Four students from the University of the Philippines-Manila’s Political Science Program were going to class all semester, fulfilling requirements and engaging with their teachers, doing a thesis course that is required for graduating students.
These four were diligent and determined even as all four of them were dealing with financial problems. And if you live in this country with your eyes wide open, you know how large these problems can be, how insurmountable, how crippling, especially for students who should be focused only on their studies. You would also know how it is entirely possible that these four students forged on despite—and to some extent because of—their inability to pay for their tuition this semester. Because it’s the final stretch, and graduating from the University will be the end of the struggle that was going through a college education.
These four students persisted despite the difficulty and insecurity of studying with their unpaid tuition fees looming over their heads. On this side of the State University though, it could only get worse.
The rules and the mechanisms in place
I understand that there are rules. Students who are not enrolled, i.e., who have not paid the tuition fees for a given semester, are technically not officially registered as students of the University. Their names do not appear on the Registrar’s list of students, they do not officially exist in the University System.
This does not mean they will be disallowed from going to the classes they signed up for.
Neither does it mean that their teachers and program will bar them from going to these classes. Especially after what befell Kristel Tejada, I hear teachers have stopped disallowing students to attend their classes, no matter that they are not considered to be “officially registered” by the University.
It remains unclear though how exactly the University is handling the number of students who decide to go to their classes even if they have yet to pay their tuition fees. This is the quandary of the State University.
After Kristel, the “No Enrollment No Admission” rule was removed, which allows students to attend classes even if they have not paid their tuition fee. After Kristel, the University made the process of acquiring a student loan easier, where students can defer payment to the end of the semester, the loan to gain interest only if it’s not paid then. The promise, apparently, was that the Student Loan Board (SLB) would not turn anyone away.
Alongside the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) that brackets students according to their family’s income, the students are not without options.
All these are geared towards one goal: make it easier for students of the State University to continue their studies, no matter the financial difficulties they face. And yet it seems that it is the University itself that has failed to keep their eyes on that goal.
Because what the student loan through the SLB has become is a fallback, an excuse, a way to blame the students for being unable to pay their tuition fees on time. Because I have heard it in light of these four students’ appeal that they be allowed to pay their tuition fees at this point in time: they should have applied for the student loan, the mechanisms are in place and they didn’t use it.
It also seems like the SLB program has allowed the University to think that no student should be on unofficial status, because look! everyone can just get a loan!
But the “shoulds” are rarely about how things are. And there lies the problem.
The state of being iskolar ng bayan
The truth is that while the SLB should mean that no student will stop studying in the University because of lack of finances, in reality it’s still not as easy as applying for a loan and getting it. Students are only allowed loans in the amounts of 70% to 80% of their tuition fees. Wanting a 100% loan requires the student to write a letter explaining why he or she deserves it; approval or disapproval is the discretion of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) Director.
That 70% to 80% student loan also comes with a catch or two. Students are required to pay the full amount by the end of the semester, or else they will be barred from enrolling the following semester, and it will earn an interest of 6% every year. More importantly, after the 70% to 80% loan, students are required to pay the remaining amount of their tuition fees in full.
That’s still a good P3,000.00 pesos (at least) that students need to put out just to get a loan. And that due amount comes at the heels of having to pay for the previous semester’s loan.
This is what these four UP Manila students had to deal with at the beginning of this semester. And they dealt with this alongside parents losing jobs and getting sick, and basic living expenses that do not end (rent, utility bills, etc.). Why did the four students not avail of the student loan? Because did not even know how to pay the 20% they need for the loan.
These four students are not saying that they are not at fault for not having paid their tuition fees on time. They are saying that they had no way of paying for it in the beginning of the semester. They are saying that they started this semester hoping against hope that by the end of it they and their parents would be able to come up with the tuition fee.
These four students went to their classes, were entertained by their teachers and supported by the Political Science Program they belonged to, as they worked towards graduating this semester. The faculty of this Program has written an open letter to the UP Manila Chancellor Manuel B. Agulto, MD, appealing that the four students be allowed to “settle their financial obligations with the university and finish their degree.”
A double-edged sword?
I’ve heard it said that there are those who abuse this opportunity to go to classes without having paid their tuition fees. Where some students stay only for as long as they are performing well, and drop the class unceremoniously when they feel like it, with no respect for their teachers. But what of students who diligently go to their classes knowing that at some point at the end of the semester they would find a way to pay their tuition in order for their semestral performance to be credited?
Why make these four students pay for what other students have done? Certainly they deserve to be treated better just on the basis of having proven that they are far more diligent and determined than most?
More importantly, why be limited by the notion of setting a precedent for students to “break the rules” when in fact these students broke no rules? They just decided that they would go to their classes, and do well enough to graduate on time, as they and their families worked on putting that tuition fee together just in time for the end of the semester?
These kids are no threat. Letting them graduate should not mean setting a bad precedent, as it should shine a light on what else the State University should be doing to make sure deserving students get the education they have a right to. As it should reveal to us all, that beyond the rules and regulations of one UP Manila and any university at all, there should be kindness, and there should be heart.
These are the shoulds we aspire for. It would do us well to teach our students that. It would do us well to set the example.