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CHEd inutile vs rising education costs

A consultative forum on regulation of tuition and other school fees was organized by the Committee on Higher and Technical Education and Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino today, which was attended by representatives of Committee on Higher Education (CHEd) and student representatives. Rep. Mariano Piamonte, Rep. Sigfrido Tinga and a staff of committee chair Rep. Sonny Angara was also present.

In the forum, the students said they are “alarmed by the unabated increase in tuition and other fees.” Students also complained of “redundant, exorbitant and dubious fees” being implemented in schools. The youth leaders took a swipe at CHEd for failing to regulate unjust fees and tuition hikes during the past years, which they blame for rising drop-out rates and lack of access to tertiary education.

Student leaders from major private schools were present in the forum, like University of the East, University of Santo Tomas, Trinity University of Asia, Emilio Aguinaldo College, Lyceum University of the Philippines, Mapua Institue of Technology, De La Salle University, University of the Philippines and Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Leaders of various youth organizations led by Anakbayan, National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), College Editors Guild of the Philippines and Kabataan Partylist were also present.

Consultations for tuition increases are set this month, with about 400 private schools expected to increase tuition and other fees by about 10-15%. The deadline for tuition consultations is on February 28. Many schools have already expressed their intention to increase tuition rates again this year.

CHEd issues new tuition guidelines for 2013-2014

In response to the growing clamor to regulate tuition hikes and various fees, the CHEd presented during the forum a new set of guidelines on tuition increases and consultation processes. A powerpoint presentation outlined the features of the new guidelines, however, no copy of the memo was provided to the forum.

According to CHEd, the new memo will expand the requirement for consultations to include other school fees aside from tuition. The new memo will replace CHEd Memo Order 13, issued in 1998, which only covers tuition increases. Students have criticized CMO 13 as a “failure” to act as a supposed regulatory framework, pointing to the unabated rise in tuition rates and flawed consultation processes as proof.

In its new memo, CHEd cited Supreme Court rulings in Lina vs. Carino and St. Joseph College vs St. Joseph College Workers Association, which they say contain basis for CHEd’s power to regulate tuition rates.

With its new memo, CHEd promised that it will ensure “reasonableness on tuition and other school fees” while “balancing interests of stakeholders and encouraging private support through the sustainability of school operations in consideration of the prevailing regional inflation rate.”

CHEd said it will consider, to determine reasonableness, among other things: the inflation rate, financial standing of the school, financial capacity of the general studentry, impact of force maheure or calamities, track record of the school and mission vision of the school.

CHEd also promised more stringent monitoring, support and cooperation with student councils and organizations in the implementation of the guidelines.

The memo however, will not be implemented this year but in school year 2013-2014, which means CMO 13 will still cover the current consultation processes.

Students critical

While there are aspects in the new memo which could be better compared to CMO 13, the students have, and understandably so, registered serious criticisms regarding the CHEd move.

For one, it is disappointing that CHEd’s “solution” is not slated to be implemented this coming school year. CHEd, if truly concerned about the problem of rising tuition rates, surely had enough time to draft and finish its new policy which was promised June of last year. Besides, its tuition policy has been wanting of review since 1998 and has been unchanged except for one instance in 2005, when it was forced by protests to impose a cap on tuition rates, but which has quickly been revoked due to political accomodation of the past administration to private school owners.

What does CHEd intend to do as tuition rates are again set to rise this year and as abusive fees are imposed this year? What do we tell the students who won’t be able to enroll this coming school year due to high school costs? Taking the cue from Noynoy Aquino, it seems CHEd is once again displaying a great deal of ineptness and inability to fulfill its mandate to provide education for the people.

It was also noted that the new memorandum fails to correct the essential flaws of the consultation process and pro-administration bias of CMO 13.

Yes, the fees deemed to be dubious will be included in the consultation process. But since when have these so-called consultation processes stopped the schools from unjustly increasing tuition? The students, year-after-year have been complaining regarding “bogus” consultations and have expressed disapproval of the proposed hikes but tuition fees have hiked anyway.

The schools have been violating even CHEd guidelines such as the 70-20-10 in incremental proceeds which states that 70% of tuition hikes should be alloted for the increase of teachers’ salaries. Schools have been increasing their tuition every year, while salaries for teachers remain low. Despite this, tuition and other fees are being allowed to increase every year.

Major private schools which are notorious in increasing their tuition and other fees have been registering billions in profits and are consistently in the country’s top 1000 corporations.

During the forum and in presenting its new memo, the CHEd keeps on stressing that it is the responsibility of the students to be vigilant and to be wise in its participation in consultations. The NUSP retorts by stating that the student councils have been so during the past years. The problem does not lie with the vigilance of the studentry and the community, it is the fact that the CHEd allows tuition hikes despite complaints being filed by the students year-after-year.

Besides, why is the CHEd passing the burden of regulating tuition to the students? It is CHEd’s job and its mandate to regulate the fees with or without complaints. This exposes the real bias of CHEd and the government: the default for them in fact is to allow incessant tuition and other fee hikes. It operates under the assumption that fee increases and impositions are justified, taking the side of the capitalist educators. More importantly, they forget the fact that they should be viewing education as a public service and a right and should first and foremost ensure access of the people to this right.

After the forum, the student leaders held a caucus and planned nationwide actions to stop tuition hikes. It is rightful for the students to assert a moratorium on all tuition hikes this year. As CHEd has clearly failed to address tuition hand other fee increases under its old memo and has failed to come up with new and just policies on time, an immediate freeze on all increases and new fee impositions is in order. Not doing so would be tolerating theft and abuse of capitalist educators, worse, it would deprive millions more of their right to education and a decent future.

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