UP denies reports tuition fees are waived

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 13) — The University of the Philippines (UP) has denied reports it waived  tuition and other fees for the coming semester.

UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan said the university is suspending collections for the time being, as it waits to see how many students will be covered by the government's free tuition program.

"We will still collect fees eventually," Tan told CNN Philippines on Thursday. "But we do not want to collect fees right now because we don't want to end up having to refund or worse, to ask people to pay additional fees."

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) allotted UP Diliman — the flagship university of the UP system — ₱183 million to grant free tuition to its students.

But Tan pointed out that budget will not be enough to cover all students in need of financial assistance, much less all undergraduate students of UP. Last semester, UP collected ₱1 billion in tuition.

Moreover, the CHED funding only covers tuition. Qualified applicants will still have to pay miscellaneous fees, he added.

The application process for CHED assistance is ongoing until Sunday, July 16. Only then will the UP administration know how many students are qualified for financial assistance and, more importantly, how far CHED's budget will go.

"If the ₱183 million is not enough, then we have to look for ways to supplement this amount. We will ask from the Budget department," Tan said.

New complications

CHED and the Department of Budget and Management released guidelines in April regarding the grant of free tuition in all state universities and colleges (SUC).

With limited funding, it states that an SUC must "give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students." It sets conditions for how free tuition slots can be prioritized. Graduating students, regardless of their household income, get top priority. They're followed by non-graduating students listed in government assistance programs.

"The guidelines are complex and UP also has a complex system," Tan said.

The university has its own Socialized Tuition System (STS), and students are only allowed to apply either to that or the CHED program. For the poorest students, the STS waives all fees and provides allowances as well.

Further complicating issues is a new bill in Congress that also seeks to grant free tuition in SUCs. However, its rules are different from the CHED and DBM guidelines.

For one, the bill creates an opt-out system — students will have to ask to not receive free tuition. The bill also covers both tuition and miscellaneous fees.

Tan said most universities started their enrollment process in summer when only the CHED and DBM guidelines had to be considered. But with UP's enrollment still ongoing, officials are keeping an eye out for the bill which is already awaiting approval from President Rodrigo Duterte.

Student views

Full-paying UP students threw their support behind the university's decision.

"There are so many students who want to study but can't afford to. UP can't support all students, so those who have the means to pay tuition should do so," said Claire Tabac, a fourth-year Broadcast Communication student.

Psychology junior Nina Ventura added: "Even at full tuition of ₱1,500 per unit, UP's tuition is already much cheaper than other universities. For my parents, they're happy to pay that amount, especially given the quality of education we're getting."

Kim Sinchioco, a third-year Community Development student, was critical of the financial assistance programs. Sinchioco is planning to apply to either CHED or STS but said they both require students to submit documentation like income tax returns.

"So many students who are in financial need might not have the proper documents. What if their parents are working informal jobs? If they can't submit the paperwork, they don't qualify for the programs, and they still end up paying full tuition," he said.

Sinchioco said as education is a right and not a privilege; the government should provide the necessary funds to make sure everyone could study.