By Beata Carolino
Updated and corrected 8:52 PM
Lines are nothing new to students from the University of the Philippines.
Dubbed as the University of Pila, an abundance of long, seemingly never-ending lines crowd UP offices especially during enrolment, with spirals of students lining up for an elusive subject, or falling into yet another maze for tuition payment.
But there is another line that dictates a student’s stay in the University – the lifeline of students who can’t afford to settle their semestral dues on time. It fills the otherwise empty corridors of Vinzons Hall with anxious faces, hoping they get called in before cut-off time.
This is the loan line.
No other option
John Morillo is a graduating student from the College of Science. Since freshman year, he has always been assigned under bracket E1 of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP).
Under the STFAP scheme, a student belongs to the E1 bracket if his family’s total yearly income ranges from P80,001 to P135,000.
Although students under Bracket E1 no longer have to pay for their tuition, John still seeks help for his other dues and expenses for the rest of the semester, such as class requirements and his daily allowance.
John recounts that loan lines are one of the longest during enrolment, with each application requiring very detailed information similar to the 13-page STFAP form.
Recently though, he says that getting a loan approved is a lot easier and faster. The Loan Board only asks for a copy of the student’s photo, Form 5 and a note from a guarantor, along with two valid IDs – nothing like an intense interrogation, John says.
However, the entire process becomes a headache just before the following semester.
The loan, along with a six percent interest, must be paid in full one month before finals week. If not, students will be tagged as ineligible in their Computerized Registration System (CRS) accounts, which will affect the otherwise smooth flow of their next enrolment.
Students are also not allowed to file a new loan unless the previous loan has been settled.
It did not help, either, when John was tagged as bracket B this semester after the delayed results of the second batch of STFAP applications, which were only released during the second day of the registration period.
At the cost of P1000 per unit, there is no way John can afford the tuition fee, with only his mother shouldering their daily expenses.
Thankfully, his real bracket appeared a day before the registration period ended.
This year, John shares that the loan line has become less brutal and a lot easier compared to the other years that he has lined up for it.
“Madali naman ang pila, kahit mahaba,” he said. “Parang yung pila ‘pag nagbabayad sa enrolment (The line moves fast, even though it is long. It’s like the line during payment in enrolment).”
Towards accessible education
On May 31, UP President Alfredo Pascual issued an executive order which allows the heads of various UP units to grant a bigger amount for student loan applications to ensure a more accessible education.
This was the result of the approval of the University’s policy, which says that “no qualified UP student shall be denied access to quality education due to financial incapacity.”
All chancellors were then authorized to approve loans to as much as 100 percent of assessed fees, and to grant appeals made to the Student Loan Board – but only on a “case-by-case basis.”
Prior to this order, students can only borrow 70 to 85 percent of their total assessed fees, leaving them still scrambling for resources to pay the remaining amount.
However, the six percent annual interest for loans still stands, and the sum must be settled by the second week of September.
According to Ma. Corazon Tan, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, the move to allow full loans may have come from the student uproar following KristelTejada’s death a few months back, as various groups lobbied for a more accessible UP.
Last March, Kristel Tejada, a UP Manila freshman, committed suicide allegedly because she was asked to file a leave of absence (LOA) due to her unsettled tuition and loan fees. Her death sparked various mobilizations from student groups, asking for the abolition of the “forced LOA” policy in UPM and other provisions in the Student Code.
Tan also said that there are currently a few provisions in the UP Code which are questionable, such as those which do not allow students to enter the University unless their fees are paid in full.
“It goes against the very essence of UP, especially [against] the financially disadvantaged sectors of the country,” Tan shares, saying that her office aims to fully revoke such provisions.
The Office of the Student Regent also said in a statement that the order was brought about by the pressure from the UP community to revise existing rules to best respond to the situation of students.
Even prior to Tejada’s death, the Office of Scholarships and Student Services (OSSS) proposed a new STFAP scheme which would ideally lessen the burden of applying for lower tuition fee rates.
Filed January 25, the 51-page proposal drafted by former OSSS Officer-in-Charge Richard Philip Gonzalo adjusts the measures for STFAP bracketing.
The original scheme assigns a student to a bracket based solely on his or her family’s annual gross income. The proposed revision will look into a student’s socio-economic classification, or one’s “means to afford the costs” of a UP education.
The proposed amendments also provide more benefits to students from lower brackets, giving monthly stipends, lodging, book and grade-based allowances on top of free or discounted tuition rates.
These reforms, however, remains on hold after the Board of Regents deferred voting on the matter in their April 12 meeting.
Not a debt sentence
While students lining up in enlistment and payment centers may go with luck alone, others can only dream of the accessible education UP promises to offer while waiting in the loan line.
John envisions a day where loans and STFAP lines no longer exist, and when the sole determinant of staying a UP student lies on passing the necessary exams.
While he is thankful for the new loan policy, John couldn’t simply shake off the burden of paying the loan later in the semester.
“Merong improvements [sa proseso ng loan], but the point is hindi na kasi dapat inuutang ang edukasyon,” he said. (There are improvements [in the loan process], but the point is that education should not be loaned).”