Youth groups expressed dismay over the five-page statement discouraging future national leaders from pursuing a free tuition policy in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs).
Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK), among the proponents and advocates for greater education spending and free education, cried foul over the “pseudo-scientific, misleading, and profit-oriented” arguments made by the Commission against free education.
In the statement, CHED Executive Director Julito Vitriolo articulated why greater spending for education may not be a good idea, as it “will likely result to a massive exodus of students from private higher education institutions (HEIs) to SUCs.” Vitriolo said that free education in SUCs “without corresponding support to deserving private HEIs” would eliminate private HEIs who might not survive the “exodus of students and faculty.”
“It is disturbing how an institution created to promote higher learning in the country is more concerned about the businesses which will close down if students would prefer free education in SUCs,” said SPARK National Coordinator Arvin Buenaagua. “It is like saying that feeding programs must charge money so that restaurants will not be threatened of closing down.”
Buenaagua highlighted that the statement is consistent with CHED’s promotion of deregulation of private HEIs, from the 313 private schools it has allowed last year to increase their tuition fees, to the continued voluntary accreditation process which fails to keep private HEIs from performing at a competitive level.
“What the CHED is basically saying is that let us continue to deny education to those who cannot afford college tuition so that the schools operating as businesses will not close down,” said Buenaagua. He dismissed the agency’s claims of a massive exodus as “a mere exaggeration to keep the current policies in place.”
Buenaagua highlighted that price is not only the consideration of prospective college students, especially wealthier ones, in choosing where they will enroll. “If that is the case, why do we not see this exodus of students – both rich and poor – flocking towards PUP or other SUCs who, through collective action, has kept their tuition to accessible levels?”
Vitriolo also said that increasing budget for SUCs is easier said than done, especially since basic education remains government’s priority over higher education. Buenaagua said that the failure of CHED to distribute over P1 Billion worth of funds to college scholars is enough a testimony that SUC students are the least of their priorities.
“What we have seen in the statements of candidates vying for national positions is that free tuition is possible,” said Sanlakas Secretary-General Aaron Pedrosa. “As a response, CHED is defending the government policy to defund state universities and colleges, while leaving the delivery of education to the private sector,” he added.
“Unless a paradigm shift happens from a profit-oriented approach to education to a more holistic and liberating approach, public education in the Philippines will continue to lag behind its international counterparts,” Pedrosa stated.
Pedrosa noted the double-standard employed by CHED and the Aquino administration, invoking competitiveness when pushing for reforms like the K to 12 program, while refusing to raise government spending to the global standard of 6% of the country’s Gross National Product.
Joanne Lim of the Nagkakaisang Iskolar para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan (KAISA UP) denied that the clamor for free college education is motivated by – according to Vitriolo – a “well-entrenched social prejudice against middle-level skilled manpower” in favor of getting diplomas. “Rather, it is about our freedom as students to choose what kind of future we want to have,” Lim said.
“We do not look down on skilled workers, in fact we are disturbed that most people from these sector cannot afford to send their children to college, although they might want to,” Lim argued.
Lim said that if one should pursue a career, it must not be because they are forced to from lack of options. “Free education opens up opportunities for anyone from any background to pursue their dreams. This cannot be so if we rely too much on private schools whose primary goal is to profit.”
Atty. Pedrosa argued against Vitriolo that the free education campaign and greater budget for education is “not just a gimmick. In fact, it is precisely what the Constitution meant when it stipulated that the State must give top priority to education and the vital role of the youth in nation-building,” Pedrosa said.
“It is deception to say that the government cannot fund free higher education when it has funded thousands of NGOs through the PDAF scam, and funded the campaigns of traditional politicians who embody this twisted government’s doomed education policy,” Pedrosa concluded.