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.

Resources:
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.

Budgets, budgets

The past week had been spent largely reading through the 2010 budget proposals of the government and its various departments and agencies. It can get frustrating and confusing, for someone who’s not used to reading accounting sheets and pages full of numbers. After a few days of flipping through the pages and scrutinizing the items, one will eventually get used to it. It is imperative, too, to look at the budget figures over the past years and at government policy declarations, to track the trend of government priorities as reflected in the money it is willing to spend on certain services and projects.

I was focused on writing a budget briefer and interpellation guide for the budget of the state universities and colleges. I wrote about some of my observations in a brief blog entry yesterday. It’s pretty disheartening when one realizes how much money the President has at his/her disposal and discretion. It now becomes more clear to me why politicians are willing to spend billions, even kill, to be President. So much money, so much money.

This week, the budget deliberations in Congress continues. The 2010 budget is a budget that will not primarily be used by the Arroyo administration, since it will end by June 2010. I’m not sure what to make of the enthusiasm then, of pro-Arroyo policy makers and congressmen, when they defend the budget proposals. Do they still think it is their budget? That will only happen if, by some peculiar chance the administration ticket wins, or… I don’t know, some plot is executed to preserve the ruling administration.

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.

Contracting social services, bleeding the people dry

It has always been a priority for the Arroyo administration to “balance the budget”–meaning, to decrease the gap between government revenues and government spending. In plain reading, this is good. Trimming the budget deficit should mean less borrowing, and eventually more money for health, education and other social services. However, the goal of balancing the budget under the Arroyo administration, and even before, has always been to ensure the payment of our debt obligations, unfortunately at the expense of social services spending. To make matters for ordinary citizens worse, in order to balance the budget and earn more revenues, the government, for years, has always put a stress on consumer taxes (E-VAT, sin taxes, proposed text tax) instead of directly taxing corporations and high-income tycoons, instead of taxing imports or plugging the leaks from corruption.

In the age of trade liberalization and globalization, government would rather give rich foreign investors, high-income tycoons and importers tariff cuts, tax holidays and other tax incentives. Aside from taxing the consumer, government has also been selling its assets and privatizing services and public utilities in an effort to hide its poor and lopsided tax effort. This results to private companies concerned largely with profit and not with public service controlling public utilities. Thus, the high power and water rates we experience. When corruption and smuggling comes into the picture, we arrive at the terrible fiscal decay we find ourselves in. Ordinary people are being taxed dry, and yet social services are continuously deteriorating, and despite all these, our debt just keeps growing and growing. Below are some graphs that would illustrate the trend of the government in its budget proposals for the past years.

National Government’s Outstanding Debt Stock (1990-2010*)

National Government Spending Per Capita Per Day (1998-2010*)

graphs from IBON Foundation’s “2010 National Government Budget: Confirming GMA’s Legacy of Fiscal Decay” presentation (*estimated)

The second table just shows how much government has been spending on debt-servicing and selected social services per Filipino per day. For the 2010 Budget, the government will be spending P1.10 per Filipino per day on health, but would be spending P21.75 per Filipino per day on debt-servicing. This is one of the simplest way of showing what the government’s priorities are.

Random notes – September 04, 2009

BATASAN STUFF. A couple of nights ago, Rep. Mong Palatino took me to the congressmen’s lounge beside session hall, to sample some of the food. It is exclusive to members of the House but I think they’re allowed to bring one or two of their staff or family once in a while. It was free, limitless, hotel-like food for congressmen every session day. Apparently, Mong said he hasn’t seen any same dish served twice for the entire month. No wonder many of the congressmen get fat in Congress, literally, and figuratively too.

That night, it was Chinese-themed food. I don’t think Congress has a concept of simple living, which is a shame in a poor country like the Philippines. Iba talaga when one has the “power of the purse.” Speaking of Congress’ “power of the purse,” I briefly attended the first hearing of Congress for the government’s P 1.541 trillion budget for next year. The hearing was very well-attended by the congressmen, their staff and employees of the Budget and the Finance departments. I could barely find a comfortable place, not even to sit, but to stand. It’s that packed. Iba talaga pag pera na ang pag-uusapan.

TAMBAY SA OSPITAL. A few days ago, some of my fraternity batchmates and I brought another batchmate of ours to the hospital due to his chronic seizures because of his multiple sclerosis. He had five attacks that day, and the UP Health Service urged us to move him to a bigger health facility because all they could provide were valium shots. It was the first time I saw someone having a serious seizure, and it was quite scary. Since his parents were in the province and his relatives couldn’t come as soon as possible, we stayed at the hospital the rest of the afternoon, some of us till later that evening.

