By RED CARAO
MANILA – Youth and student groups lauded the announcement by the University of the Philippines-Diliman (UPD) that there will be no tuition collection this coming semester, calling it a “tactical victory” in the campaign for free education.
UPD Chancellor Michael Tan announced during a cultural protest on Tuesday, July 11, that UP’s flagship campus will not collect tuition until the government clarifies its policies on free tuition.
The fight for free education intensifies, said the youth groups, as they vow to up the pressure on UP and other public colleges to implement a free education policy.
“This tactical victory is ultimately a product of the students’ long history of collective action and unwavering commitment to uphold the Filipino youth ahd people’s right to education,” said Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.
“We call on iskolars ng bayan to not let up the pressure on the UP administration lest it retracts this decision to stop tuition collection,” he said.
In accordance with the 2017 national budget, the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) received a total budget of P 8.3 billion ($166 million), estimated to be enough to shoulder the tuition of more than 1.4 million students in state universities and colleges (SUCs).
The UP-System was allocated some P 367 million from the Ched budget.
UP awaits clarification from national government
“There will be no collection of any kind, even other school fees, in the coming semester until the policies of the government will be clarified,” UPD Chancellor Tan told students at the cultural event at Quezon Hall. “If school opening comes and there is still no clarification from the national government, you can come to school and be assured that you will be registered without collection,” he added in Filipino.
In a meeting with all the chancellors from the other UP units, Chancellor Tan said that they have reached a consensus of “no tuition collection” for the next academic year. UP President Danilo Concepcion was not able to attend the said meeting because of an overseas trip.
Many other SUCs have implemented the no tuition collection policy, but Tan said that they are still hard put to do the same thing in the UP system. He admits that the government is still unclear about its policy on free education, especially regarding the eligibility of the students to avail of free tuition. He said there are various interpretation of the policy, ranging from tuition subsidy, no tuition collection, and no tuition increase.
He also added that the UP administration is conducting a system-wide study on how to implement the free tuition policy, through analyses of previous tuition collection and projected enrollees.
Tan said that the budget allocated to the UP system is not enough, and that they would have to ask the government for a supplementary budget of “more or less P 1 billion.”
If not granted the supplementary budget, the Student Financial Assistance (SFA), a prioritization scheme similar to UP’s Socialized Tuition System (STS), will be implemented to assure that those who are least likely able to pay won’t have to, based on family income and household characteristics.
“This is great economic relief to students bearing the cross of UP’s STS for several years, and should render the online scholarship futile,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago.
“We congratulate each and every iskolar ng bayan for their unrelenting action and determination to push for free tuition despite all odds,” she said.
The students’ role in the struggle
Tan urged the studentry to do their part in fighting for free education in the country.
On July 11, progressive youth groups spearheaded by Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) trooped to the gates of Ched to assert their right to free education. On the same day, they held a cultural protest at Quezon Hall in UP Diliman to showcase their calls at the doors of the university’s administration.
“Ano ba ang magiging epekto ng pagkakaroon ng libreng edukasyon sa ating bansa? Bukod sa ibinibigay nito ang batayang karapatan ng bawat kabataang Pilipino, ito rin ang daan kung paano natin maisusulong ang ating bayan sa higit pang pagpapaunlad,” said Jumai Herrera of Anakbayan UP Diliman.
(What effect will free education have on our country? Aside from being a basic right of every Filipino youth, it paves the way for us to develop our country.)
Herrera also said that the victory of free education should not stop inside the SUCs, but should also extend beyond the walls of the university and to the students who cannot afford to go to school, and to the various youth that have fallen victim to state neglect and fascism in their fight for their basic rights.
Performances from the various groups showcased their calls not only for free education, but also for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao.
The students cited the similarities of their struggle for free education to the deeper issues within Philippine society, which include the lack of genuine land reform for farmers, inhumane working conditions and labor contractualization.
Kabataan Partylist deputy secretary general Ben Te said that the fight for free education should not only be a fight to make sure that every Filipino student can go to school, but instead should be a struggle to educate more youth about bigger issues outside the classroom.
“Mayroon tayong mga mas malaking hamon na ating dapat kaharapin (We face bigger challenges outside),” Te said.