Albert Francis E. Domingo, MD

my flight of ideas

UPCM Tuition Adjustment: Process vs. Content

Posted on | March 22, 2005 | No Comments

THE CONTENT

The UP College of Medicine (UPCM) is in dire need of funding. To date, its facilities are maintained by philanthropists in the persons of grateful alumni and friends. Without their financial support, a lot of our rooms would be severely dilapidated by now. Add to this situation the fear that Maintenance, Operation, and Other Expenses (MOOE) are increasing, with the corresponding funding dwindling allegedly because of a Department of Budget and Management (DBM) pronouncement that calls for the reduction to zero of MOOE for the University of the Philippines.

The above picture is being painted by the UPCM administration in its hopes of increasing Tuition and other Fees charged from students. This Tuition Fee (sic) Adjustment (TFA), as it is fondly called, is now a concept being contemplated by a Task force committee on Cost of UP Medical Education and Tuition Fee Adjustment, or simply put – Task Force TFA. There are several concepts that bother me, however, on the manner by which the proposal is being handled and furthered by the Task Force.
In a recent meeting, faculty members of the Task Force were rather persistent on “moving forward” and discussing options by which a TFA may be implemented in the UPCM. To date, our total matriculation at the said institution amounts to PHP 11,529.50 per semester. The Task Force members presented four Options for Tuition Adjustment:

1) Increase matriculation to P12,500 per semester for the 1st year (8% increase) and then build in a 5% increase per year thereafter. When the presenter was asked for how long will the 5% annual increase prevail, his one-word reply was this: “forever”. As to why it shall be eternally increasing, he rationalized by saying that so long as there is inflation (which is yearly), there should always be an increase in tuition;

2) In addition to number 1, library and laboratory fees are to be raised;

3) Increase matriculation to P25,000 per semester for the 1st year (117% increase, figure based on the devaluation of the Philippine peso from 1992 to 2005) and then build in a 5% increase per year thereafter. Duration of this 5% annual increase? Forever also; or

4) Increase matriculation to “market rates”, which averages from P60,000-80,000 per semester based on private medical school fees (420-594% increase).

THE PROCESS

As a representative of the UP Medicine Student Council (MSC), I strongly protested to the continuation of the discussion, because I was quite surprised that our Resolution #0405-003 that is formally opposing the TFA has apparently been set aside. Had they heeded it, then presumably the meeting would not explore “Options for Tuition Adjustment”.

This maneuver of mine earned the ire of not just one doctor-administrator. Several of them were already raising their voices at me, putting the blame on me for not attending two prior meetings that they had wherein our resolution was allegedly discussed. I admit to my absences, because these meetings were called at the height of our examination periods. Nevertheless, I have yet to see the minutes of these meetings, because whatever their treatment of our resolution was, the agenda’s advancement into options for tuition adjustment says a lot.

At that point in time I was continually thinking: Personally, I was in favor of a minimal increase in tuition and/or other fees. Yes, I do understand the precarious situation that the UPCM is in. However, as a student leader it fell upon me to carry the majority opinion of my constituents that has been ascertained via a referendum – and that is opposition to any TFA. Hence, my posturing.

The UPCM administration, in my opinion, sees me as the embodiment of opposition to the TFA. They are quite accurate in their observation, but what they are missing is the reason behind my advocacy.

CHECKLIST TO BE CONSIDERED

That being the case, there were questions left unanswered or vaguely responded to. Important questions were thrown onto the floor and not sufficiently caught; queries such as the following are definitely in need of replies before any TFA should be pursued:

Is the basis for the administration’s hardcore thrust into a TFA process meritorious enough? What are the documents to prove such?

Again, the content being pushed – which is the UPCM’s dire need of funds – is not being objected to. But the instruments used to symbolize such a need, like the alleged DBM pronouncement of MOOE fund reduction, are questionable! For this particular DBM reason, the General Appropriations Act of 2005 actually entails a P57 Million increase for the University’s MOOE funding, contrary to the UPCM’s.

Neither can the UPCM administration’s claims of subtotal disbursement by the DBM hold water. Former UP President Francisco Nemenzo, in his valedictory address “A Fond Farewell to a Beloved University”, asserts otherwise: “Thanks to incumbent Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin and her predecessor, Secretary Benjamin Diokno, DBM has been releasing 98 to 100 percent of the annual UP budget. That is far more than what we were getting before.”

Can the student body of UPCM – present and future – absorb such increases with ease and without adversely affecting their daily lives?

This is controversial.

