What we can win: Free tuition, free lab fees, and the long struggle ahead of us [EDITORIAL (Vol. 24, №2)]
The Duterte administration approved some P8.3 Billion to supposedly make tuition free in all State Universities and Colleges (SUCs). It was an amount realigned from “pork” funds supposedly to support projects in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). But little by little, as the year 2017 began, the initial good news that met the students at the end of the school year became hounded by the government’s reversal of its initially progressive position. Pronouncements from the Duterte administration indicate that only poor but ‘academically-excellent’ students will benefit from the P8.3 Billion free tuition program. Commission on Higher Education (CHED) officials released a position paper against free tuition and free education. CHED intends to divide students between “beneficiaries” and “non-beneficiaries” and based on its pronouncements, it plans to use the money to institutionalize a Socialized Tuition system in all SUCs nationwide, the same ST system which weeds out poor students from studying in our university and in our college.
But according to the study conducted by the science students’ advocate group Agham Youth, this P8.3 Billion is enough to cover the estimated P7.8 Billion that students from all SUCs are estimated to pay for fiscal year 2017. That P7.8 Billion includes the P0.37 Billion estimated amount of tuition to be collected from all students of all UP units. Additionally, all SUCs have an estimated P25.5 Billion amount of savings for 2017 that can provide some amount to buffer the P8.3 Billion allocation and even provide monthly stipends for the 8% of students that CHED considers “poor”. Those savings will come from the tuition, other school fees (OSFs), and other sources of SUCs’ income that will not be spent. Therefore, there should be no reason anymore for students to pay for their tuition starting the first semester of the following academic year. There is also no reason for government to hold back on its initial position to make tuition free for all students in SUCs.
Clearly, should tuition be made free for the next school year, students from the College of Science would also benefit. Therefore, we students should unite and build our numbers in order to persuade the government. We should also explain and share to our schoolmates, labmates, and classmates that free tuition is possible for the immediate. But as we should pressure the government to provide this concrete measure to immediately relieve some burden on the students, we should also recognize that free tuition is merely but a first step in asserting our right on education. There are still other costs aside from tuition, such as OSFs, which include the lab fees we are paying in order to be able to make use of our laboratory equipment and samples for our training as future scientists. If the government would want to make even OSFs free for 2017, it merely has to add around P17.6 Billion to its initial allocation, based on the same study by Agham Youth. If it would want to provide P5,000 monthly stipend for just even the poorest 8% of all students, it can also add P8.1 Billion, aside from providing the P8.3 Billion amount to tuition free. Government still has a lot of discretionary funds at its disposal, aside from the SUCs’ unspent income. Compare these relatively measly amounts needed to fully subsidize education in SUCs to the amount government pays for the interest of its foreign debts, which is estimated to be P97 Billion for 2017. That P97 Billion is even higher than the principal debt that we are only supposed to pay, and we consider this interest debt unfair on our taxpayers who work and pay for the debt payment. The right of the Filipino youth to tertiary education trumps the “right” of foreign creditors to impose bigger payments through debt interest aside from the principal debt amount we owe.
If we want to make education, including tuition, free, paying for illegitimate debts and unfair debt interests may be cancelled, and discretionary funds can be realigned. But to sustain free education, a complementary program for national industrialization would be needed to create wealth from our resources and provide jobs for our science graduates, who in turn will help push national industrialization towards making our economy innovation-led. Free tuition is but a first step in the protracted struggle in which the strugle for free education and national industrialization are also part of. This struggle would be long but we can make it win. We science students should participate to make it win. Winning the struggle for free tuition is a first concrete move towards that goal. One concrete victory is better for all of us than none.