2 questions after Kristel Tejada’s death

By , Roland Simbulan

The death of University of the Philippines student Kristel Tejada has forced us to grapple with the questions “What is UP education?” and “For whom is UP?” These questions seem easy to answer, but they are actually complex and difficult. It is because education is life. UP education is for the life of Filipinos and the poor; it is the way to emancipation from the bondage of poverty. UP education is in search for truth, for what is best for Filipinos. UP is for the education of the country’s future leaders in varied disciplines—culture, arts and sciences.

To answer the questions, two important aspects of UP should be examined: admission and the tuition structure. Consider the following:

Only 26.5 percent of UP students applied for the STFAP (Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program). Why were the rest, the great majority, not doing so? There is a simple answer. UP tuition, while already high for the lean minority, is still cheap for the 73.5 percent!

Of the students who applied for the STFAP, 10 percent are in the A and B bracket, which means they pay P1,500 and P1,000 per unit, respectively.  These are the students coming from the richer socioeconomic class who have family incomes greater than P0.5 million. All over UP, the 10 percent equal 1,325 students (10 percent x 13,253). If we add this to the total number of UP students of about 50,000, we will find that the total number of students paying high tuition is 38,075. Taking their percentage (38,075 ÷ 50,000), they now represent 76.17 percent of the UP student population.

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 10 students are from “richer” families. These are the students who pay “high” tuition to enable UP to earn income from the fees.

Let’s examine this tuition structure further:

1. The immediate implication is that the good genes (or bright students) coming from the vast majority of poorer Filipino families are not represented at UP.

2. It is claimed that UP is still supported by the Philippine government. About 80 percent of the UP budget comes from Filipino taxes (if we are to include the infrastructure or fixed costs, it may increase to 90 percent or more). 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.

3. It is ironical that those who “can afford” and who should pay more are the ones receiving more!

What should be done in UP? Section 2 of the UP charter (Republic Act 9500) clearly says that the state should promote, foster, nurture and protect the right of all citizens to accessible quality education, and that it should strengthen UP as the national university. Section 3 describes UP as a public and secular institution of higher learning dedicated to the search for truth and knowledge as well as the development of future leaders. Section 9 (Democratic Access) says no student should be denied admission to UP by the sole reason of age, gender, nationality, religious belief, economic status, ethnicity, physical disability, or political opinion or affiliation.

Simply put, education at UP means its students should come from all sectors of Philippine society, and that the admission process should be revised so the bright sons and daughters of the poorer segment of society can enroll at UP.

Section 9 of RA 9500 also states that: The national university shall take affirmative steps that may take the form of an alternative and equitable admissions process to enhance the access of disadvantaged students, such as indigenous peoples, poor and deserving students, including but not limited to valedictorians and salutatorians of public high schools, and students from depressed areas, to its programs and services.

High school salutatorians and valedictorians should be given the chance to enroll at UP (guidelines must be formulated). The UP College Admission Test (Upcat) should be reviewed and revised so that the inherent talent of these students can be nurtured. Questions must be formulated in two sets—English and Filipino—so they can have the option to select questions to answer. A foreign language will not be a barrier.

Upcat review questions should be posted in the Internet and the URL made available to all high schools in the Philippines. UP units nationwide should conduct review classes for Upcat takers.

Finally, to avoid the difficulties of determining who really can afford to pay high tuition and to fully democratize UP, tuition should be rolled back to the former affordable level. This will eliminate the first major obstacle for the poor to enroll and study in UP.

Will this not impoverish UP? The net income from the current STFAP is only P300 million. It may seem a huge amount, but consider the havoc that it has brought about. It is just .0145 percent of the proposed national budget of P2.06 trillion. The Aquino administration’s “daang matuwid” (no corruption in government expenditures) is succeeding because P270 billion was saved last year. The net earnings from UP tuition are just nearly 0.1 percent of the savings from otherwise misspent money.

We should invest this 0.1 percent in the education of the poorer, underrepresented, but bright students. They can provide the bright hope for the future of this country.

Dr. Ted Mendoza and Prof. Roland Simbulan are faculty members of the University of the Philippines.

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