In UP, Defiance vs Tuition Hike gains ground
The proposed tuition increase in UP - at 200 percent -- is staggering. It is comparable to the most expensive private schools in the country. It certainly is a cause for alarm for many students and parents.
DAVAO CITY - To many Filipino youths, studying at the University of the Philippines (UP) as a "iskolar ng bayan" carries immense advantages. There's, of course, the name and the renowned quality of UP education. On a more practical level, however, the subsidized, thus low, cost of studying there is enough motivation to seek a UP education.
Imagine, then, the consternation of many UP students when they learned that the state university was going to raise its tuition, making it no different from expensive private schools. To many of them, the "iskolar ng bayan" label, which carries with it the rather lofty idea that the Filipino people are subsidizing good education, has become worthless.
The proposed tuition increase - 200 percent -- is staggering, and a cause for alarm for many students and parents. Late last month, students from all UP campuses nationwide made known their sentiment by walking out of their classrooms to march in the streets, demanding that the idea be junked.
One of them was Modassir Calalagan, a first year Biology student. "When I was still in high school, I thought UP offered quality but affordable education. But when I entered, I found out that tuition were also raised, just like in private schools," he told davaotoday.com. "If the increase happens, I will just transfer to a private school since it doesn't make any difference anyway."
At present, Calalagan spends about 7,000 pesos for a semester, an amount he considered still affordable. The proposed 200 percent increase, he said, would make him think twice whether to pursue his college education at UP Mindanao.
Philip Batingana Jr., another first year student who is taking up Computer Science, thought the proposal unfair. "It becomes ironic to think that we are called 'iskolar ng bayan'," he said. "We are supposed to focus on education, not on the financial side . If this pushes through, there will be no more UP students next semester."
Batingana is a full scholar (he obtained the highest grade in the whole UP freshmen bloc) but that is small comfort for him. "I might have an edge because I'm a scholar but who knows, sooner or later, my scholarship will also be affected?" he said. "I am not just fighting for myself but for the others as well."
Shany Lou Solatorio, a sophomore Anthropology student, shared the same sentiment. "Our parents will have a harder time if the proposal will be implemented. I joined the rally to show my sympathy that I am against the increase," she said. "This is a state university. The tuition should be lower than any other schools."
The change in the system of state colleges and universities such as the UP can be attributed to the policy of the government to force these institutions to generate their own funds. A committee formed to review the system earlier proposed that, for the UP system to survive, it has to sustain its daily expenses by increasing tuition.
At present, students in UP Mindanao pay between 100 and 300 pesos per unit. Under the new increase proposal, these rates will be increased to as much as 1,000 pesos per unit (for UP Diliman, UP Manila, UP Los Banos) and as much as 600 per unit (for UP Baguio, UP Visayas and UP Mindanao).
These rates are comparable to those of the Ateneo, La Salle and the University of Santo Tomas, three of the most expensive private school systems in the country.
The principle that students themselves -- rather than the general taxpayer -- should pay for the cost of higher education is a "general principle to be affirmed," according to the committee that came up with the plan.
Raymond Basilio, the chairman of UP Mindanao's University Student Council, countered that this view undermines the whole concept of state education. "We do not believe that it should be the students who will bear the brunt," he said.
Basilio bristled at the UP's plan because it occurred at a time when the government is spending less and less on education.
"Despite Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo's claims that education is a top priority of her administration, the 2006 reenacted budget worsens the condition of education in state colleges and universities as it allocates more for her all-out war than for education," he said, referring to Arroyo's new war initiative against the Communist movement.
He said the proposed additional budget of 4 billion pesos for the Department of Education and more than 100 million pesos for state universities and colleges has disappeared with the reenactment this year of the 2005 national budget.
Statistics provided by the National Union of Students in the Philippines, an alliance of student councils and governments in the country, show that the budget for education has decreased 17.4 percent in 2001 to 13.9 percent in 2006.
"A sufficient budget for education could be used to improve the school facilities and equipments as well as increasing the wages of teachers," NUSP- Davao City chairman Paulo Buela said. However, he added, "the funds are channeled to sustain the government's anti-insurgency campaign."
For now, the students can only protest. And they have had a few gains.
The system-wide protest of UP students last month was held just in time for the meeting of the UP Board of Regents. As a result of their vigilance and of their vocal resistance, the students helped stop a plan to increase library fees in UP Manila and UP Baguio; made possible the subsidy of one sack of rice for UP employees, and set aside, at least for the time being, the plan to increase unit rates.
The protest was supported by such groups as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, the Farmers Association in Davao City, Anakbayan, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, Karatula, and the League of Filipino Students.
"But this will not be the end," said Basilio. "In the next meeting of the BOR, we will prepare a bigger and stronger force along with other students from other UP units." He said they would lobby the Senate for a higher budget for education as soon as the regular session opens this month.
"Being a 'iskolar ng bayan' will always be a constant struggle on our part as students," Basilio said. "We do not want students to study in the Private University of the Philippines." (Grace S. Uddin/davaotoday.com)