Higher (Cost of) Education in Western Visayas

I wrote this article for Philippine Online Chronicles.

With over two hundred thousand college level students returning to class this June, the Western Visayas provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, and Negros Occidental are home to some of the country’s centers of higher education.

The region boasts of a large concentration of state universities and colleges, including the main campus of the University of the Philippines Visayas in the small town of Miagao, Iloilo, which attracts students from various parts of Visayas and Mindanao. The cities of Bacolod and Iloilo meanwhile host two of the more prominent university belts outside Mendiola, Morayta, and Recto in Manila.

Like any other university towns, this predominantly Ilonggo speaking centers have given rise to an entire economy of eateries, dormitories, school supply and internet shops, and other establishments that cater to college life.

But not all is scholarly idyll and the pursuit of academic ideals for the students. Another step to the ladder up a future career is not a smooth one. For like students in the rest of the country, they and their families are also confronted by the spiraling costs of education.

Tuition and other fee increases

“Students in the region are burdened by tuition and other fee increases on top of the already expensive school fees and the spiraling prices of oil and other basic commodities,” said League of Filipino Students-Panay Spokesman JC Alejandro.

Of the almost 383 universities and colleges that are increasing tuition nationwide, 21 hail from Western Visayas: 10 are in Iloilo, 8 in Negros Occidental, 1 in Capiz, 1 in Aklan and 1 in Antique. According to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) the tuition hikes average at P31.82 per unit.

Of the 21, CHED revealed that 13 will simultaneously raise miscellaneous fees. One such university is the Central Philippine University (CPU) which has a population of over 13,000 students. A P26 per unit increase awaits the students of the said school.

Miscellaneous fees like registration fees, library fees, medical fees, dental fees, and NSTP fees in the region are expensive, said Alejandro. In 2012 a student of the University of San Agustin pay around P3,000 in miscellaneous fees.

Alejandro also cited the case of exorbitant or “out of this world” fees are also charged alongside these common fees. The St. Paul University, for instance, charges a P700 spiritual development fee and a P231 test papers fee last year

The University of Iloilo became a center of controversy two years ago when it required its senior nursing students to take a mock board exam as a requirement for graduation with mock board review fee amounting to a whopping P15,000.

State universities and colleges

State universities and colleges (SUCs) meanwhile offer no solace for poor students suffering from the commercialized state of privatized education as the government policy of abandoning its financial responsibility to public education also results in the commercialization of SUCs.

UPV College of Arts and Sciences Student Council Chairperson Jhon Philip Fuego explains that this is in line with the neoliberal program of abandoning social services in the insatiable drive for profit imposed by monopoly capitalist powers like the US.

This year, the Aquino government allocated P34.92 billion for the country’s 110 SUCs even if they need P54 billion for their operations. “In essence, Aquino is shifting the burden of subsidizing education from the government to students and their families,” said Fuego.

The UPV and the West Visayas State University (WVSU) in Iloilo City both implement a Socialized Tuition Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) which claims to democratize access to public higher education but is in fact a smokescreen for tuition and other fee increases.

Fuego said that in UPV, only 13.22 percent of the total student population availed of free tuition last school year while a combined 55.98 percent pay P600 and P1,000 per unit tuition per unit.

Like in private schools, SUCs also collect a variety of other fees from an P850 Student Development Fee in WVSU to a P800 computer fee in the West Visayas College of Science and Technology.

No improvement under Aquino

The Aquino regime’s brazen violation of its Constitutional mandate of ensuring the protection and promotion of “the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels” and taking of “appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all” exposes the hollowness of its reform rhetoric.

Because of the higher cost of education, Kabataan Party-list Panay and Guimaras coordinator Charmane Chin laments that many students at all levels are forced to stop schooling. According to CHED, for every 10 Grade 1 students only 1 will eventually graduate college.

“The brazen abandonment of the state’s responsibility to provide education and social services further deprives the ordinary Filipino worker and peasant the ability to improve their lives and sink them deeper into poverty amidst the spiraling prices of oil, basic goods, and utility services,” said Chin.

The youth leader also said that the expensive state of education through the years have not lead to an improvement in the quality of higher education.

She cites data from CHED admitting that only 100 from among the 1,831 colleges and universities nationwide, or 5.5%, can be assumed to have adequate facilities. The performance in licensure exams also shows a low 34% average passing rate, she said.

Intensifying student resistance

According to Alejandro, such an unacceptable state of affairs has spawned a burgeoning student protest movement in the region, particularly in Iloilo.

This came to a head with successive massive demonstrations by state scholars calling for a higher government budget for education since the year 2010 up to the present. These public school student-led mass actions range from a thousand to almost three thousand.

Students from private institutions are also restive. On April 2013, students complained to the CHED Regional Office 6 that the university administration did not conduct genuine student consultations when proposing the increases. The student petition gathered about 5,000 signatories.

“As the new school year opens, the struggle for the right to education and the right to a decent future for the people continues,” said Alejandro.

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