Should all SUC students study for free?

February 1, 2016. Should all [state universities and colleges] students study for free? This question was asked of several candidates for the Senate elections in a forum held last January 29 at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman. Not all Senate hopefuls agree.

Many candidates rely on the often invoked mantra that justify tuition increases in state universities: “Rich students should pay,” or, “Those who can pay must pay.” These are all but familiar lines that are invoked by those who support and continue to support the current “socialized tuition scheme” in UP.

So should all students study for free? Absolutely, yes!

“Those who can pay must pay” is a farce. We fund university education of young Filipinos based on their potential to contribute to the advancement and progress of society. And that is not measured by ability to pay tuition, but by merit (measured by entrance exams, among other tests). So what if a student comes from a well-off family? If he has the aptitude to help in the progress of this country, subsidize him!

That we compel families to pay tuition in state schools, even if it is just a fraction of the cost of education, seriously puts students’ moral obligation to “give back” at great doubt. What are they to give back? At present rates of tuition in UP, students and their families practically pay for the education themselves. This becomes especially problematic when the university imposes return service agreements or contracts that mandate graduates of health sciences degrees to serve in the Philippines for a certain number of years on pain of penalty–which is a reasonable obligation if students were full scholars.

Now, if the problem is we want more youth from poor families to enter UP and other state colleges, the remedy is not “socialized tuition” which really is post-facto and seriously does not address the issue especially because of extraneous costs of education that are not covered by typical matriculation. In the almost three decades of “socialized tuition” in UP, has it increased admission from poor families? No, absolutely the reverse! It is an income generating mechanism and a scapegoat for state abandonment. Public basic education should be fully subsidized and improved so that all children are able to develop the aptitude for higher education regardless of economic background.

Read more: UP education: Burden of students or the state?

Bright Lights Dimmed

June 21, 2014This is an article I contributed to our fraternity‘s magazine regarding the issue of socialized tuition in the University of the Philippines.

Socialized tuition is far from socializing access to UP education. It has instead made access to the national university largely inaccessible to a wide number of the brightest college-age youth of the country. The present socialized tuition scheme is nothing more than a mechanism for systematic state neglect of higher education. It has always been part and parcel of any attempt to increase matriculation in UP, so a discussion of socialized tuition cannot be had without discussing the context of state neglect of the national university and other institutions of social and public service. One cannot be divorced from the other, and any attempt to do so, is merely parroting national government scapegoats.

Socialized tuition was introduced in 1988 and was used to justify the increase in tuition the year after. The 300% increase in tuition in 2006 also came with a ‘restructuring’ of the socialized tuition scheme. More recently, another ‘restructuring’ of the socialized tuition scheme required prospective and present students to answer an absurd set of questions pertaining to their family’s lifestyle and submit sets of documents to prove they deserve to be in a tuition bracket aside from Bracket A – which means that the University assumes that a scholar is capable of paying P1,500 per unit until proven otherwise.

The result is very telling. From 20% of students who were afforded free tuition (full subsidy) in 1991, it has significantly dropped to a mere 3% in 2014. For 2014, 54% of students are, correctly or not, made to pay P1,500 unit. This lends truth to an observation by many that the University has been overrun by ‘rich students’ who are, correctly or not, assumed to be financially capable to pay full tuition.

One of the basic premise of those who defend the socialized tuition scheme is that the Philippine government’s resources are not enough to fully subsidize its national university. The argument goes that since government resources are scant, UP should earn its income through other means, particularly through increased tuition and other fees, and by selling or leasing out its assets to private corporations. This argument goes further to say that UP should tighten its belt because resources are better directed at other state universities. When cornered with the fact that there is no direct correlation between state subsidy for UP and other state universities, those who use the argument will go further by saying that state universities in general should tighten their belts in favor of basic education. This is, again, wrong for basic reason that there is no direct correlation between subsidy for basic education and subsidy for state universities like UP. This is a classic tactic of pitting victims against each other so the culprit can go scot-free.

Consider these. The Philippine government spends almost P800 billion a year in interest and principal payments to services its perpetually increasing debt, much of which has not benefitted the people (which makes it possible and justifiable for the national government to negotiate them down). Current events have likewise reinforced the fact that billions of pesos of the people’s money are being siphoned off into the pockets of our politicians. Resources are not scant. The people’s money is not only misdirected, it is also plundered dry by our bureaucrats. Studies show that it only takes just an additional P 11.34 billion in state subsidy for all state universities, not just for UP, to make higher education tuition-free for all the nation’s state scholars. This is a drop in the bucket considering the hundreds of billions of pesos wasted on corruption-ridden projects of the government. This is subsidy that the government refuses to give, not because it can’t, but because it is not priority.

