Number of UPD students with free tuition hit 6-year low

(This report was first published in print in issue 15 of the Philippine Collegian on 03 October 2012.)

by Keith Richard D. Mariano

Barely two percent of UP Diliman (UPD) students who applied for the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) were granted free tuition and stipend this academic year, a historical low since the program’s restructuring in 2007.

Of the total 3,823 STFAP applicants for this academic year, 74 students were classified under Bracket E2 with free tuition and other fees and a stipend of P12,000 per semester, according to data from the UPD Office of Scholarship and Student Services (OSSS).

Students under Bracket E2 are assumed to have an annual family income of P80,000 and below, which is less than the estimated annual income of a minimum wage earner in the National Capital Region at around P100,000.

Meanwhile, the number of students assigned to Bracket E1 has remained less than 10 percent of the total number of STFAP applicants since 2009 when the sub-bracket was first created (see sidebar 1). This academic year, 323 or eight percent of the applicants were classified under Bracket E1.

Students under Bracket E1, or those with an annual family income of not more than P130,000, which is about P10,800 per month, also enjoy free tuition but do not receive semestral stipends.

The STFAP is an income classification scheme which aims to promote a “more just and democratic access” to the university by assigning students to tuition brackets based on their annual family income and other socio-economic indicators.

However, the STFAP has continually served both as a “smokescreen to tuition increases” and as a “mechanism for generating income” for the university,” said UP Student Regent Cleve Kevin Robert Arguelles.

Smokescreen to tuition hikes

First instituted in 1989 when UP increased the tuition from P40 to P200 per unit, the STFAP originally had nine numerical brackets, five of which are “non-paying” brackets with stipends ranging from P4,500 to P8,250 per semester.

With the implementation of the 300 percent tuition increase in 2007, the administration then reduced the STFAP brackets into five (see sidebar 2).

Under the restructured STFAP, only students under Bracket E are granted free tuition and a stipend of P12,000 per semester. In 2009, the administration further categorized students enjoying full subsidy in their matriculation into Brackets E1 and E2, and limited the grant of stipends to only Bracket E2 students.

In 2011, the Pascual administration implemented a new policy on assigning students to Bracket B, which requires UP students admitted from 2011 onwards to submit documentary evidence for an annual family income not exceeding P1 million.

The new scheme drew flak from several student groups for “effectively increasing” the base tuition in UP from P1,000 to P1,500 per unit by shifting the “default” bracket from B to A (see related article).

“History tells us that major changes in the STFAP lead to an increase in base tuition,” according to system-wide student council alliance Katipunan ng Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (KASAMA sa UP).

Income-generating scheme

With the restructuring of the STFAP in 2007 from nine to five brackets, the number of students with free tuition, stipend and other benefits subsequently declined, data from OSSS reveal.

From 1989 to 2006, an average of 52 percent of STFAP applicants enjoyed free tuition under the non-paying brackets 1 to 5. Meanwhile, an average of 48 percent of the applicants enjoyed tuition discounts of up to 75 percent under Brackets 6 to 8.

Under the restructured STFAP, the average percentage of students with free tuition under Brackets E1 and E2 dropped to only 10 percent from 2007 to 2012. For the same period, an average of 90 percent of STFAP applicants were assigned to higher brackets with tuition discounts of up to 70 percent under Brackets C and D.

Meanwhile, since the implementation of the Bracket B certification scheme in 2009, the number of Bracket A students, or those who declared an annual family income of more than P1 million, surged by more than 8,000 percent, from 29 students in 2010 to 2,413 students in 2011.

This semester, the number of Bracket A students doubled to 4,489, data from the Office of the SR show.

On average, only 20 percent or 3,000 of the 17,000 UPD undergraduate students apply for STFAP, OSSS data show. Students who do not wish to apply for lower brackets are either automatically assigned to Brackets A and B or are enjoying other scholarships, said OSSS officer-in-charge Richard Gonzalo.

STFAP overhaul

In recognition of the STFAP’s “procedural flaws,” including the socio-economic indicators used in bracketing students, the UP administration commissioned two separate reviews of the program which are set to conclude by the end of the semester.

Both the University Committee on Scholarships and Financial Assistance (UCSFA), which include the vice chancellors for student affairs of all units, and the Office of the SR, concluded that STFAP needs an overhaul.

In 2010, for instance, one in every 10 STFAP applicants appealed for reassignment to lower brackets, according to OSSS data. As of the initial deadline of appeals for the academic year on September 15, four percent or about 170 of the 3,823 applicants filed appeals for lower brackets.

Despite the administration’s plan to revise the STFAP, however, several student groups maintain that STFAP should be scrapped and the tuition rolled back instead.

“While we laud ourselves with the unmatched quality of education the university offers, the UP administration should not deter the Filipino youth from this education by imposing expensive tuition and other fees. The UP administration should look into policies that will promote accessibility—firmly asserting for sufficient state subsidy and enact proper budget allocation,” according to KASAMA sa UP. ●

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