The Manila and central Diliman campuses of the University of the Philippines System tightened policies on delayed tuition this academic year, but a study and proposal on needed reforms in the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) and other related services highlights a chaotic system where processing of applications can sprawl across a full semester.
Assistant Professor Richard Philip Gonzalo, the main author, submitted the study on January 25, 2013. It states that announcement of STFAP results can be delayed by several months due to numerous documentary requirements required for STFAP applications, the huge number of students applying and the lack of university personnel and equipment dedicated to the program.
“The application and verification processes of the ABS STFAP are expected to take one month to finish so students can receive their bracket prior to enrollment in the 1st semester of the academic year,” the study pointed out. (ABS STFAP is the new 5-bracket system introduced in 2007. The old system had nine brackets. See Table below)
“However, the process is completed in (the) middle of the 2nd semester of the same academic year due to the large volume of applications, the length of time to actually verify submitted information, the processing time to obtain bracket assignments, and the difficulty of obtaining supporting documents.”
The program has come under fire in the aftermath of the suicide last week by Kristel Tejada, a freshman student of UP Manila.
Suicide is often the result of depression and a confluence of triggers. Tejeda’s parents and siblings and UP Manila have said she repeatedly expressed distress at the campus’s no-late-tuition-pay that forces students to take a leave of absence.
The Chancellor of UP Manila, at a press conference today (March 18) alluded to frequent fights between Kristel’s parents, supposedly caused by financial pressures.
The Tejada family’s financial woes started when the father lost his job as warehouse coordinator. The family gave up a middle-class lifestyle and is now renting a one-room flat in Tondo, with a subsidy from Kristel’s grandmother.
Most of the five Tejada siblings grew up as school achievers. Still, it became a struggle to meet their tuition needs with the father’s income as a part-time taxi driver.
Kristel applied for Bracket E of the STFAP, which provides free tuition and miscellaneous fees plus a monthly stipend. But she was assigned to Bracket D, which comes with P300/ unit tuition and payment of miscellaneous fees, or around P10,000 per semester.
The student applied for a loan while waiting for the university’s decision on her case.
Hard-up, the family sought two extensions on the loan deadline, finally paying it in December 2013.
They also pressed the appeal to move Kristel to Bracket E. This was denied.
When, after the decision and payment of their loan arrears, the father sought a new loan, the university said they had missed the applications deadline.
Critics of STFAP blame the UP administration for Kristel’s death, a development UPM Chancellor Dr. Manuel Agulto calls “disturbing.”
Speaking to the press and at sometimes choking from emotion, Agulto said suicide “requires greater understanding from clinical perspectives. “
“We want to provide our students the best education. This is a very isolated and unfortunate case. As administrators, we are not enemies. We are surrogate parents to our students, faculty and staff. UP Manila understands the anger and outrage. But there is time and forum for debate.”
Agulto defended the UP campus’ no-late payment policy, citing Article 330 of the University Code (formerly Article 335 in a 2006 PDF version).
Professor Judy Taguiwalo, former Faculty Regent, says the policy had been held in abeyance for years as tuition rose.
But both UP Diliman and UP Manila returned the policy this school year.
UP Manila Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Josephine de Luna issued a letter in November 2011, reminding faculty and staff to abide by the rule.
UP Manila Student Council Chair Mariz Zubiri acknowledged that student leaders had “grudgingly” agreed to the November 23 deadline after the administration brushed off their appeals.
In a telephone interview, she said officials told them the consultation was a privilege and that students should help disseminate the policy.
Asked why students agreed, Zubiri acknowledged they had lacked time to consult among themselves.
“We were not able to assert our opposition then,” she admitted.
Indeed, part of Agulto’s power point presentation included student leader’s role in calling in students with incomplete or unfiled STFAP applications.
“As in many organizations, there are many guidelines as regards punctuality. It is a means of putting order among students,” the Chancellor said.
Agulto insists that no UP Student is forced to take a Leave of Absence.
The LOA Kristel “voluntarily” signed, he added, is “not a penalty, but “a solution so they can be enrolled as UP student for the next semester.”
That is a specious statement. For students dropped from the enrollment list for late tuition payment, LOA is the only recourse available to salvage an already grim situation.
The alternative is being tagged AWOL.
UP President Alfredo Pascual said he had asked chancellors of various campuses, just a day before Kristel’s suicide, “that we should not deny access to qualified students who cannot enroll because of financial constraints.”
He says reforms are underway. “But it takes time to implement change. We can easily be overtaken, as we have been by a sudden turn of events.”
Taguiwalo, in an e-mail exchange, points out that UP Diliman rolled out in September 2011 its version of UP Manila’s draconian policy, called “dropping and updating of official class lists”.