It is also important to note that state neglect of higher education is not a mere function of scant resources, but a systematic policy direction following neoliberal economic dogma, where austerity is imposed as a matter of national policy and where private corporations are allowed to penetrate into social service functions of the state for profit. This has been true for many of our public utilities and increasingly true for our social services such as health and education. For higher education, this is outlined in the higher education programs of national government administrations from past till present. From Ferdinand Marcos’ Education Act, to Fidel Ramos’ Higher Education Modernization Act, to Gloria Arroyo’s Higher Education Development Plan, to Benigno Aquino III’s Roadmap to Higher Education Reform. All of them harp on the same thing, decreasing state support for higher education.

We have to go back to the basic function of a state university. A state subsidizes the higher education of its brightest youth so they can contribute their talents in the development of the country. Neoliberal economic dogma, however, insists that higher education is a mere private good, which trivializes education into a mere private commodity for individual development. It purposely refuses to admit, to a large extent, that higher education is not only beneficial but necessary to any society. This is particularly very important for a country like the Philippines that has yet to achieve the national development it aspires for, which it can’t without producing the professionals and the technology it needs.

This addresses one of the main arguments of the other side. Is it reasonable to subsidize bright young men and women from rich families? Yes! Why not? We have established that resources are not scant, and that the basis of higher education subsidy is the development and training of young Filipinos so that they are able to contribute to national development. Such does not rely on whether one comes from a rich family or not. Class background is not a factor in the potential of a young Filipino to contribute to national development. Such potential is measured through the UPCAT, which should ideally be the primary, if not one of the only basis for admission to the national university.

Socialized tuition thus puts many iskolars ng bayan in an awkward position as they are being labeled as state scholars with moral responsibility to give back to the people what they received in scholarship once they become professionals, when after all is considered, today’s iskolars ng bayan are barely scholars with the amount of tuition they already pay themselves. What moral ascendancy does the government have then to implore us to serve the people?

My last point is this. Data from the past years have shown that 30-40 percent of those who pass the UPCAT, presumably the best and the brightest of Filipino college-age youth, do not show up to enroll at the University. We used to have a University where the only consideration for admission is academic competence. For decades, the best high school students from across the archipelago attended the University. A survey of the composition of our senior batches prove this—they come from all across the Philippines and come from a wide spectrum of background.

As Upsilonians, this should be a great cause for concern, and it is one of the tragedies that we particularly bear because of this socialized tuition scheme. Our wellspring of purposeful young men to recruit has not only shallowed but narrowed in terms of origin and background. That many of the best and the brightest of the Filipino youth from many parts of the archipelago do not enter UP means we are not able to have the opportunity to gather into our fold the brightest lights to scatter—light that our country most definitely need today more than ever.

A temporary relief for state universities and colleges

Last Wednesday, the sub-committee hearing the budget of state universities and colleges (SUC’s) unanimously committed to restore the budget to its 2009 level. It means to say that the proposed P3 billion budget cut by the President and the Department of Budget & Management is rejected at the sub-committee level, and the budget for the country’s 110 SUC’s would be back to around P24 billion.

Kabataan Rep. Mong Palatino remarked that this is imperative, as the proposed budget has barely any allocation for SUC’s capital outlay. How then can SUC’s affected by the recent calamities rebuild their schools? A few days earlier, the DBM released a statement defending the budget cut in response to several protests launched by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP).

They claimed that the proposed P21 billion budget is sufficient to sustain the services of SUC’s, as they are anyway allowed to generate their own income. What they didn’t say is that this forced income generating policy is done at the expense of students, through tuition and other fee increases. The statement only proves that our analysis as correct, that budget cuts and tuition increases are state policies that harm the future of the youth and the nation.

The motion to restore the P24 billion budget drew cheers from the attending university officials and employees. One state university president, however, remarked that though he was elated by the motion of the congressmen, he feared that it may be another disappointment. Apparently, congressmen, the politicians that they are, have for the past years committed to similar promises of budget increases, only to disappoint SUC’s once the General Appropriations Act is passed. Hopefully, the attending congressmen stay true to their word and maintain the P24 billion commitment–insufficient as it is, is better than the P21 billion budget proposed by the Executive.

It must be stressed, however, that this relief is temporary, as though the sub-committee approved the increase, the same must also be approved by the Committee on Appropriations and the House of Representatives in plenary session. It also has to get the approval of the Senate. Needless to say, it is too soon to be glad about the development.


