved by the Board of Regents without proper consultation with the students. Railroading that tuition fee increase was a form of corruption. And PNoy must look into that.
September 9, 2013