Last weekend, an interesting hashtag kept popping up my social media timelines: “#BracketAKaNa”. While the concatenated words might not be familiar to many, it is a tag that was trending in the Twitter and Facebook lists due to the implementation of the Socialized Tuition System (STS) by the University of the Philippines. The “bracket A” that the tag is referring to is the tuition fee discount category that the new system has. Bracket A is referred to as the “millionaire bracket” since it offers the student no tuition discounts.
Applicants to the tuition fee system are assessed on the “paying capacity of the household to which a student belongs” which “looks at the income as well as the socio-economic characteristics of the household” according to the UP System website. The website also says that based on “the information submitted by the students, the University may grant tuition discounts and, in certain cases, monthly stipends” as assessed by the STS system.
One should not confuse the STS tuition scheme with the Science, Technology and Society (also known as STS) course that the College of Science offers. This confusion on names and confusion with the assessment basis reflects the top-down character of the new STS [tuition]program.
It is not surprising that UP students made the #BracketAKaNa tag trend worldwide since STS applications are filled up, and results delivered, online. It is just a few clicks away to Facebook or Twitter to express their frustration and discontent with the new system.
As used in many Facebook threads, one writes #BracketAKaNa when one feels you are doing something that might be assessed as “excessive” under the strict (but not transparent) assessment guidelines of the STS scheme. One uses #BracketAKaNa like this “May pang-load ka sa cellphone? #BracketAKaNa”. This is a sarcastic reference to your “extra” capacity that many feel would cause the STS system to categorize you as Bracket A.
The STS system, which was approved by the UP Board of Regents in December 2013, is viewed by many as no different from the STFAP or the Socialized Tuition Fee Assistance Program that was in effect since 1989. Students are now complaining that despite that there is no announcement of a tuition fee increase, the non-transparent way that the new STS system computes your bracket tends to push your brackets up thus effectively increasing your tuition fees.
The frustration stems from the basic assumption of the program that you are of a higher bracket (#BracketAKaNa) unless you can prove that you really don’t have the capacity to pay the full tuition rates. A small indication of wealth or a display of conspicuous consumption (even if you really cannot afford it) will land you in the millionaire’s bracket. You have to show literally-hand-to-mouth existence in order to enjoy tuition discounts in this new scheme.
Some students are even complaining that the online application is tedious, rigid
and cold. Others have not even received their user name and PIN since the STS program is managed by the UP system in its website instead of being done in the constituent campuses such as Diliman and Manila.
In 1989 when the STFAP was implemented, the program was viewed as regressive since it disguises its income-generating aspect behind the tuition discount subsidies. The current STS scheme is no different. The change to the STS was supposed to be a response to the call of some sectors to reform the tuition scheme such as the long 14-page forms, the lines at the Vinzon’s hall and the arbitrariness of the evaluation. With the advent of many appeals of students on the bracket awarded to them, none of these “reforms” seem to have been successful.
Without added budgetary support from the government, state universities are driven to look for different schemes to raise revenue. The easiest is to increase rates. The “smoothest” mode is to reform the prevailing “socialized tuition” scheme, hence the STS. From 1989, when they imposed a 300 peso per unit tuition to the prevailing 1,500 peso per unit today, students who fail to get the tuition discounts are paying tens of thousands in our national state university (this translates to typically 30,000 pesos for a regular load).
Simply calling the STFAP as the STS and re-implementing its application process online without any substantial change in government’s budgetary support for education will not make it better or less regressive. As long as the administration surrenders to the continuing erosion of the public character of our state university, we will always see programs such as the Socialized Tuition System to crop up as variations on a theme—letting government abandon its duty to the people in providing quality education.