Tulong Kabataan‘s relief effort for the victims of tropical storm Ondoy is still ongoing! You may drop off your donations at any of the donation centers in schools across the Metro. You may also donate via Paypal. Or you may go to our headquarters at 118-B Scout Rallos St., Quezon City for volunteer work. The HQ is near GMA Network’s main offices along Timog Avenue. With your help, Tulong Kabataan was able to hold soup kitchens in some communities a few days ago.

Yesterday, we joined Makabayan’s clean-up effort at Tumana, Marikina. Hand in hand, volunteers helped the residents fill up two garbage trucks of debris. Today, there will be a medical mission in Malate. This weekend, if the weather permits, we will push through with the centralization of all relief goods collected from the donation centers and do repacking and distribution to several affected communities.

We make the university, they make the crisis

Today the House of Representatives will start hearing the 2010 budgets of country’s state universities and colleges (SUC’s).

We are of course, for the increase of the budgets of public institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately however, many of the appointed administrators of state universities are resigned, even subservient, to the government’s policy of reducing government support to SUC’s.

This year, the total allocation for the country’s 110 state universities and its almost 1 million students was slashed by P3 billion pesos. This situation, for the past years, has lead to the rampant increases in tuition and other miscellaneous fees in SUC’s, fervently implemented by its administrators. These have, in turn, made tertiary education in the Philippines increasingly inaccessible to the vast majority of Filipino youth.

This phenomenon of state abandonment of public higher educational institutions is not confined to the Philippines. It is a challenge being faced by many state universities and colleges around the world as an effect of a global free market philosophy that forces governments to cut on social services such as higher education in order to “balance the budget” and finance debt servicing.

A few days ago, thousands of students from state-funded University of California (UC) and other state universities and colleges in California walked out of their classes and protested against the budget cuts and the consequent tuition increases that were to be implemented by the state government. In defense of the cuts, the state government hammers the justification that everyone has to tighten their belts in light of fiscal crises and growing budget deficits. It is a rhetoric that is echoed even by the Philippine government. These belt-tightening justifications are nevertheless rejected as crises of their own making and as hypocrisies because governments continue to provide huge sums on questionable allocations and continue providing huge tax incentives to large corporations. In the Philippines for example, the government annually allocates tens of billions of pesos in Presidential discretionary funds that are immune from auditing scrutiny.

These state-abandonment policies conveniently forget that tertiary education is integral in the economic prosperity and political maturity of the people. Denying the youth of accessible and quality tertiary education will, without a doubt, create a more serious and long-term social crisis that will be detrimental to the progress of a nation.  Here are some links to news stories about the walkout: “University of California campuses erupt into protest”“Thousands protest fees, cuts at UC campuses”

California students walkout against commercialization of education

Even state university students and faculty in California are walking out in protest to the present state government’s policy of privatizing state public higher education institutions, from UC Berkeley to California State University.

Budget cuts, tuition hikes, limited admissions, corporate tie-ups, these are phrases that sound all too familiar to students from state universities in the Philippines. It is a reinforcement of the assertion that commercialization of public higher education is a product of a global free-market philosophy.

The budget cuts in California and in the Philippines take on very similar forms, as do their consequences. State policies (Higher Education Compact in California, Medium Term Higher Education Development Plan in the Philippines) declare that state universities should generate their own income from privatization and tuition hikes. Consequently, state funding is reduced as school administrators raise tuition and limit certain student services. It’s even worse in the University of California where salaries are also being slashed and enrollment/admissions are being limited.

In California as it is in the Philippines, despite gradual state abandonment of public higher education institutions, enrollment in state universities is increasing, students continue to flock to public institutions and their share in the total enrollment of all college students is growing larger by the year. The situation is more serious in California where public institutions enroll 79% of all college and university students. The share in the Philippines is 35% in 2008 (from only 10% in 1980). These figures should actually reinforce the policy of strengthening support to public higher education institutions instead of cutting subsidies.

In California, the ratio of state subsidy and internally-generated income is almost at 50% : 50%. In the Philippines, it is at more or less at 70% : 30% (on its way to 30% : 70%). State universities are being forced to rely less on state subsidy and more on internally-generated income.

Both California and Philippine governments conveniently dismiss the idea that higher education is integral in the road to prosperity of a state or a nation. Professionals, from doctors, engineers and even artists drive a vibrant economy. It has helped lead California to the economic prosperity it experiences while it is yet to drive the Philippines into progress. It is no doubt that denying the youth of affordable, if not free access to tertiary education is a tragic detriment to the growth of a nation. I may not have any readers from UC, but I would like to express my support to the multi-sectoral, system-wide strike in the University of California. You are not alone in your fight for accessible state-sponsored tertiary education.

