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Yin and Yang

July 26, 2007

(Author’s note: This article was published as editorial)

Students in U-Belt stage a series of mass protest versus the unbriddled escalation of tuition fee.

Quality and accessibility – these are the yin and yang, the seemingly irreconcilable and usually miscomprehended dichotomy, of the Philippine education.Students in U-Belt stage a series of mass protest versus the unbriddled escalation of tuition fee.

Now that we are heading for tuition fee talks again, these words, which we’d rather call binary opposition, are almost associated with the most hated term tuition fee increase (TFI).

The first refers to the superiority in both form and substance of the kind of education that SCUs (schools, colleges and universities) must provide for their constituents; while the second refers to the openness of such education to students. On the other hand, quality education is often called a commodity, while accessibility is associated with money.

These two aspects are guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution. Article XIV, Section 1 of the Constitution states that: “The State shall protect and promote the rights of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”

Obviously, there exists a two-way purpose of the abovementioned provision. First, to protect and promote our rights to quality education; and second, to take appropriate steps to make such education accessible.

The intention of the framers of the charter is noble, that is, social justice. But history now tells us that that dichotomy in dispute – “quality and accessibility” –has become the root cause of the ‘tug of war’ between school administrators and students.

In order to translate this protection into action, the Congress enacted laws that would create the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS), now Department of Education (DepEd), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).

However militant students said these two regulatory and implementing bodies have not truly served the very purpose of the Constitution. The NUSP (National Union of Students in the Philippines) continuously condemns the CHEd for promulgating orders that only benefit school owners and seeks the abolition of the commission.

On the other hand, the CHEd maintains that it is still an indispensable instrumentality of the government in the promotion of quality education, in the exercise of its regulatory powers and in the assessment and the granting of licenses and status or privileges to SCUs.

We understand the gap between the concerns of school administrators and the deepening worries of the students. The administration always invokes quality education before considering the imposition of TFI, while the students adhere to their constitutional right to accessible education.

But sometimes, it cannot be denied that, at some point in time, school officials committed “lapse in judgment’ in its exercise of academic prerogatives. Take, for example, the 8.5 percent increase initially imposed by the University at the start of school year. It was immediately withdrawn after the Administration found out that it got the wrong figure, as increase in tuition should have been 7.6 percent.

Academic freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution. These essential freedoms, which have become part of the Philippine jurisprudence, carry with it four symbiotic aspects: (1) who may teach, (2) what may be taught, (3) how shall it be taught, (4) who may be admitted to study.

The imposition of school fees is part of the school’s academic freedom, and this freedom is what they call institutional academic freedom. That’s why according to the words of Chairman P.O. Domingo, the attainment of Level III accreditation status means academic freedom for the University, for it carries with it several privileges only enjoyed by SCUs with high level of accreditation.

“If you want quality, you must pay for it,” these were the words of a former education official.

But we believe that the very root cause of the problem is not the yearly imposition of school fees that usually leads to a dispute between school administrators and students.

It’s the government’s sluggish, apathetic and lethargic response to the problem. Basically, it’s the government’s duty, through its instrumentalities, to promote quality education and to make sure that it is accessible to all.

What happened to the House of Representatives’ legislative inquiries into the purported ‘mishandlings’ by the CHEd of some school matters? Were they able to define the terms “tuition fees” and “miscellaneous fees”? Were they able to correct the loopholes found in some statutes governing tuition fee increases like the GATSPE law?

But it seems that said inquiry was just another exercise in futility as the Congress is now on recess. That means we have to wait for the next session, that is, after the May elections.
On the part of some militant groups, they stress that education is a matter of right. No, it’s both a matter of right and privilege. One cannot assert that he has the right to be admitted to the University even if he has an empty pocket. This is because the University has the right to choose “who may be admitted to study.”

Education is everybody’s concern. That’s why we appeal to the Administration to give compassion and benevolent approach a chance in exercising its academic freedom.
The government, on the other hand, has the duty to make things easier for both sectors, by making education its top priority and by securing employment to citizens of this country. The government cannot just pass on the burden to SCUs and cannot just sit on the predicament of every family nowadays.

We believe quality and accessibility must go altogether, and they cannot be made at odds with each other.

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