UP Los Baños students protest costly computerization, boycott first day of classes

The glitches in accessing SAIS triggered the camp-out of protesting students who failed to register.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat

MANILA — The first day of classes in the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) on Aug. 3, Wednesday, was greeted by protest against the online registration system which was plagued by technical glitches and crashes last week, resulting to the failed enrollment of thousands of students.

The UPLB University Student Council (UPLB-USC) and youth group, Rise for Education Alliance, led the boycott of classes and camp-out at the Student Union building from the 7 p.m. of Aug. 2 to 7 a.m. the next day.

This was the first time for the Student Academic Information System (SAIS) to be used, as it replaced the UPLB’s SystemOne.

The UPLB-USC said the first day of registration went smoothly until the midnight of July 29 when “students could no longer access the SAIS server.” The glitches in accessing SAIS triggered the camp-out of protesting students who failed to register. The UPLB-USC said the SAIS team announced that the SAIS could only be accessed through the UPLB’s Wi-Fi network.

The UPLB-USC called the SAIS “a flawed system which has brought inconvenience, frustrations and anxiety to students instead of ease.”

The SAIS is one of the six core systems of the Electronic UP (eUP), a flagship project of outgoing UP President Alfredo Pascual, which cost P700 million ($15 million).

Several UPLB student groups condemned what they called the “chaotic registration period,” saying that the funds that went to the new program could have been spent in the university’s facilities.

“While the university is marred with buildings and facilities as old as the Second World War, the cost of such project soars ever upward to one billion pesos. This begs the question of what the priorities of the Pascual administration should have been,” the UPLB-USC unity statement read.

“The tremendous amount of budget allotted for the project was not reflected in its performance,” the UP Varrons Ltd. also said in a solidarity statement.

The SAIS implementation was opposed by the student organizations in UP nationwide.

Junk SAIS

The All-Student Councils Assembly (ASCA) of UPLB called for the junking of the SAIS, calling it “a manifestation of disservice to the student body, and this is a system brought by the Pascual administration that further perpetuates commercialization of UP education, and disenfranchises the right to education of every Iskolar ng Bayan.”

According to the UP website, the eUP aims “to integrate, harmonize, and interoperate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems and infrastructure across all constituent universities of the UP System.” It will be operational in all UP campuses by 2017.

(Photo courtesy of UPLB Perspective)
(Photo courtesy of UPLB Perspective)

The website said eUP means “speedy processing of requests and improve accuracy by computerizing processes that involve calculations. It will enable work to be done from anywhere in the world via the Internet.”

But the recent registration proved otherwise.

“This has been the longest and most frustrating registration period for UPLB students. On the first day of registration in UPLB, access to SAIS was relatively smooth for graduating students, though students of the Graduate School who were scheduled to log in the same day had to resort to the Form 5A,” the UPLB-USC said.

According to the UP-Manila University Student Council, there were also technical glitches when the SAIS was first implemented in 2014. The UPM-USC said that the glitches “prevented majority of students from enlisting in many of their classes, forcing the opening of classes to be moved a week later.”

They also lament that the SystemOne is much more efficient that the multi-million SAIS.

“SystemOne progressed through time through the careful supervision of Professor Rodolfo Duldulao Jr. and Rommel Bulalacao along with the different student-developers. Indeed, SystemOne was the pride of the University community for its collaborative character and the optimization of the registration process,” the UPLB-USC said.

Commercialization of education

To implement the eUP project, the UP administration has entered into a tie-up with the telecommunications giant ePLDT. The software used for the system was Peoplesoft, developed by Oracle, an American multinational corporation, “infamous for its confusing contracts and vendor lock-in, forcing its software customer to buy its outdated software,” said the UPM-USC.

“This project under the leadership of President Pascual is a clear manifestation of commercialization,” said Merwin Jacob Alinea, UPLB-USC chairperson. He said the project was implemented without consultation with the stakeholders.

Even with the SAIS, Alinea said that the UP-Manila and Cebu even reverted back to manual registration after experiencing registration glitches.

Congressional investigation

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago filed House Resolution No. 122 calling on the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education (CHTE) to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, on the reported irregularities in the SAIS.

“SAIS uses proprietary software from Oracle and has reportedly cost over P24 million ($51,000) for the initial roll-out. It should be noted that the various UP units, including UPLB, already have registration systems that function way better than SAIS and cost just a fraction of the current system,” Elago said.

Elago wants to have Pascual, other UP officials, representatives of ePLDT and Oracle to testify and produce documents on the implementation of SAIS and the e-UP project.
“Students are being victimized by a move that only benefits the private contractors. Clearly, heads must roll,” she stressed.

“Congress must exercise strong oversight over contracts entered by public education institutions like UP with private entities, especially when such multi-million contracts fail to serve their primary functions and cause grave inconvenience to students,” Elago added. ()

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