Berkeley Alliance Against the Cuts
Keep California’s Promise
UC Faculty Walkout
UC Student Walkout

Budget cut in state universities means added burden to students

As the national government continues to cut down spending on the country’s 110 state universities and colleges (SUCs), students carry the burden of the steep cost of higher education, Kabataan Party-list Representative Raymond “Mong” Palatino said. In the proposed national budget for 2010, allocation for SUCs will be slashed by 13 percent or a whopping P3.2 billion, thus forcing SUCs to generate income mostly from students.

Based on the 2010 National Expenditure Program, bulk of SUCs’ projected income of P10.2 billion will be sourced from tuition fees (P4.59 Billion) and other income from students (2.23 billion). Palatino said “SUCs are being forced to rely less on government subsidy and more on internally-generated income in the form of tuition and other fees and privatization of assets. Unfortunately, the burden of financing tertiary education is placed on Filipino students, many of whom will be unable to afford it,” Palatino said.

The young solon said trimming the SUC budget would be “sadistic and ultimately anti-student,” especially since more and more students are flocking to SUCs. For school year 2009-2010, CHED enrolment data show a “migration” of students from private higher education institutions (HEIs) to SUCs mainly as a result of the continuously rising cost of education in private tertiary institutions amid the economic crisis.

Palatino said the government’s Medium Term High Education Development Plan, which directs SUC’s to “rationalize tuition by implementing the full cost of education in public HEIs” is to blame. “It is clear that the government is in the framework of eventually relinquishing its responsibility to subsidize SUCs and public HEIs. It is abandoning its obligations to provide education to the Filipino youth,” he said. “State schools are being treated no longer as national agencies entitled to sufficient government subsidy, but as income-earning and commercial entities. Students and the youth are no longer seen as future nation-builders, but as mere clientele for capitalist educators,” Palatino said.

Palatino vows to push for greater state subsidy for education in the ongoing budget deliberations. “Again, the best and most well-meaning resolution for this would be to re-channel funds for some items in the Office of the President’s budget to education,” Palatino said. As an example, he cited that the P1 billion alloted for the Telecommunications Office, an agency different from the National Telecommunications Office, would be put to much better and significant use if allocated instead to SUCs.

Abandonment of State Universities and Colleges

This table shows the share of state subsidy and internally-generated income in state universities and colleges’ (SUC) total operating budget through the years. What is evident is that SUC’s are being forced to rely less and less on government subsidy and more and more on internally-generated income (in the form of tuition and other student fees, privatization of assets, etc.). One sector which has always suffered from the government’s policy of contracting spending for social services in favor of continued debt servicing is the sector of higher education. When I was still in UP, I had friends who abhorred militant activists and the “leftist” slogans. One of the state policies they continuously deny is existing is “state abandonment of education.”

Recently, I’ve been reading through the budget and financing books and policy papers of the government over the past years in order to draft a budget briefer and interpellation guide for some congressmen once the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the heads of SUC’s come to Congress to defend their budgets.

Government policy papers are very clear on the direction they intend to take state universities and colleges. Government intends to cut down on spending for public higher educational institutions and encourage such institutions to generate their own income, through tie-ups with private corporations and tuition and other fee increases.

All such mechanisms, unfortunately, places the burden of financing tertiary education to Filipino students themselves, many of whom will be unable to afford it. Such policies, as mentioned in the government’s Medium-Term Higher Education Development Plan include: strengthening income-generating capacities of SUC’s”; providing support to corporatization initiatives in SUC’s”; and encouraging “voluntary merging of SUC’s to pave the way for the direct channeling of financial assistance to students through a voucher system instead of maintaining and financing a large number of SUC’s.” Worse, the same policy paper directs SUC’s to “rationalize tuition by implementing the full cost of education in public HEIs and designing/adapting socialized tuition fee schemes.”

These same policies are echoed in other policy papers such as the Long Term Higher Education Development Plan, the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan, and the President’s own Budget Message for 2010.

