June 23, 2017

Position Paper on the Proposed Legislative Measures on Free Education

The 3.3 trillion national budget signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on December 2016 promised P8.3 billion for free tuition in all state universities and colleges (SUCs). This is but a result of the resounding call of youth and students for free education, which gained ground during the 2016 National Elections.

It was not long before we were slapped by reality that not all things in life are free. President Duterte’s promise of free education came with a contradicting caveat—that it shall prioritize financially but academically-able students.

We cite, in toto, President Duterte’s conditional veto:

“…Yet as with all new programs, there is a need to safeguard the proper implementation of the provision of free tuition fee. It is important to underscore that we must still give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students. We must also acknowledge that the Constitution likewise provides the right to choose a profession or course of study is still “subject to fair and equitable admission and academic requirements.”

Equitability of education through prioritization of poor but deserving is precisely the legal basis of the infamous Socialized Tuition System (STS), also dubbed as the Socialized Tuition Scam, implemented in the University of the Philippines System.

This only goes to show that we have a long way to go before achieving free education for all. This struggle should be directed towards the abrogation of educational policies such as the Education Act of 1982, Higher Education Modernization Act of 1997, etc. that only served to legalize profiteering, perennial increases in tuition and other school fees and ultimately, tolerated state abandonment of education.

Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) on Free Tuition Policy (FTP)

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) were given the daunting task of drafting the implementing rules and regulation on free tuition. Their draft was presented to the House of Representatives during its first regular session. To say the least, the draft was much contended, if not outright rejected.

The President’s conditional veto was formalized through the special provisions in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) 2017 that provides framework for the obligation of the P8 billion fund under the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

“The amount of Eight Billion Pesos (P8,000,000,000) appropriated herein under Provision for Higher Education Support Program shall be used exclusively to provide financial assistance to SUCs for their foregone income from tuition fees and shall be used in accordance with Section 1 of the special provisions applicable to all SUCs. The fund shall be allocated to SUCs based on the estimated income from tuition fees of the respective SUCs as indicated in the statement of receipts and expenditures of SUCs in the 2017 Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing (BESF). In the implementation of Higher Education Support Program, the CHED shall rationalize all scholarship programs and grants given to students enrolled in the SUCs. The specific guidelines and procedures for the use of this fund shall be issued by the CHED and the DBM in consultation with the SUCs.”

Grounded on the presidential veto, the conditions stipulated in the IRR, become the rule. It will subject students from SUCs to a DBM-CHED crafted student prioritization criteria, much to the tune of UP’s Socialized Tuition System. This is aside from the fact that UP asserted to be excluded from the FTP.

DBM and CHED promised to release an edited draft of the proposed IRR on May. If the new draft will not depart from its illusory provisions, then there is no other recourse but resistance.

House and Senate Proposed Measure on Free Education: A Trojan Horse

Due to our persistent and collective efforts to press the government to advance our right to education, several legislators from both houses drafted their respective versions of a free higher education bill. Before the Senate went into a break, it was proud to have passed Senate Bill 1304 or the Affordable Higher Education for All Act.

The Lower House was not far behind in efforts to appease the public clamor. The Committee on Higher Education (CHED) was forced to expedite its efforts to come up with its own version. The consolidated version of free education bills in the lower house (which included Kabataan Party-list’s House Bill 4800 or the Comprehensive Free Public Education Bill) was then named Universal Access to Tertiary Education.

The effort of both houses to draft measures to democratize education is but a result of our relentless struggle against the prevailing inaccessibility of higher education. However, a closer study of both proposed measures will reveal the devil in the details.

Both measures provide legal basis for the implementation of socialized tuition nationwide. So much so that both bills should be aptly called Socialized Tuition Bills for expediency. On the pretext of President Duterte’s conditional veto and the proposed IRR on free tuition, the House and Senate proposed bills aim to provide equitable education to poor but deserving students.

Senate Bill 1304 only intends to provide full tuition subsidy. It does not cover subsidy or support for the payment of other school fees, which in some cases grossly upstages the cost of tuition. In Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) – Sta. Mesa for instance, 88% of fees paid every semester is for other school fees.

The full tuition privilege is not automatically, for all. In order for SUCs to avail of the full tuition support fund, they should establish a “…qualifying mechanism, which shall be meritocratic and equitable. This shall include but not limited to a qualifying examination and an affirmative action mechanism for financially disadvantaged students” (Section 8 (a) of SB 1304).

The bill in the lower house dubbed as “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education” is chock full of contradictory provisions that consequentially renders the bill problematic. Despite that however, one thing is certain—the bill upholds the status quo and maintains that higher education, even in SUCs, is not for all.

The state policy articulated in the bill puts premium on private interest and is lopsided to restrict access to higher education rather than democratize it. It exaggerates the role of the private sector in education. While the state should maximize all the resources available to ensure that social services will be accessible to all. The bill however misinterprets this tenet by allocating a hefty amount of public funds to the private sector, on top of Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) and other similar subsidy to the private sector in education.