MEETING BOY ABUNDA. In between staying at the hospital, I went to a meeting with some ABS-CBN staff together with Boy Abunda, to talk about his new political talk show. I don’t know why I’m part of it. I got a call a few days earlier inviting me to join in, and well, I agreed. Though I’m having second thoughts now. True, I may be opinionated, I write and I blog, but I don’t do a lot of talking, really. Details to follow, as I don’t think I’m at liberty to disclose any more information about it.

CLEARING OUT OF U.P. I’m currently processing my papers for my honorable dismissal from UP Law. I passed by Malcolm Hall yesterday, after not being there for weeks now. It didn’t feel nice being in a place you were forced to leave all of a sudden. Unfortunately, I’ll have to keep coming back the next few days to finish the process, get a transcript and other papers to be able to take tests in other law schools.

Manifestation in numbers

Last December, the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines approved the tuition increase that raised the standard tuition per unit from P300 to as much as P1,500 for incoming freshmen.

Months later at the beginning of a new academic year, only less than half of UPCAT (UP College Admission Test) passers showed up to enroll in the different UP units. In Los Banos and Mindanao, less than 17% of passers enrolled. In Diliman, the entire College of Social Work and Community Development has one freshman. In courses like BA Malikhaing Pagsulat, BA Araling Pilipino, and BA Filipino, none of the passers showed up to enroll.

Thousands of the country’s best and brightest students as assessed by the UPCAT didn’t pursue their dreams of affordable college education in the country’s premiere state university for it has indeed become increasingly expensive, commercial and prohibitive.

Can UP still claim to be the home of the country’s best and brightest? As of a few weeks before the beginning of classes, only 5% of incoming freshmen were able to avail of full scholarship. The rest, including those who are applying for lower tuition had to pay the full amount while they wait without assurance of refunds. Some families had to resort to selling their valuables and engage in loans to be able to send their children to UP. And these stories are not made up. Freshmen have come up to share their stories. In a mobilization this morning, we had a handful of freshmen who haven’t even joined rallies before, who spoke up and shared their struggles.

To appease those who did enroll, the administration, in efforts to appear caring to the freshmen it has burdened with increased tuition, admitted them into the university’s insufficient dormitories–even those reserved for graduate students–displacing hundreds of upperclassmen.

These problems are not confined to UP. In Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science & Technology, a public college, students face a staggering 600% increase in tuition. I don’t understand why some people insist that it is not the government’s policy to gradually abandon its funding for tertiary education institutions. And that it does not force them to generate their funds from their own scholars themselves.

Yesterday, I joined some of my brods in the Upsilon in a courtesy call with UP President Emerlinda Roman. Courtesies, chicken sandwich and other pleasantries aside, I finally heard from her own lips a fact we’ve always claimed–that it is indeed the UP administration’s increasing objective to generate its own income. As prescribed by our national government. As prescribed by foreign financial institutions. And has now manifested even more.

Solutions can’t be convenient

A few nights ago, I came across the second episode of GMA Network’s Philippine Agenda. It was a tragic and morbid episode that tackled the public health services situation in the country. Tragic, obviously because the whole health sector situation is tragic in the first place, and morbid because two of the program’s subjects, after being shown struggling with their conditions, eventually die towards the end of the show. They couldn’t afford check-ups, nor the medicines, nor the other hospital fees. [Part of the documentary can be watched here].

When asked why public hospitals, which should ideally render much of its services for free, extract fees from things as minute as a patient’s use of a hospital bed, a government doctor said, “The government’s not giving us enough. We are being told to generate our own income.” What an all too familiar line, even in the University of the Philippines. From tuition increases in UP to fee increases in government hospitals, these have to be seen as part of a real and ongoing state policy of slowly abandoning social services. These has to be seen as a real and ongoing state policy of following policy impositions from foreign financial institutions. They are not unrelated situations.

Many even among my fellow students simply and more importantly, conveniently just tow the government and the conservatives’ lines–that there is not enough money, that there is nothing we can do about it but extract the income from the people themselves. But these shouldn’t be solved by simply giving up and surrendering to this constructed or manufactured, and more importantly inflicted, ‘reality’. It shouldn’t be solved by absolving the government of its duties by allowing public hospitals, public schools and state universities to generate their own income through tuition increases and other fee increases. Still, campaigns for greater state subsidy and other such policy shifts for social services must be intensified.

Yes, it’s election time once more, and though this is one of the people’s ways of manifesting their aspirations, it’s not the only democratic and participative way of demanding and implementing changes. And with such a huge clout of doubt in the integrity of such a “democratic process,” we can’t simply pin our hopes just on this.