Here’s one reason why the government should desist from its policy of minimizing support to SUC’s: Filipino youth are actually flocking to SUC’s due to the increasing cost of studying in private universities and colleges. In the past years, more and more Filipinos are opting to study in state institutions. In 1980, only 10% of all college students were studying in SUCs. By 1994, the number went up to 21%. By 2008, the share racked up to 35%. Here are the statistics for this decade based on CHED’s own data:

Despite the increasing demand and enrollment of Filipino students in SUC’s, its budget has remained stagnant over the years, forcing SUC’s to get its operating expenses from students, eventually leading to the ever increasing cost of tertiary education, which eventually result in the high drop-out rates, and non-enrollment rates in institutions that have hiked up tuition steeply like UP.

The table below shows how much SUC’s have been earning from students over the years, based on the Budget Department’s own data (Sources of Financing and Budget Expenditure books). Clearly, SUC’s income from the students have been growing steadily, which is simply a manifestation of the tuition and other fee increases that have been rampantly implemented in such institutions the past years. If the government aims to “broaden access to higher education,” this is definitely not the way to do it. Not even the government’s scholarship programs can adequately answer for its lack of support to state universities.

In SY 2007-2008, there were only 50,000 beneficiaries of CHED’s scholarships, and such scholarships only amount to P5,000 per student, not even enough to cover tuition in state universities like UP, where tuition is more than P36,000 a year. Budget for such scholarships was even slashed by P100 M this year compared to last year.

For those who say that there’s no such thing as free state-sponsored college education, they only need to look east and west. Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark provide and ensure free college education to its citizens. Even developing countries such as Sri Lanka, Cuba, Brazil, Libya and Argentina provide free college education to its people. Again, this “state abandonment” of tertiary education is real because the government is focused more on ensuring payment of its debt obligations. In order to ensure such, it follows policy mandates from foreign financial institutions and other foreign creditors to minimize spending on social services such as health, education and housing and to implement more consumer taxes in order to “balance the budget” and ensure debt payments. All these go without saying, that truly, the victims of this tragic order are the Filipino youth, continuously robbed and denied of their opportunity to attain tertiary education that is accessible and affordable, if not free. Such is not only a loss to the personal growth of the youth, but will also be a loss with grave consequences on a ‘developing’ country such as ours, denied of the many engineers, scientists, intellectuals and other professionals it needs to fuel the nation’s growth and road to prosperity.

Free Special Education Bill

This is the second bill we filed since Kabataan took its rightful seat in the House of Representatives. It’s a comprehensive measure that seeks to guarantee free and appropriate basic education to all Filipino children and youths with special needs, granted the severe shortage of public special education (SPED) facilities in the country and the lack of support from the government.

Based on the principle that children and youth with special needs have the right to participate and contribute to society, this bill seeks to ensure the equality of special children’s access to social services and self-improvement opportunities, their full participation in decisions concerning their welfare, and the possibility of their economic self-sufficiency.

Below is a brochure I prepared for the bill. Click here for the full text of the bill, H.B. 6771.

Bill Amending the Public Libraries Establishment Act of 1993

This is one of the first two bills which we filed in Congress since Kabataan was granted its seat a few months ago. It’s a bill which aims to strengthen and modernize existing public libraries in the country and to step up the efforts of establishing public libraries in all cities and municipalities in the Philippines, as well as reading centers in all barangays. Read the text of the bill, H.B. 6770, here. Below are jpeg copies of the brochure I prepared about the bill, click on the images for the larger version.

Kabataan wants government to provide free education to children with special needs

Filipino children and youth with special needs shall receive free and appropriate public education if a bill filed by a young solon pushes through. Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond “Mong” Palatino today filed House Bill 6771 or the “Free Special Education (SPED) Act of 2009” allowing free services for children and youth with special needs – from early diagnosis and intervention to basic and ongoing education.

Filipino children and youth with special needs include the gifted or talented, the mentally retarded, the visually impaired, the hearing impaired, the orthopedically or physically handicapped, the learning disabled, the speech defective, the children with behavior problems, the children with autism, and those with health problems. “Like everyone else, children and youth with special needs have the right to participate and contribute to society. As such, it is the obligation of the State to ensure the equality of their access to social services and life-improvement opportunities, their full participation in decisions concerning their welfare, and the eventual possibility of their economic self-sufficiency,” Palatino said in the bill’s explanatory note.

Citing a study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Palatino said SPED in the country lacks basic funding to be able to properly address the needs of special children and youth. Under the HB 6771, a Bureau of SPED will be created to formulate and administrate of an appropriate curriculum and developmentally-suited programs to primarily achieve functional literacy of the students/children with special needs and ensure their integration to society. The SPED bureau shall also ensure adequate and free medical assistance to these children, including those essential to their rehabilitation like therapy, psychometric assessments and medical examinations.

Full text of HB 6771 here.