By INA ALLECO SILVERIO
DAVAO CITY – Arguing that education is a right and not a commodity, students from the Ateneo de Davao University staged a candle-lighting protest against the proposed six percent hike in tuition and energy fee for the incoming school year.
The protest, led by Buklurang Atenista (BuklAt) Coalition standard bearer and the student council president-elect Maureene Ann Villamor, called for a genuine and democratic consultation with the students on the proposed increase. The AdDU administration held a multi-sectoral consultation for the planned hike in tuition and energy fee on January 25.
“But it was not really a consultation. It was more of a presentation of their proposed increase. Only less than ten students were present. What we call for is a public consultation that may be initiated by either the current student council or the administration because majority of the university’s seven to eight thousand students have not yet been informed and consulted. What we understand about a consultation is that it is a tool in decision making that aims to get the consensus of the parties involved. There is no consensus in less than ten students,” explained Villamor.
Higher Education Institutions like AdDU are mandated to follow CHED Memorandum Order No. 13 series of 1998 in conducting consultations prior to increase in tuition. The said memorandum order stipulated that students may be represented by not more than ten during consultations.
“The memorandum of CHED is itself faulty and encourages an undemocratic process. It simply hastens the profit-oriented nature of higher education institutions (HEIs) by allowing them to increase tuition so long as there has been a meeting, otherwise called as “consultation”, with less than ten students and other stakeholders. Worse, there are no CHED officials observing how the consultation goes. CHED’s primary mandate is to regulate HEIs and not simply to approve proposals for increases in tuition,” added Villamor.
Moreover, the six percent increase in energy fee, according to Villamor, is another questionable item because the AdDU administration said part of the increase will be used for the construction of the 18-story community tower of the university. “Why should we pay for something we have not yet used and we might not use because some of us might graduate before the building gets completed?” asked Villamor.
Villamor and her coalition also believe that the AdDU administration cannot simply use the projected inflation rate for the year as a basis for the increase because, according to Villamor, “it is still a projected value that may actually be higher or lower”. Villamor raised that unless the university is really experiencing a deficit, it cannot simply increase school fees. And to know if the university has deficits, it has to show its latest, audited financial statement, a document that the AdDU administration has not yet presented to the students.
“We would also like to stress that we are not against the increase in the salary of the employees, where 80-85 percent of the tuition goes. What we want is a win-win solution where no sector is compromised in favor of another. In a non-stock, non-profit, and sectarian institution like AdDU, we expect a more transparent financial record where we could probably discuss possible adjustments without necessarily hampering employees’ salary increase and without burdening students with tuition increase,” said Villamor.
According to the statement submitted by the Buklurang Atenista to the ADDU administration, the concerned Ateneans would want to promote and uphold the principle that education as a right and not a commodity especially in these times of crisis. They said they do not intend to destroy the university and hinder its development as an institution that commits to nurture “persons for others”.
Villamor concluded that they aim to “strengthen the university’s essence as a sphere of freedom and justice, for God and for His people”.