The tragic suicide of UP Manila freshie 16 year old Krystel Tejada, a daughter of a cab driver and a homemaker, allegedly due to her family's inability to pay the fees, has caused generated rage from the students, alumni, faculty of the publicly funded national university. And rightly so.
A retired professor emeritus exclaimed "That's because UP has become the university of the rich" "UP has to look into its soul which appears to have been lost"
The particulars of Ms Tejada's death and family's financial status has publicly come out and it is beginning to appear that she just fell through the bureaucratic net. And throughout this the issue of STFAP pops out.
Here I won't be speculating on her psychological state prior to her death. For that is not the major issue here and since I am not privy to her psychological condition. I will leave that to the professional psychologists and counselors, should they wish to elaborate on these.
My question is whether the neoliberal direction and policies of the national university has made the vulnerable fall through the vaunted safety nets. Many neoliberal policies have to be revisited including the much maligned Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance scheme.
Students as a sector of PH society are vulnerable, financially, emotionally and physically. (How many students have been forced to sell their bodies for tuition fees?) This is because education is in itself a commodity and the production of which requires capital. Education of the individual citizen unlike investments in housing while it like housing appreciates in value, cannot be resold. Its equity is collective, such as in the general betterment of society where stability is the most precious factor. Nonetheless, all heads of government from Venezuela's 21st century socialist icon, Hugo Chavez all even the once socialistic, but meritocratic redistributionist, free market icon and founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew knew that education has to be subsidized by the state since it is the best way of redistributing wealth. The state has to intervene or even determine the direction of education policies in basic education to ensure the nation is stable. It is a given that higher education is autonomous in teaching and research. It is but it cannot be autonomous in its ways of profiteering from the vulnerable student sector. Singapore heavily subsidizes public education at 20% of its national budget.
With this idea of redistribution of wealth through education, does UP's STFAP stand up to this? The answer is it doesn't. Redistribution is not just letting the fee paying subsidize those with a lesser ability to pay the fees. Redistribution means having the wealthy pay more taxes for public eduction (basic or higher) whether their kids pass the UPCAT and attend UP or any publicly funded university, or basic education schools or not. A redistributionist Philippine state would put a VAT on private education services. Anyway a lot of people put a higher brand equity on private education brands and so it is justified. The United Kingdom has a VAT for private education and so does Ireland and so this is not a fancy idea. Singapore's 7% GST is partly funneled to public education subsidies. Singaporeans who opt to attend a private university will pay higher since they won't have the GST rebates and subsidies. But with the taxes collected, this would mean the government should put a serious attempt to ensure that public education gets to spend its budget most efficiently.
UP's brand of socialized tuition cements class divisions in the national university. We have heard horror stories of parents and some students demanding privileges because they pay the bracket A fees! STFAP is not true redistribution of educational opportunities. It is another form of noblesse oblige and barely lessens the inequity in educational opportunities. In an inequitable society in UP or outside it, the poor have to face bureaucratic paperwork, a zillion photocopies while the haves can easily pay off someone to to this kind of paper pushing. This is a society where inefficiency guarantees inequity.
The administration says that all are subsidized by the state even the Bracket A'yers. It is true the true cost of a semester of UP education is around 90K PhP and the highest fee brackets pay only 22K at most.
But as former Student Regent Krissy Conti has it "Since when has been subsidizing the rich been mutually exclusive to subsidizing the smart?"
Yes, UP leads the nation on public educational policy and STFAP like policies are being proposed by CHED for publicly funded universities and colleges. Should we expect more tragedies?
It is time to revisit UP's policies and in the near term implement policies that improve student welfare, a department that UP is found extremely wanting. Revolutionary ideas and changes are needed.
But with the death of a freshie, these policies have committed its own suicide. It is not a quick death but a slow one. And we have to ensure it does die, so that a tragic untimely death would not have been in vain.