UP still far from tuition-free education
■ Camille Lita
A week before the enrollment in UP Diliman, students have yet to hear the concrete plans of the administration with regards to fees collection in the coming semester.
While the application process for free tuition is still ongoing, UPD Chancellor Michael Tan has suspended the collection of tuition and other school fees “until the government is clear about their [Free Tuition] policy.” However, the enrolment procedure which includes forms assessment and validation, remains under study, according to Office of the University Registrar.
Under the Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2017-1A of the Commission on Higher Education and Department of Budget and Management (DBM), known as the Free Tuition Policy (FTP), only selected students will be given free tuition, while collection of OSFs remain.
Under FTP, even the poorest students will still have to pay miscellaneous fees, said Tan in a statement.
Only P367 million worth of budget was allocated to the UP System for the next school year, which was based on projected income submitted by the UP administration to CHED. The amount is only four percent of the total P8.3 billion budget allocated to all SUCs and far from the declared income of UP over the past years (see sidebar 1).
FTP was a result of P8.3 billion worth of reallocated funds by the bicameral after cutting the budget for the development projects in Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
Qualification and application
To accommodate applications, the Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) introduced the Student Financial Assistance (SFA) Online. Students who wish to apply must submit documents such as income tax return.
This is similar to the university’s then Student Financial Assistance Program (StFAP), said OSFA Director Richard Gonzalo. STFAP is UP’s financial assistance to students since 1989, before replacing it with the current Socialized Tuition System which started in 2013.
Unlike the STS, SFA will measure a student’s capacity to pay and its academic record subject to prioritization, availability of funds, and coordination of other database scholarship, said Gonzalo (see sidebar 2).
None were spent for the SFA Online because it was developed by the UP Information Technology Center, said Gonzalo. He also cleared that the SFA is not under the P752 million eUP project of former UP President Alfredo Pascual that caused delays in previous regular enrolments.
Student groups have criticized SFA as it used as an excuse to continue STS, which recorded high tuition loan applications due to lack of students’ cash on hand during enrolment.
“STS has paved way for massive profiteering and tuition increases, making UP the most expensive SUC in the country,” said Ben Te, deputy secretary-general of Kabataan Partylist (KPL).
Despite the clamor for free tuition, UP should charge fees and earn income first as part of its social responsibility, according to Dr. Emmanuel de Dios of UP School of Economics. “It would be a betrayal of public trust not to make use of assets and instead to rely perpetually and entirely on taxpayers’ money in the form of budgetary allocations.”
FTP is a “leaky bucket” that will help some students who really need help, but will also waste a lot of money, giving to those who can really do without the extra assistance, de Dios added.
Under the term of former UP President Emerlinda Roman in 2006, De Dios led the ad-hoc committee to review tuition and OSFs and suggested tuition increase, using the 328 percent increase in price levels and family income as justification.
The existence of tuition and OSFs in all universities is under the directive of Education Act of 1982, while the motivation for SUCs to generate funds is made possible by the Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform (RPHER). SUCs have been earning an annual average income of P25 billion since 2013 to augment their annual budget.
The rise in the number of financially-able UP students from private high schools is used as a justification for fees increase, said Professor Danilo Arao of UP College of Mass Communication. Last year, 99.6 percent of UPCAT passers came from private schools, as a result of the K to 12 program.
“If you have the idea that majority of the UP students are rich, then we’re accepting that as a reality that cannot be changed. Even if you are rich, you are not a milking cow, you are an Iskolar ng Bayan,” Arao added.
Arao is part of the study group convened by former UP President Pascual in 2014 to review the university’s admission policy. The study group cited high cost of tuition and other fees as one of the reasons which hinder passers from enrolling.
Calls for action
Because the P8.3 billion additional allocation for SUCs was only a realigned budget, groups push for the passage of House Bill 5633, known as the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act that aims to remove all forms of fees collected from students.
Once President Duterte signs it into law, it can effectively be implemented on the second semester of AY 2017 to 2018. Unlike the FTP 2017, the law aims to cover both tuition and OSFs, according to outgoing Student Regent Raoul Manuel.
“The [FTP] does not help in finding the solution for the Philippine education, as education is slowly transforming into a business as the government pushes the SUCs to be self-sufficient,” said KPL Representative Sarah Elago.
Elago also said that the youth should double its effort to mobilize and organize for the complete abolishment of fees. ■
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