That sounds a tad nicer than the original “dropping and purging of unpaid students). It means the same thing:
“Students who have not paid their tuition and other school fees as of the deadline time for dropping will be removed from the class lists”.
The UP Diliman Executive Committee at least extended the deadline to the last days of classes.
Sanlakas Youth, which is allied with the Kaisa party that has just won UP’s Student Council elections, said the 2011-2012 academic year opened with a new default bracket of P1,500. All bracket B students had to shell out what bracket A students used to pay.
They accused Pascual’s administration of acting “like a ninja” in implementing the new STFAP. ”There was no notice, no consultation,” the group said.
And just when students grappled with a huge rise in tuition, UP decided to take no prisoners in this area.
What students don’t get is this: The study cited by Pascual in today’s press conference has been two years in the making. If officials already knew problems were serious enough to merit a review of policies, why did they suddenly impose Article 330?
And why is the state university, supposed to be a vanguard of progressive thought, outdoing the private sector in strict tuition policy.?
The Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, Patricia Licuanan, also chairs the UP Board of Regents. She has lashed out at protesters, accusing them of politicizing Kristel’s suicide.
But Licuanan’s Commission already follows a more rational policy. It bars private schools from denying final examinations to students with outstanding and financial or property obligations.
The Chancellor says they have not been remiss to appeals by students. All 79 appeals for late payment of tuition were approved during the period Kristel was trying to seek help. Of these, 28 cases cited financial difficulty.
Agulto notes that Kristel was not able to get the e-bracket she applied on September 2012 because she failed to submit supporting documentary requirements “despite frequent reminders from the Office of Student Affairs.”
She is not a unique case. The UP study on STFAP notes:
“…the current ABS made the STFAP program very taxing due to the large amount of data needed to establish brackets. This stems from the fact that the current STFAP model uses an income function that requires a number of verifiable data about their household and the assets owned by the family of the students. This data is sometimes difficult to obtain. The parameters to determine the “predicted income” from this income function is based on the Family Income and Expenditure Survey(FIES) and Labor Force Survey (LFS). In addition to the predicted income, declared income as stated inthe Income Tax Return (ITR) and other documents, are still used to determine the final brackets of students, along with special indicators that support a student’s capacity to pay…. Given these parameters, to satisfy the requirements,applicants must fill out a 14-page application form and submit supporting documents to verify the data provided in the form.”
Students apply for STFAP every academic year. Aside from the photocopies, they should bring original documents during submission of the application. The university also visits homes to verify whether claims are true.
Suicide is a rare response to tuition woes. Kristel may have had an unusually fragile psyche. But there is no question that too many students struggle from STFAP’s messy process, according Krissy Conti, UP Student Regend for 2011-2011.
“The lines are long, the requirements are substantial, and all too often, the system too convoluted to understand in one go. Qualifiers are announced midway through the semester; and until then every day is a waking agony,” Conti said.
The Gonzalo study said that UP’s STFAP has 52 personnel servicing almost 50,000 students. The UP Computer Center, it noted, processes application forms between one to four months. Students appealing their assigned tuition brackets also have to wait since the committee in charge meets only three times every academic year, usually in October, February and May.
“This means that apellants who wish to be assigned to Brackets E may have to wait until the end of the 1st semester to complete the process and hopefully be assigned to these bracket.”
Conti is hardly the rabble-rouser Licuanan fears. Rather than accuse officials of malign intentions, she diagnoses the problem as ”a mix of bureaucratic inefficiency and policy weakness”.
“To be fair, UP conducts stakeholders’ workshops. I’m thankful that the staff last year sat through with an open mind to my presentation of students’ issues, especially those about blithering and inconsistent guidelines. In turn, we students took note of a capacity audit by scholarships offices, where they said needed more staff, more space, more computers.”
As student regent, Conti got involved in the appeals process.
“…on different levels, where every discussion is a heart-rending experience. It’s an endless slideshow of rickety houses and backyard toilets, computations of utility bills, and probing questions into other families’ lives. I leave these meeting thoroughly haunted by poverty up close, and disturbed that we can decide who gets what by comparing circumstances.”
The Gonzalo study, on the other hand, notes:
“In the current set-up, there is no section that explicitly delivers expert advice to students and their parents to help them enhance means to afford the cost of pursuing their chosen degree programs in UP. There is also no provision to ensure quality of services rendered to students that the organization presently offers. This is due to the absence of systematic operational audit activities, regular capability building to enhance the skills of personnel, and operational performance evaluation for feedback.”
Above all, there must be fairness and compassion. You cannot demand impossible standards from student beneficiaries when you can’t even clean up your act.
Meanwhile, nearly 6,000 people have signed a petition calling on UP Manila to revoke its no-late-payment and forced-leave-of-absence policies. You can read and sign here: