Free tuition IRR, draft substitute bill ‘heartbreak’ for youth, translates to higher SUC tuition, profit for private schools

Monday, February 13, 2017

KABATAAN Partylist expresses concern that the emerging implementation of the free tuition policy for school year 2017-2018 might become a ‘heartbreaker’ for the youth, as it translates to even higher tuition in state colleges and universities (SUCs) and narrowed access under a socialized tuition scheme, or worse, greater funding for private schools through a loan program.

On February 6, the Committee on Higher Technical Education (CHTE) of the House of Representatives started deliberations on several free education bills. But even before deliberations took off, CHED was put on the hot seat for their contentious implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the free tuition policy for SY 2017-2018.

We have identified gravely contentious provisions of the document:

  1. The continued collections of tuition and other school fees, in accordance with RA 8292 (Higher Education Modernization Act of 1997, or HEMA). It intends to uphold the Special Provision for SUCs,
  2. The exemption of the University of the Philippines (UP) system in the implementation,
  3. Standardization of criteria for beneficiaries will be implemented across all SUCs (effectively, a nationwide implementation of UP’s socialized tuition system), a mechanism to limit the beneficiaries following the standardization of criteria
  4. Ineligibility of all beneficiaries of existing scholarships, such as STuFAPs, for the program.

Later last week, a substitute bill to consolidate free education bills filed is proposed, dubbed as the “Free Tuition and Loan Program Act.” While providing free tuition to SUCs, it proposes a loan and voucher system for students of private higher institutions and technical-vocational institutions.

Socialized tuition scam

It seems that the CHED and DBM are pushing towards a nationwide implementation of the Socialized Tuition System (STS) of UP, even excluding the UP system mainly since it is already implementing STS.

The STS has already resulted to wide opposition among UP students, as it has proven to be counter-effective in widening access to education.

Guised under a “social justice” system, the STS has only been a free pass to increase tuition from P40/unit in its inception in 1989 to the current P1500/unit.

Instead of democratizing education, it further hinders the poor from enrolling. Based on the data for the STS program in UP Diliman only around 1-2 percent of the student population receive free tuition every year.

A 2014 study by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) also lists the high cost of tuition, especially under the socialized tuition system, as a reason poor scholars are being “edged out” of UP, either dropping out or not enrolling despite passing the entrance exam.

Data from the Philippine Collegian, UP’s school paper, reveal that in 2014, only 3 in 100 students who applied for the STS program receive free tuition, with only 1% being fully subsidized. Meanwhile 24% or 2,854 students were charged the full P1,500/unit, not counting the 5,129 (30%) who have not applied (and are also effectively paying full tuition).

Meanwhile, 35% or 4,171 are charged P1,000/unit. This does not counter in yet appeals due to mis-bracketing and which amounted to around 1,300 that year.

It is even appalling that the low rate of enrollees from the lower social classes has become an excuse to call for the prohibition of free tuition, when in fact, it is precisely the imposition of tuition and other fees that is at the root of this phenomenon, causing the struggling youth to drop out of college or spend time off studies for work.

Is free tuition really free? OSFs, privatization still exist under neoliberal framework

The P8.3 billion allotment might be enough to finance the tuition expenses of currently enrolled scholars ng bayan of the 114 SUCs, but this will not necessarily translate to democratic access because of the costs of other school fees (OSFs). The continued collection of other school fees that milk the students dry will still be in place. Redundant and dubious fees exist, resulting in OSFs amounting to around P30,000 per semester, comprising of 30-80% of a full semester of college education.

The IRR also protects the interest of the private sector for profit. It ensures that the beneficiaries will be limited to prevent the exodus from private academic institutions to public HEIs.

Through the continued collection of tuition and OSFs, it also strengthens the competition of public schools to generate their own income through investments with private companies and to gradually privatize state colleges and universities, in line with the neoliberal thrust of reducing government subsidy on public tertiary education.

Profiteering scheme

Data from KASAMA sa UP and the Office of the Student Regent show a reported P2.058 billion total income in tuition within 2010-2014, where 73% of said income is stored in a trust fund and not used for daily operating expenses. Only 7%, or P144 million, is used to subsidize the stipends of free tuition and other fees beneficiaries.

Meanwhile, in 2015 to the present, UP has an estimated P14 billion worth of internally-generated income, the largest among SUCs in NCR, according to DBM data.

Tuition fee collection comprised the bulk of funds for the semi-private Acacia residence hall, the largest-charging dormitory in UP Diliman.

SUCs are being pushed to generate their own income, in line with the neoliberal framework of privatization, which rapidly reduces state subsidy for public tertiary education.
Implementing STS nationwide is sure to pit SUCs in a race for the highest profits, just like their private school counterparts.

Draft substitute bill only to further grow profit of private schools

Just as appalling is the draft substitute bill, which not just seeks to fund only tuition and not other school fees (OSFs), but even further ensures protection of the profits of private schools through allocating funds for the loan and voucher system.

While funding P20 billion for tuition subsidy for SUCs, it seeks to allocate a higher P25 billion for subsidizing loans for private institutions under the Higher and Technical Education Program (HELP).

Similar to financial assistance programs under the socialized tuition scheme, the HELP runs similar to other existing loan systems, which have only been exposed as scapegoats to give a free pass for private institutions to further increase tuition and OSFs.

Further, the voucher system, under the guise of democratizing the right to choose between public and private schools, will just increase competition between these institutions for funding and profit. Similar to the implementation of a voucher system for the K to 12 program, this will also encourage more private schools similar to the APEC schools franchise.

This only shows how the existence of private schools – essentially education systems operating as big businesses – are being unapologetically defended.

Don’t break our hearts! Abrogate neoliberal policies on education

These policies are, in effect, an exacerbation and worsening of the existing neoliberal policies, such as the HEMA and the Education Act of 1982. They create an illusion of access by compelling students to apply for loan programs and for stratification under socialized tuition programs, when it has been clear that such programs have exactly done the opposite.

In line with this, we call on all youth, students, student organizations, councils, and publications, to unite and compel the Duterte government and CHED to abrogate these policies and heed the just demands of the youth for free education.

We call on the youth to register our unified action in the call for free education. We enjoin the youth to participate in the National Summit of the Rise for Education alliance on February 14, and to register our demands on the National Day of Action for Education, Rights and Peace on February 23. ###