GETTING an academic degree is seen as opening doors to success of an individual in the Philippines.
However, many Filipinos do not have the key to the locked portal. They are unable to access this door to success due to many reasons—lack of schools, teachers, faculty, etc.—but mainly due to poverty.
According to the 2013 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (Flemms), which covered around 36 million population aged 6 to 24 years, one in every 10, or about 4 million Filipino children and youth, was out of school in 2013.
The Flemms defined out-of-school children “as persons aged 6 to 14 years who are not attending school, while out-of-school youth as persons aged 15 to 24 years who are not attending school, have not finished any college or postsecondary course and are not working.”
According to the Flemms, the secondary reason of out-of-school children and youth is that the family income is not sufficient to send the child to school: 19.2 percent, the majority of which affected more males (22.7 percent) than females (17.0 percent).
To avoid students dropping out of college and becoming out-of-school youths due to lack of financial support, the government enacted Republic Act (RA) 10931, or the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.”
The passage of RA 10931 in August last year received positive response. But as students celebrate this so-called achievement, many questions still remain: Is free tuition really beneficial for everyone? Does the government have enough funds for this policy?
THE University of the Philippines (UP) has its so-called bracketing system, wherein students are classified based on their annual income and their capacity to pay for their tuition.
Bracket A are those who are able to pay for the whole tuition. Bracket B, C and D are those who can pay the tuition fee in partial (80-percent, 60 percent, and 33-percent discount, respectively). Brackets E1 and E2 are those who have a full discount on the tuition, with E2 students having monthly stipends.
A sample undergraduate tuition and expenses of a UP Diliman student costs around P38,000. If multiplied with the current UP student population, it will cost around P900 million, which is for only one UP unit. Meanwhile, the government’s budget for the Department of Education is P543.2 billion for the 112 State Univertisities and colleges (SUCs).
Some students, however, claim that the Socialized Tuition System is unreliable, flawed and only a scheme to bilk money from students who come from wealthier families.
KATRINA Arboleda is a BS Statistics student bracketed under E2. Stipends from the university were sent every month to the account of Arboleda and students like her.
According to Arboleda, before the free-tuition bill was passed, she receives approximately P2,400 per month and only pays the student fund, which amounts to P75 to P77.
She was part of the Bracket C, or those who pay 60 percent of the original tuition fee, when she still a freshman at UP. However, since she considered the tuition still unaffordable, she appealed to the university administration. Arboleda was given an E1 status, which she enjoyed for the past two academic years. But while becoming part of the lowest bracket, she said her wallet remained slim.
“[There were no] special treatment, no perks [at the] dorm,” Arboleda said. “[I only felt the benefits] only [during] enrollment.”
ARBOLEDA said her parents were giving her a small amount of cash when she was still receiving her stipend. Some of the money goes to lodging fees. A small amount, if there’s anything left, was her additional allowance for the month.
Arboleda seems to manage her finances well.
She takes a P28-meal for lunch and a meal for dinner that goes for P26. She spends for a cup of coffee when she needs to pull an all-nighter. Arboleda also attends campus-based activities for free coffee and food.
She worries that she would need to downgrade this already-simple lifestyle as Arboleda was entered into Bracket D for this school year. This bracket doesn’t come with a stipend.
“I’m thinking of appealing but I’m afraid they wouldn’t allow me to get into bracket E2,” she said.
She opted to get the free tuition that came with Bracket D.
THE law helps promote universal access to quality tertiary education by providing free tuition and other school fees in SUCs, as well as strengthening the financial-assistance system through establishing a tertiary-education subsidy and student-loan program.
Students from 112 state universities in the country will no longer have to pay for their tuition upon the application of the law.
However, the law should also consider students like Arboleda who, after receiving free tuition, still struggles with the costs of lodging and daily expenses.
Some sectors suggest more subsidy rather than giving free tuition, arguing that there are students who can pay for their tuition, may it be by part or whole. The fund from these, they said, could be used to improve facilities in SUCs and increase salaries of employees and members of their respective faculties.
But is this not the same as the UP Socialized Tuition System?
Nonetheless, Arboleda remains hopeful the free-tuition system will have more benefits than repercussions and that the administration will be able to manage to provide the quality tertiary education to students as promised by RA 10931.
Janine Ballesteros is a student of journalism at the College of Mass Communications of the University of the Philippines. This edited version of Ballesteros’s story, originally titled “Is free tertiary education a blessing or a burden?,” was a requirement for the news-reporting class taught by BusinessMirror reporter Cai U. Ordinario. The BusinessMirror secured Ballesteros’s approval for publication of her story.