Position Paper On the Proposed 2013 Socialized Tuition System (STS 2013) and the UP System Code Amendments

Introduction The sudden demise of Kristel Tejada on March 15, 2013 added fuel to the already fiery debate on the accessibility of UP education. Now, the Office of the Student Regent (OSR) is firm in its determination to prevent any similar tragedy, by asserting a principle which, had it been upheld, would likely have made a great difference in the final months of Kristel’s life: education is a right, and any UP rules which unjustly limit that right must be rejected. Since its implementation in 1989, followed by periodical reforms in subsequent years, the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) has caused skyrocketing tuition rates in the University: from PhP40 per unit to the current default rate of PhP 1,500 per unit. In effect, this has led to a steady increase in the number of appeals for late payment and loan application. Recently, the procedural roadblocks brought upon by UP System Code articles 330, 430, and 431 have been thrust into the spotlight. Because of these provisions — which bar otherwise qualified students from enrolling or taking final examinations due to financial incapacity — more and more students are forced to take a Leave of Absence (LOA) due to their unpaid matriculation and/or student loans. It is in this light that the OSR would like to put forward its position on the proposed STS 2013 and the amendments to the UP System Code. This position is reinforced by the lessons collated from previous reviews and consultations since the term of Former Student Regent James Mark Terry Ridon, immediately after the railroaded approval of the Tuition Fee Increase in 2006.

On the Proposed Socialized Tuition System 2013 Upon reviewing the proposal, and after a series of student consultations, the Office would like to put forward the following comments: 1. The ideology behind the socialized tuition policy is detrimental for the students and for a state university. From the very beginning, the OSR has been critical of the ideology behind the so-called “socialized tuition” scheme. Having students pay for their tuition based on their perceived capacity to pay reflects a skewed logic, subjecting UP education to the whims of market forces, and treating UP as a private enterprise rather than a public service institution. The stratification of students based on their income has only given the administration justification for stratifying students based on income. The supposed promotion of “fairness and social justice” has led to more than half of the student population paying a tuition rate of P1,000 per unit, while a staggering 25% pay the rate of P1,500 per unit. Some would argue that students are now rich enough to pay the said costs. But recent data from the Office of Scholarships and Student Services (OSSS) reveal that there were 5,391 students who applied for student loans in UP Diliman alone. Last semester, 1,218 students were not able to pay their loans before the release of grades (Philippine Collegian, Issue #16; 13 November 2013). Regardless of the financial capacity of wealthy students, these numbers suggest that the STFAP, and the high cost of tuition, is actually harming instead of helping the most vulnerable sector of the student body: the financially challenged students. The national tuition rate for higher educational institutions (alongside private schools) based on the 2012-2013 data from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is only P475.47 per unit. UP education, on the other hand, costs more than double this average rate.

This already puts UP’s supposed public character into question ― if the tuition rate is more than what private institutions charge and beyond the price the masses could afford, can we still say that we are promoting a more accessible education that is based on social justice and fairness? In practice, the concept of a socialized tuition is proven to be nothing but a mask to hide and justify UP’s decision to squeeze money out of its students instead of the government. UP has betrayed its mandate as the country’s premier tertiary state institution, and is trying to use a twisted concept of social justice to charge students for education that should be free and accessible for all, regardless of financial capacity. 2. The tools that will be used to collect the socio-economic data and income of the applicant’s family are overtly simplified under the STFAP, to the point of indifference to their actual economic situation. By including pension and other financial assistance received, alongside the entire income of the household (not just the parents), the 30% adjustment of the income cut-offs will be rendered nullified and almost negligible. The said adjustments only serve one purpose — that is, to make the reforms palatable while not actually changing (and actually oversimplifying) the bases for the bracket classification. The data-gathering tools presented (MORES 1SEC and the Instrument to Collect Income Data on Applicant’s Household) are not sensitive enough to the real plight of the applicant’s family. These tools only collect the sources of income and not how they are spent or if they are actually enough for the family’s expenditures. This further highlights the aforementioned skewed logic behind the STFAP and STS 2013: that students are actually classified to check how much payment can be squeezed from them; and not for the administration to find out which students deserve free/lower tuition.
Figure 1: Proposed Instrument to Collect Income Data on Applicant’s Household

3. The procedural improvements benefit the implementers, not the students. The improved STFAP/STS 2013 application forms are streamlining the overtly bureaucratic application process. But it does not mean that applicants will benefit fully from this. They might not be required to send other supporting documents, but it does not mean that their plight will be lessened. The simplistic forms actually constrict dynamic and flexible decision-making in assigning the brackets on the administration’s part. The black and white result brought by the fo rms does not mean that the applicants will get their desired and actual bracket. The MORES 1SEC form for example, is just a shortened version of what the students have been answering for their STFAP application. Based on our consultation with some students who have tried

answering the MORES form, they have already encountered most questions (aside from 3-4 questions) in the previous 14-page STFAP application form. They did not feel assured that it would’ve made a greater impact on their bracket re-assignment appeals. The optimization of forms does not necessarily ensure the accuracy of the applicant’s real economic situation. The improvement can be lauded for the increase in speed in bracket assignments. But this speed in results and processing just gives the student ample time to re-subject his/herself to the process of appeal. This fine distinction cannot be overemphasized: the reforms in implementation help administrative offices process more students more efficiently, but it does NOT increase the chances of a student, even on appeal, to be reclassified to their desired brackets. 4. A flat-rate, low-tuition scheme would benefit students more than a high-rate, socialized tuition scheme. Most students would agree that they would not bother having their brackets re-assigned and apply for tuition loans if the tuition rate is actually affordable. This is the point that is continually being missed by the socialized tuition scheme. The socialized tuition scheme operates on a singular and fundamental suspicion of students, seeking to expose those who do not seem to be paying enough for their tuition. Such a framework is a grave mistake for a state university. Our primary concern should be ensuring that poor but qualified students get in, not that rich students pay as high a rate as possible. In this light, we should actually focus on our admissions policy, and not on increasing the tuition rate. Our recent policy statement declares, “No qualified UP student shall be denied access to education due to financial incapacity (April 12, 2013).” If we are at all sincere in this declaration, we must take steps in making the tuition rate a non-issue. We must make UP education affordable, and ensure that poor students get all the help they deserve.

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