Adding insult to injury, while the bill is biased to expand private profit, it plans to limit access to SUCs through the imposition of mechanisms that will ensure that “poor but deserving students” benefit from the privilege.

In recognizing that it cannot provide free education for all, the House version proposes a student loan program, payable through the Social Security System (SSS) or Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). The bill is completely oblivious to the reality that due to massive inadequacy of domestic jobs, new graduates always fall victim to joblessness and contractualization. It will only be a matter of time before the youth become debt-stricken.

“Equitable, for Poor but Deserving”: Euphemisms for Socialized Tuition

All efforts to advance “free education” under President Duterte’s administration is grounded on the flawed principle of equitable education that aims to prioritize the poor, based on merit.

This principle resonates the bases for the implementation of the much-taunted Socialized Tuition System (STS), previously Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), implemented in the University of the Philippines (UP) System.

In a study commissioned by former UP President Pascual, Democratizing UP Education, dated January 2014, outlined recommendations and analysis why socialized tuition has failed to democratize access to education.

“The economic tenet of STFAP is that those who can afford should pay more, and that STFAP is believed to have democratized access and admission to its academic programs and have promoted fairness and social justice. Ironically, STFAP is one of the main drivers in the present skewed distribution of UP students in favor of the well-to-do or upper socio-economic class of the Philippine society.”

The STFAP and STS both used instruments to determine the poverty ranking of students. It assigned points to various variables such as—type of housing, profile of head of household, ownership of cellular phones, appliances, etc. For the review committee, the fact that the system mandates students to establish their destitution in a degrading competition to prove that they are worthy of UP education is utterly discouraging and reason enough for them to abandon their hopes of earning a UP diploma.

This would explain why almost a majority of UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) passers from 2004-2014 opted not to pursue UP education. The committee reported that in the said 10 years, around 40% of UPCAT passers did not show for enrollment. They identified the high cost of UP education as the main culprit. For instance, UP Mindanao registered the highest no show rate, due to the fact that it is the most expensive higher education institutions (HEI) in the region after Ateneo de Davao Univeristy. The same is true for UP Baguio that registered a 52% No Show rate due to its pricey tuition rate, compared to other rivals such as Saint Louis University, a private HEI.

This has resulted to the edging out of poor students by students coming from the upper middle class families, according to the review committee.

Using the metrics in current context, a family earning P1,200 per day (National Capital Region (NCR) minimum wage) has a projected P440,000 annual income. With this projected income, the family will be compelled to pay P600 per unit (Bracket C) or P10,800 for 18 units in a semester excluding other school fees and other incidental expenses. But the reality is, even a family earning a livable minimum wage, won’t be able afford to send their child to UP because of the contradiction of depressed wages and high cost of daily basic necessities such as food, water, etc.

Not only has UP failed to democratize access to education, it has vulgarly siphoned billions of money from the imposition of socialized tuition from its students. Data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) revealed that in 2014 alone, UP System has unexpended total collections of Php 11.4B, a large chunk of the said amount was siphoned from tuition and “other income from students” also known as other school fees. Enjoying fiscal independence through its UP Charter, UP is not obliged to return unexpended money to the National Treasury, therefore, said collection is held in trust as savings, or pertinently, as profit.

The gross insincerity to democratize access has resulted to the imperative to apply for loans. Recent data from the Philippine Collegian, official student publication of UP Diliman, reveal that more than one (1) out of ten (10) UPD students who applied for tuition discounts thru STS also applied for tuition loans for second semester of Academic Year 2015-2016. Out of the 15,256 who applied for tuition discounts, 1,728 were compelled to still look for loans according to UP’s Office of Scholarships and Student Services.

Global Thrust to Privatize and Commercialize Education Stirs Resistance

The impetus to implement socialized tuition is driven by the global trend to make public services profitable ventures thru deregulation and, concomitantly, privatization and commercialization. In effect, education is being sold as a commodity to those who can afford it. Those who can’t afford higher education are shoved to the fringes to further poverty. Commercialization of education is but a part of a grand scale to transform education as mere diploma mills, ready to churn out docile and cheap labor for the abuse of the global market.

In various part of the globe however, this is challenged by youth and student movements that assert our inalienable right to education. Safe to say, there is a growing resistance against state abandonment of education. We, Filipino youth must also do our part to break the chain of oppression by resolving to fight against plans to massively profit from our education.

Our Calls

Stop tuition hikes and junk all other school fees!
No to socialized tuition schemes!
Stop the commercialization of education!
Junk all neoliberal policies on education!
Free education for all at all levels now!
Fight for a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented education!

Reference:

Mark Vincent D. Lim
National Spokesperson
National Union of Students of the Philippines
Mobile: +63 917 565 4963

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