This is a weekly academic blog for my MBA class Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility.
Coming from UP, our primary battle-cry is that of the right to education. But as the years progress, being called iskolar ng bayan is somehow slowly losing its meaning. The truth is, much of our tuition fees are no longer government subsidized.
In 2007, a year before I enrolled to UP, there has been a 300% tuition fee increase. The default bracketing system of new students is also raised higher that, in a sense, you will have to prove just how poor you are before you can avail of cheaper tuition fee. In fact, to belong to the lowest bracket (Bracket E), you will have to prove that you’re so poor, you cannot even afford to buy a cell phone. That’s a very unrealistic standard as even the poorest urban slum dwellers have a cell phone.
As such, I came to UP with a much higher tuition fee than batches ahead of me. They now call batches 2007 onwards as “the rich kids”. During my college years, they also changed the standards so that new enrollees now belong to Bracket A by default, in which they will have to prove they qualify to lower brackets just to pay a lower tuition fee.
These changes in government subsidy caused a change in the demographics of UP students — and it’s not because there are more privileged students that pass the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT). It’s only because much of our underprivileged counterparts pass the UPCAT but choose not to enroll primarily because of the higher tuition fees and the hoops they have to go through just to fulfill the requirements.
My blog post four years ago was about the Kristel Tejada, a college freshman and the eldest daughter of a taxi driver from Tondo who committed suicide because she was unable to pay her tuition fees. While there were students who commit suicide because they have failing grades, Kristel committed suicide just because her family did not have the financial means to send her to school. This was unacceptable, considering she was considered worthy of a state university education.
This brings us into a question: Is education still a right or has it now become a privilege?
The thing about privilege is that we do not know when we have it. When I was in college, I took for granted that my parents will pay for my tuition and my school requirements. I expected and received weekly allowances. I knew with certainty that I will finish in four years without stopping unless I failed a subject. It’s only now that I had to finance my own graduate school education that I realized how lucky I was.
Meanwhile, my other counterparts cannot even finish an undergraduate degree because they did not have parents like mine. Most important of all, the only reason why I can afford to pay for graduate school now is that (1) I was able to finish college, and therefore (2) I was able to get a good-paying job. The reality is, other people can’t even get past Step 1!
Back in college, I had friends that belonged to Bracket E. But frankly, I never noticed that a lot of my fellow students drop out in the middle of the term because their parents can no longer afford to send them to school. I never knew that a lot of my classmates choose to work part-time or stop for a while just to make ends meet. Worse of all, I never noticed that the underprivileged are being removed from the landscape because they don’t even make it past enrollment day!
It would have been acceptable if we studied in a private school. But it seemed like a crime knowing that we are at a state university where the government is mandated to provide for these deserving students.
What I enjoyed most about my UP education is academic freedom. Here, it did not matter what I wore, if I drove a car, what I look like, if my professors like me, or even if I get high grades. All that matters is engaging intellectually within and outside of class. Sadly, a lot of deserving students cannot even enjoy academic freedom as it comes with a financial burden. These students are so focused on merely surviving through the semester and worrying if they will have enough money for the next. They learn early on that even though they are just as qualified, they will have a harder time finishing school just because they happen to be poor.
The problem with losing sight of the underprivileged simply because they cannot make it to school is that we no longer see the people we should look out for. The more underprivileged students drop out or pass up enrolling, the more privileged students think that the right to education is being fulfilled. It breeds apathy and a lack of awareness, which to me, beats the purpose of our education.
We may be knowledgeable within the walls of the classroom, but greater education is being aware of what happens outside of it and what we should do about it. Otherwise, all that higher education will only become a means for us to perpetuate the system of accumulating wealth just so our children will not suffer the same fate as the invisible students who cannot make it to class.