STATEMENT: On the P8 Billion Free Tuition IRR of CHED and DBM

Monday, April 24, 2017

Free Tuition Policy: Socialized Tuition, Nationwide!

The immense pressure caused by calls for free education compelled legislators to re-align P8 billion to fund tuition for all 114 SUCs. It all seemed too good to be true. But when the budget was signed, President Duterte inked a dangerous caveat– it shall be implemented conditionally, to benefit the poor but deserving.

It took the CHED-DBM almost six months to put their brains together to think of an ingenious way of following the President’s order while upholding the facade that they are for “free” education. It doesn’t need a genius however to uncover their lies.

The IRR of the Free Tuition Policy, promised free tuition for all those who are under the 4Ps program and for those who are recipient of Student Financal Assistance Programs (StuFAPs). The remaining students eligible will be “ranked according to their per capita household income”, similar in essence to UP’s socialized tuition system (STS). Each student will given a tuition subsidy worth P15,000.00. Tuition fees of STuFAP beneficiaries will be “charged to the relevant allocation of the said STuFAP, provided that the total annual benefit amount of these STuFAPs are more than P15,000.” For non-StuFAP beneficiaries, sadly, the CHED-DBM didn’t provide any other option aside from hoping for extra slots or if their income is ‘low’ enough for them to be considered poor.

Despite these, CHED admits that not all enrollees for the next academic year will receive free tuition.

FTP to Further World Bank’s 4Ps

The IRR of the Free Tuition Policy operationalized its prioritization to the “poor but academically-able” by adopting the Listahanan 2.0 database management system, used under the 4Ps program, to discriminate the “poor.” It uses a much-taunted proxy means test (PMT) that assigns weights to certain factors related to welfare, much to the tune of MORES-SEC being employed by UP’s Socialized Tuition System. The PMT is a metric pushed by the World Bank to determine beneficiaries of social protection programs under its wing.

The 4Ps as a ‘social protection program’ draws flak for its failure to alleviate poverty. Under former DSWD Sec. Dinky Soliman, it has been a conduit for corruption which siphoned obscene amounts of public funds in the guise of helping people get by. The last time it was heard of, it was allegedly used by candidates to gain attendance in proclamation rallies during the last elections.

By subjecting FTP to 4Ps, it will only serve to justify this flawed poverty alleviation measure and further absolve the government from resolving the roots of poverty, in this case, the lack of education of its citizens. 4Ps, without the context of national industrialization, rural development, etc. will breed discontent among the people. It will only paint the illusion that people get by, while failing to breach the chains of social inequality.

Just like 4Ps, FTP will surely earn criticism for attempting to target the poor, instead of utilizing its funds to provide access to all enrollees of 114 SUCs as what students previously demanded. CHED-DBM intends for students to compete for their FTP slots and other merit-based programs under StuFAPs to access higher education in SUCs.

Hikes in Other School Fees, Profiteering Ahead

The FTP clearly wants to subject SUC students to socialized tuition. Learning from the experience of the University of the Philippines, by subjecting students to a competition of “poorest of the poor” to prove their worthiness, this has resulted to the edging out of the poor, by those coming from the upper/middle class who has relative capacity to comply with various requirements imposed by SUCs.

This has grossly resulted to UP’s collection of no less than P11 billion from tuition and other school fees from students. According to CHED’s own estimates, at least 1 million students are expected to enroll for AY 2017-18. The FTP can only shoulder 85% of this number, with the computation of P9345 tuition for 42 units/year. The remaining 15% who are not qualified will probably pay for the full cost of education.

Worse, the FTP only covers tuition and risks bloated collection of other school fees. For 2017, DBM estimates total OSF collections to 4.47 billion. This figure might go up as we expect SUCs to offset profit loses that will be incurred from the implementation of the policy.

Other Red Flags

This has implications in special cases such as in Cagayan State University, which is the only SUC with zero tuition, and in UP which reaches tuition in excess of P15,000 per semester, as well as a small number of scholarship beneficiaries.

The FTP aims to institutionalize reliance on scholarships, subsidies and prioritization schemes, instead of providing universal access to education.

It poses added dangers as it will set the pretext for future legislative efforts. Especially in the context that Senate Bill 1304 has already been passed and the House of Representatives is coursed to pass a similar effort in May.

Challenge for the youth

In the guise of “social justice” and “prioritizing the poor”, the IRR has fine-tuned “free tuition” to be consistent with the current neoliberal policies.

It is thus high time for the Filipino youth and students to strengthen the fight for free education. We say ‘NO!’ to a nationwide socialized tuition which translates to profiteering in SUCs nationwide.

We call for the abrogation of neoliberal policies on education which have turned even public schools into moneymaking ventures in collusion with the World Bank and other foreign entities. Education is supposed to be a right regardless of one’s ability to pay.

We should strengthen our resolve to fight for our right to education. In the coming days, expect more and growing protests upholding our right to free education.###