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At PUP, keeping tuition fees low is a community effort

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

At the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, it takes a whole school—from students, the administration, to finance officers—to keep the tuition fee at P12 per unit, the lowest in the country. The concerted effort allows some 72,000 poor but deserving students to have a fighting chance at a college degree yearly.

“The tuition in part remains low because of the active response from the students. Organized na pagkilos, kasi alam nila yung kahalagahan,” PUP Student Council spokesperson Charley Urquiza told GMA News Online in an interview Wednesday.

But it isn’t just the students who have joined arms to keep tuition fees low.

“Hindi lang sa hanay ng students eh, dumarating sa point na kasama yung admin, yung employees, sa pananawagan, sa pamamagitan ng pagsama sa call ng mas malaking budget ng education, kasi yun naman din yung sanhi kung bakit patuloy ang pagtaas ng tuition [sa ibang mga state universities and colleges] kasi mababa yung budget na binibigay ng government sa SUC’s,” he said.

Urquiza, a 3rd year Industrial and Organizational Psychology student, paid less than P1,000 for his 23 units this semester, something he said is only possible because of the united front that students maintain in the face of threats of tuition fee hikes.

“Kapag may issue, united yung students, lalo na pag directly affected sila. We have events, protests,” Urquiza said.

The united front came in handy just February of this year when a socialized tuition fee system loomed over PUP students.

“Nung February, may pinaguusapan na iro-roll out yung socialized tuition fee scheme kagaya ng sa STFAP ng UP [University of the Philippines]. Base naman sa experience ng UP, alam nating smokescreen lang ang STFAP sa pagtataas ng tuition fee,” Urquiza said, referring to the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program, where students are bracketed based on their family’s income levels.

President Emanuel C. De Guzman, PUP president, has since released a statement that the cost per unit shall remain P12 as long as he is president.

“Yung CHED [Commission on Higher Education] mismo, sa kanilang Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform, inamin nila na ang gusto talaga nila ay 50 percent yung SUC yung mag-generate ng budget nila,” Urquiza added.

For a university such as PUP whose projected yearly operating expenses reach up to P2 billion, raising even half of that amount can be a Herculean task.

Stretching the budget

“Pinipilit naming mabuhay, pero hanggang ganun lang, survival. Nakita naman ninyo ang status ng PUP, siguro it can be much better pa kung talagang mabibigay yung budget,” Marissa J. Legaspi, vice president for Finance, said.

“Around P2 billion yung proposed budget namin. Yung actual expenses namin talaga, ganun. The release is only P979 million lang. Wala ring pondo yung national government,” Legaspi said, adding that the university has had to lower their budget to P1.3B for 2013.

Of the proposed P2-billion budget, PUP received only P979.257 million in state subsidy. The university has set P335.081 million or 25 percent of the working P1.3-billion budget for the school to raise.

“Yung 300 million, income namin, internally generated income. We’re going to earn that throughout the year,” Legaspi, who is also a Certified Public Accountant, said. P2.4919 million, or two percent, represents fiduciary funds, which include athletics and cultural allocations.

Legaspi noted that the need to raise income has pushed the school to partner with different private institutions.

“Yun ang nagiging programs and projects namin, partnerships,” Legaspi said. She was quick to note, however, that the companies PUP tap to partner with have no say in how the school is run.

“Hindi naman nakapagdidikta, yung linkages namin, purely support talaga,” she said.

For student leader Urquiza, however, these partnerships are still to be closely watched, saying the only real solution to PUP’s perennial budget problem is for the government to release adequate funding.

“Pag sinabi nating partnership yung government at private institution, nandiyan yung threat na ma-privatize. Kaya we stand firm na dapat ibigay yung kabubuang budget na hinihingi. Naiintindihan, pero hindi kinukunsinte, kasi tinutulak [kami ng gobyerno na] ‘mag produce kayo ng budget at wag na kayong humingi sa amin,’ which is mali,” he said.

“Kung gusto natin magka-quality education, dapat sunisibsidize tayo ng maayos ng gobyerno bilang SUC, para sa facilities,” Urquiza added.

Finding a way

The budget problem also affects teachers, who sometimes seek additional employment elsewhere.

“Several have side projects. [But President De Guzman] is very supportive. As long as walang conflict sa schedules with teaching in PUP, and you can still deliver, walang problema, he would support you,” said faculty member and executive assistant to the president Malaya Abadilla-Ygot, who used to teach at a private university as well.

“He also sees the positive in that when teachers go out to teach in better schools, with better facilities and books, they can bring back the knowledge to the students here, who may not have access to that,” Ygot said of President De Guzman.

At PUP, a regular professor starts with Salary Grade 12, or around P19,000 a month.

“I can’t say na sobrang ganda talaga ng sweldo. It’s more of the teachers’ dedication, and their passion for teaching, as well as a desire na rin for public service,” said Ygot.

“Mahirap talaga, but we always try to find a way,” she added, saying that teaching in classrooms where students sometimes have to scramble for chairs remains a challenge.

Ygot also echoed VP for Finance Legaspi’s explanation that PUP turns to outside sources of funding to augment the given budget.

“There are partnerships, donations, we try to come up with our income [to supplement the budget given to us. Pero] marami pa ring kulang, like yung computer lab, hindi one is to one, pag may classes. There are only 45 units,” she said.

Nevertheless, Ygot takes pride in teaching in PUP, where she says that the students are a joy to teach.

“Very fulfilling pag dito ka nagtuturo. I have also taught in other private universities, and there, students expect you to spoonfeed them readings and lessons. [Perhaps because of some lacking facilities], mas masipag yung mga students dito, mas nagaaral,” she said.

Ygot notes, however, that the one downside of a small budget for teaching staff is that promotions cannot be handed down easily, even to deserving professors.

“Mahirap talaga pag kulang sa budget, for example, some teachers are due for promotion, but you can’t promote because a promotion will mean an increase and salary, in benefits, and we can’t afford that,” she said.

Performing school on a budget

A lack of some more modern facilities notwithstanding, students in PUP say cramped classrooms and fewer computer units are a small price to pay for a quality education that in the end comes at a very affordable rate.

“Sa PUP talaga, maliban sa quality of education, alam natin na kaya napakaraming estudyante rito ay dahil mura talaga ang tuition fee. If ever na magtaas ang tuition fee sa PUP, saan pa pupunta yung mga estudyante na ito na lang ang inaasahan para makapagtapos ng kolehiyo?” Urquiza said.

“Nandiyan minsan yung agawan ng upuan, kung walang klase sa kabila, kukunin yung upuan, kasi wala talagang budget. Pero kung titingnan natin, sa mahabang panahon, kahit maliit yung budget, at maliit yung tuition fee ng PUP, nagpoproduce yung PUP ng topnotchers sa board exams. Ibig sabihin hindi talaga sagot sa kalidad ng edukasyon yung itataas mo yung tuition fee,” he added.

Daniela Yvonne Diaz, a 2nd Year BS Accountancy student, concurred that she is more than willing to endure PUP’s dilapidated chairs and missing lights for a degree from the university.

“Medyo mababa [yung quality ng facilities] compared sa ibang schools, maski sa ibang public schools. Pero magaling kasi magturo yung mga teachers, nakaka-encourage na kahit ito lang yung meron kami, makaka-excel kami,” Diaz said.

Diaz has one request, however.

“Sana mas maging malinis yung school, yung mga CRs, pati dingding, parang hindi masyadong maayos,” she said, laughing. — BM, GMA News