EDITORIAL | Where lies the flaw

The public, national, and pro-people character of the University of the Philippines has been continuously disintegrating. We, as the primary stakeholders of the University, are left with tasks to incessantly uphold this character.

The Board of Regents, in its meeting last December 2013 has approved the proposed reforms for the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) and renamed it Socialized Tuition System (STS). The UP administration envisioned the STS as a system that will address the loopholes and inadequacy of the STFAP. However, despite all its promises, it missed the bigger picture.

Perhaps a short trip down the memory lane would enlighten us. Back in 1989, three years after the ouster of Marcos, Then UP President Jose Abueva proposed a tuition increase to cover additional expenses the University has to shoulder due to budget cuts that time. As an alternative to the Abueva’s proposal for increase, Dr. Romero Manlapaz proposed a socialized tuition—primarily basing on the main premise that “students who can afford should pay at least full cost of education”. After approval, tuition at flat-rate of P 40 per unit rose to P 300 per unit.

Come 2006, UP President Emerlinda Roman formed a committee to revise the STFAP. The committee stated that since the first implementation of the STFAP in 1989, Consumer Price Index went up, thus resulting to a 328% increase in price levels and family income. Therefore, according to Roman, it is reasonable to adjust the scheme to the current Price indices to make it “realistic”. The result: a new bracketing scheme plus a 300% increase in tuition fee. A little more of recent memory would remind us that another mechanism—Bracket B certification—has raised the base tuition from P 1,000 to 1,500 per unit.

By examining the historical perspective, it is easy to deduce that even from the very beginning, a socialized tuition scheme is nothing but a declaration of abandonment. With diminishing government support, the University resorts to generating funds from the students. The STFAP lives by the principle that the rich shall pay more in order to subsidize the poor—which in itself is flawed.

Subsidizing underprivileged students through a socialized system will imply that the students themselves would have the shoulder the funds needed. Therefore, the natural tendency of such system is to further push the tuition upwards—as evident through history.

Moreover, tuition increases do not necessarily translate to higher subsidies for those in the lower brackets. UP records show that while there is a steady increase in students paying P 1,500 per unit, students who enjoy free tuition has fallen to minuscule figures throughout the years. In UPLB alone, only 883 of 12, 114 students last semester or just 7% of the total UPLB population were able to avail free tuition. In fact, from 2007 to 2009, the administration collected roughly P500 million from the raised tuition, while spending only P25 million for STFAP beneficiaries. If the main purpose is just to generate additional funds, then perhaps a P475 million surplus is a testament that it the program works. However, that’s not the point.

While it may be argued that the income generated from the STFAP was used for other operations of the University, this just strengthens the argument that the STFAP is a mechanism for the state university’s self-sufficiency. Such mechanisms including Large Lecture Class Policy (LLCP), Tuition and other Fee Increase (ToFI), and privatization, among others, further give the state an avenue to justify its plan to abandon not just UP and SUCs, but its responsibility to provide quality and accessible education so that it can re-channel funds on its neo-liberal priorities.

And while the new version of the Socialized Tuition System seeks to address the flaws of the STFAP, all of these are in vain. In reality, no reform, how good may the intentions be, will suffice since the problem lies on the inherently faulty principles of a socialized tuition scheme.

Thus, our task is to regain the public, national, and pro-people character of UP. We can’t afford to be divisive in this campaign—for even the largest armies have been conquered by dividing them into factions. Reforms are not an option. There is no other alternative but to reject the STFAP, or STS by now, and rollback the tuition. Only through a united call to action can we succeed in doing so. [P]

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