Youth party worried despite passage of ‘Free Education Bill’, warns of strong backlash from youth and students

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

House Bill on Universal Access to Tertiary Education a far cry from youth’s demand for free, quality education—youth group

THE HOUSE Committee on Higher and Technical Education (CHTE) approved on Monday the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act” as an articulation of the administration’s response to the people’s clamor for free education. However, Kabataan Party-list expressed concerns over several provisions of the bill that run counter to free education as demanded by the Filipino youth and people.

Kabataan Party-list representative Sarah Elago calls the bill a “Trojan horse,” adding that “it promises free tuition and other school fees through a socialized system of education that will rake in profits.” Elago refers to the State Policy stipulated in the bill that intends to prioritize academically-able and poor students—the same rationale and justification used by policy and economic advisers behind the infamous Student Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) of the University of the Philippines (UP) system, now known as the Socialized Tuition System (STS).

Elago insisted that the proposed bill, in its current form, will institutionalize STS on a national scale, and that in effect it will further restrict access instead of democratizing it and ultimately, render tertiary education elitist, for the few and the privileged.

Elago added that the STFAP, and subsequently STS, has not only paved the way for increases in tuition and other school fees but also massive profiteering in UP.

Citing data from the DBM, Elago pointed out that UP is expected to amass P370 million in tuition collections alone, and another P280 million from collection of other school fees by the end of academic year 2016-2017. The STS is just one way of how UP rakes in millions of pesos in profit, which they justify as a means to augment the meager budget given by the state. But in reality, internally-generated incomes of SUCs only account to a small portion of their total operating budget. In 2015 alone, UP amassed a total savings of P11.4 billion, a big bulk of which is sourced from tuition and other school fees collections from students.

Voucher System, Loan Program: Public funds for private profit

Elago likewise criticized the bill for lopsidedly favoring profiteering of private higher education institutions (HEIs) through the appropriation of P12 billion for the Student Loan Program (SLP). The SLP is a fund dedicated to subsidize the education of eligible students who wish to enrol in private HEIs and Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs).

“It is very worrisome that billions of state funds will be siphoned by private HEIs which are run by the biggest names in business—Lucio Tan, Henry Sy, Gokongwei, Yuchengco, etc. We resent the fact that public funds will be used to assure private profit in education. Clearly this provision was inserted to appease the private sector who lobbied hard for preferential consideration since, they argued, greater funding for SUCs would translate to an ‘exodus’ of students from private to public academic institutions,” Elago explained.

“Similar to the implementation of the voucher system in K to 12, we expect that private institutions will inflate their respective cost of attendance to ensure profit. Nalaman na rin natin ang problema ng student loans sa ibang bansa katulad sa America kung saan nababaon sa utang ang maraming kabataan. Kaya ang suggestion namin, bakit hindi na lang gamitin itong pondo na ito para gawing libre ang LUCs?,” Elago said.

Funding through ODAs questioned

Elago also questioned the provision in the bill that seeks funding from official development assistance (ODA) or foreign loans.

“We are wary of this because we know for a fact that foreign aid always comes with a cost. We are fearful that this will compromise the nature and direction of Philippine education,” Elago said.

Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) mandated by foreign lending institutions such as the World Bank, along with other conditionalities imposed by GATS-World Trade Organization, have rationalized Philippine education to espouse the ideals of ‘free market’ economics and respond religiously to the demand of the global market to the detriment of local development.

Challenges ahead for the Filipino youth

“Clearly, there is a need for a paradigm shift in higher education, a shift that should reverse the reigning and rotting system that turned college education into an expensive private pursuit. The Filipino youth supports and expects the passage of a bill that seeks to introduce a system of free public education, with particular emphasis on promulgating a new state policy that translates to a repudiation of the neoliberal education framework,” Elago said.

Elago is part of the Technical Working Group on the Substitute Bill as the main author of HB 4800 or the Comprehensive Free Education Act. The bill, supported by no less than 28 legislators, aims for the abrogation of neoliberal policies, mainly the Education Act of 1982, which transformed education institutions into suppliers of cheap, semi-skilled and skilled labor for the abuse of monopoly capitalists.

“We hope that our colleagues in the Lower House listen to the demands of the youth and students, and forward a free education bill that not only is in the interests of the youth, but also one that arouses patriotism and nationalism among the youth and encourages the youth to actualize its role as agents of change through struggling for a truly sovereign and free nation, economically, politically and culturally,” Elago ended.

Elago implores the Filipino youth and people to register their demand and aspiration for a truly free education through collective action, and calls on everyone to join the International Women’s Day mobilization on March 8. ###