Youth groups: Free education now not ‘Free Tuition Scam’ nationwide

By Reynard Magtoto and Angel De Mesa

LEGAZPI CITY – Youth groups led by KABATAAN Party-list welcomed the first week of classes with decentralized protest actions in various schools and universities nationwide against “Free Tuition Scam”, referring to the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) released by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Youth groups expressed their outrage over the Free Tuition Scam being circumvented that will only pave way to massive increases in tuition and other school fees, allowing State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) to rake in more profits through collections from students.

According to Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago, they expect SUCs will engage in a race for profits as they attempt to meet the ceiling and milk the most out of their free tuition fund.

“SUCs can double their profit thru the Free Tuition Scam–they can access the fund allotted to them thru eligible students, and max out their appropriation thru tuition increases and still, continue tuition and other school fees collections from those who will not be eligible to the fund,” Elago explained.

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Albay youths cry for ‘Free Education for All’

Amidst the free tuition policy implementation on selected SUCs effective this AY 2017-2018, youth groups in Albay criticize the IRR of the Free Tuition Policy (FTP) that is said to translate to a nationwide socialized tuition system.

Progressive youths and groups of Kabataan Party-list chapter here in the province laid down in the middle of the highway in front of Bicol University despite the heavy rainfall yesterday, June 9, to demand for free public education for all.

Similar to the situation and experience of the University of the Philippines, under the socialized tuition system students are subjected to qualify in the given requirements to avail free tuition. By this, bracketing system will determine who among the applicants will benefit the policy.

According to Novelyn Vidaño of Bicolana Gabriela Youth, the IRR will just simply push the students to compete just to justify the “poorest of the poor” to prove their worthiness.

“I myself have endured the sacrifices to comply with the requirements given in order to avail the free tuition. And for that, I can tell that it’s (process) not easy most especially on getting the income tax return as for the proof of our household per capita income”, said Vidaño who is a fourth year college student in Bicol University.

In Bicol region, nine SUCs will benefit the free tuition policy. These include Bicol University, Central Bicol State University of Agriculture, Camarines Sur Polytechnic College, Camarines Norte State College, Bicol State College of Applied Sciences and Technology, Partido State University, Dr. Emilio B. Espinosa Sr. Memorial State College of Agriculture and Technology, Sorsogon State College and Catanduanes State University.

Since the FTP will only cover tuition, other school fees (OSF) and expenses will still be covered by the students. Because of these, the fear of having hikes in OSF is being anticipated by the groups as administrations may take advantage on the FTP for profit.

Amidst the passage of RA 5633 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, Rep. Elago will continue to push for amendments to hopefully improve the republic act that will reflect the demands of the Filipino youths towards achieving free education for all at all levels.

On May 8, Rep. Elago filed House Resolution 971, enjoining members of the Lower House to support the demand for no tuition collection for the next academic year, in light of the P8-billion free tuition fund.

“We are enlivened by the support of no less than House Speaker Alvarez after a meeting with student leaders. We are expecting more legislators to get on board with the initiative, in light of escalating calls and engagements for free education,” said Elago.

“Our series of engagements with the government and on social media should ultimately contribute to the movement in the streets. It is only through the militant struggle of the youth can education as a basic human right be decisively advanced,”Elago asserted.

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FTP to further World Bank’s 4Ps

The IRR of the FTP, 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 UPs 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.

The IRR of the FTP 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.

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Red flags on profit

According to Kabataan Party-list, 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.

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

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.

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.

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Challenge for the youth

Progressive youth groups call on President Duterte to heed the call of the youth for free education. They demand that no tuition shall be collected for next year. If Licuanan will remain devout to profit at the expense of the youth’s right to education, they will not hesitate to #OccupyCHED.

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 high time for the Filipino youth and students to strengthen the fight for free education.

Kabataan calls 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. (BaretangBikolnon.com)

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