There is one Task Force member who in her conviction raised her voice to the incoming MSC Chair, ranting something like “Why do students keep on opposing a TFA? Why do you not want to help the College? Kayo na lamang ang sektor na hindi nagbibigay.” Add to that their evaluation that the majority of UPCM students are rich kids, sons and daughters of millionaires with extra cash to burn.

Yes, the current demographics of the UPCM student body may indicate that a lot can afford a TFA (but even this is questionable). But has the administration ever considered the lineage of these students? A lot of them have enrollment privileges, by virtue of their father or mother who works as a faculty member of the UPCM. A TFA may not affect them (or get the desired effect of getting more from their wallets) because they are shielded by a UP employee’s benefits regarding his/her child’s enrollment. Even with that in mind, let us not discount the fact that not all UPCM faculty and their families are well-off.

And what about the future? The financial capacity of UPCM’s student body is not constant and can radically change, unless the UPCM Admissions Committee will make it an institutional policy to admit only those who can afford the TFA. Being a State Institution of Higher Learning, it is inherent upon UP to provide accessible education to the average Filipino.

In the UPCM’s case, the mission-vision “Community-Oriented Medical Education directed towards the underserved” should be reposted in the hearts and minds of those wanting a TFA. How can we train more doctors-to-be who shall return to serve in Philippine communities, when we shall be giving them more reason through a TFA to abandon a life of self-sacrifice and service in favor of a high-paying private practice to recover money spent during one’s stay in the UPCM?

Is the Task Force practicing democratic consultation and transparency in its handling of the TFA matter?

This is arguable, both for and against. But in the case of the students, I believe it is more towards the against.

Even as the MSC waited for two weeks to consult its constituents and subsequently resolve towards a position, the Task Force Chair is not slow at discrediting the process by which MSC Resolution #0405-003 opposing any tuition or other fee increases was arrived at. We have in our files handwritten notes with student opinions from the UPCM Classes of 2011, 2010, and 2008. The Classes of 2009 and 2007 responded only partially, while the Clerks and Interns (2006 and 2005) could not be immediately consulted due to their hospital duties.

The majority feedback that we received is that of opposition to the TFI/TFA. We stand by the voice of the students of UPCM. The Task Force, however, is insistent on listening to individuals who are pro-TFA during Task Force meetings, giving them ample time to justify a tuition increase. However, when it is the turn of student public officials who are opposed (such as myself), certain faculty Task Force members will point at me indiscriminately and require me to cut my piece and “get to the point in one to two sentences”.

Ordinarily such blatant biases would be insignificant, but it is known that the UPCM administration will definitely use the minutes of the Task Force meetings (and the individual student voices who are pro-TFA) to substantiate claims towards democratic consultation. Hence, I openly declared that a majority of the UPCM students are against a TFA, and opposition has been manifested as early as the level of the Task Force.

Will increases in matriculation of UPCM students automatically return to the UPCM, or will these funds just be used elsewhere in the UP System?

Perhaps this is the most revealing question of all. Granted for the sake of argument that a TFA is implemented, will the additional funds extracted from student wallets indeed return – 100% – to the UPCM for the College’s fiscal concerns?

The glaring answer of the administrative staff Task Force member: It cannot be guaranteed 100% that increases in tuition will go back to the UPCM. Tuition, once collected, is forwarded to the University System for appropriation to all seven Constituent Units – UP Diliman, UP Manila, UP Los BaƱos, UP Baguio, UP Visayas, UP Mindanao, and UP Open University. A med student’s tuition can in theory be used to construct a bathroom in UP Mindanao, depending on the prioritization of the University System.

The same administrative staff Task Force member elaborated that “there are no guarantees in this world”, that even if the UPCM would increase its tuition to P50,000 per semester, the funds may still be channeled elsewhere and henceforth the poor College will still remain like that – poor.

CONSTRUCTIVE OPPOSITION

Contrary to misconception, we students are not resigning ourselves to senseless protests and stubborn opposition. What boggles us is the UPCM administration’s cynical loss of faith and hope in other remedies that were proposed by the UPCM students themselves:

a) lobbying for a higher State Subsidy using hard evidence and proper channeling;

b) enactment of a New UP Charter that will allow the University to productively utilize its idle assets not for profit but for added income to finance academic needs; and

c) exploration of the value of a Return of Service (ROS) agreement for UPCM graduates, to assure the government that increased funding for the institution would be worth every centavo returned by manner of health services for the Filipino people.

What bothers me now is a statement I heard also from the same Task Force meeting I attended – that the Task Force need not answer questions by the students; that it can proceed to complete its task to fix the groundwork for a TFA even in the light of strong opposition from the students. Let us see what shall happen in the next few months – or even weeks (they can’t give a fixed timetable).

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