It was P6,300, less than the cost of a pair of designer jeans or a nice meal for four.
It was the value of the life of a 16-year old UP freshman. It was the first semester tuition of Kristel Tejada, her ticket out of squalor, one she could not afford for which she took her life.
The tragedy of Kristel is not that it happened to an aspiring scholar but that it happens everyday. There are thousands of our young struggling to keep themselves in school, usually by selling themselves in that profession where only single names are used.
Kristel is the face of the wider conversation that needs to take place in our country on the role of the state in higher education. The central issue is quality vs. affordability: Quality education, worldwide, is expensive and now outside the reach of most. The cost of a U.S. Ivy League education has risen by 45 % over the last ten years, over twice the rate of inflation. Ateneo’s basic annual fee of about P155,000 is one tenth of an Ivy education of $40,000; but is still 50% higher than the country’s per capita income of P106,000.
In the Philippines we have state schools which are supported by the Government; and private schools where tuitions are unregulated but must be justified with the CHED (at least 70% of any increase must go to teaching and 20% to operating costs).
In 2012 the DepEd had a budget of P239 billion, almost twice that of the next highest, the DPWH. The money is for primary/secondary schooling which is rightfully the priority. State universities have a separate allocation of P26 billion of which about 40% goes to two universities alone, UP and Mindanao State University. This translates to P29,000 for each of the 900,000 enrolled but most of this goes to salaries (about 75%), administration and facilities with little left over for financial aid. The state must find other means to subsidize higher education. Here are some thoughts:
1. Enhance the student loan program- In the U.S. 80% of students are on some form of financial support (the average loan for a graduate is $31,000). In the Philippines, the SSS claims it has P7 billion in unavailed student loans which suggests its conditions are too stringent, the paperwork too daunting or the cost too high. Banks are reluctant to extend student financing because of the high default rate (up to 19% in the U.S.).
To spur private sector student lending, the Government should consider a guarantee facility similar to what is available for housing. At the same time banks should be “encouraged” to finance education (as it does with agriculture) with, say, tax credits for the expected losses.
2. Increase scholarships- Student loans can only be part of the solution because of the underlying burden. What is needed are more private grants and endowments. Following the user rule, there might be an education tax on (big) business. Since corporates are the principal beneficiary of better education, they should arguably shoulder the cost of higher learning in the way the sin tax will fund health care.
3. Mandate that a percentage of all pork barrel go to student support- The P196 million that three Senators blew on two bogus NGOs could have funded 31,111 Kristel scholarships.
4. Promote private sector participation- Get corporates to adopt public high schools in exchange, say, for naming rights. This should free up funds for higher education.
5. Impose a scholarship quota in private universities- Private education is a lucrative business (some universities are publicly listed). The quota could be based on “profits” and should be part of any justification for higher tuition fees.
6. Streamline the DepEd and pass the savings to state schools- The corruption in the DepEd is said to be worst than at the DPWH, Customs or BIR. A 10% department savings would release P24 billion, thereby doubling the possible support for state universities. At the same time the hundreds of state colleges should be rationalized to improve productivity and quality.
7. Mandate community work for subsidized students e.g. teaching after graduation- This will increase the size and quality of the teacher pool.
1. The state must increase its investment in higher education. It is what drives the economy, redistributes income, and enhances social mobility. Jobs, housing and healthcare are important but it all starts with learning.
2. Education should be the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.
3. Student financing should be transparent, accessible and affordable. There should be an institutional framework to increase financial aid.
4. The private sector should be “motivated” to fund educational endowments and scholarships.
5. Beneficiaries should give back to the community.
The poor have a right to the bounty of this nation and the only path is education. This is Kristel’s message and if it gets us to do something about it, she would not have died in vain.