The so many questions after her death

There have always been those who have filled their bellies because they had no sense of shame, but we, who have nothing, apart from this last shred of undeserved dignity, let us at least show that we are still capable of fighting for what is rightfully ours.
-Saramago’s Blindness

The University of the Philippines freshman student who reportedly took her own life has been laid to rest, but issues surrounding her death should not find their way to the grave.

Whether or not her death is directly linked to financial constraints or poverty or UP’s execrable policies, the nation can greatly benefit if it looks into the problems of the education system with a mad and consistent attention that Filipinos usually reserve to showbiz.

Emergency

Sociologist Randy David wrote in his column (Public Lives) that he would like to help put up an emergency fund for UP students in dire need of financial help, indicating that fund-raising such as this shouldn’t be a problem especially since UP has a long list of prominent alumni. Anthropologist Mike Tan, in another column (Pinoy Kasi), challenged UP Manila to raise their intended emergency fund of 50,000- 100,000 pesos because in Professor Tan’s college alone, a single anonymous donor has given 150,000 pesos. In other news, Caritas Manila will open a 500,000 emergency fund for students with loan and financial needs, after the unfortunate suicide incident.
While I respect my former professors, David and Tan, as well as the Catholic Church, one question lingers in the mind: isn’t it the state’s function and responsibility to provide such funds, and greater funds at that? A hundred thousand pesos may sound like quite a sum, but really, this is just loose change. Prof. David did say, though, “I have always argued that the highest budgetary priority should be given to education” – yet a final call for specific action from the government seems to be missing in the conclusion.
Should we really start looking for donors?
Last month, I was interviewing the University of Sydney’s union president, who was criticizing the million dollar donations from private individuals and enterprise. I didn’t get at first why he was very critical of the $80 million dollar donations the University had received from more than 10,000 donors in just one year. Why would one be upset with such generosity?
The president said he is concerned about the privatization of education – passing on the responsibility of funding education to private individuals instead of campaigning for greater subsidy from the government.

Free education?

How exactly should education be funded by governments in the first place? Should it be free for all? Should the government subsidize the students’ tuition fees and school supplies?  Of course, the answer requires a long economic discourse, but here are some notes and a perspective on education funding:
The Philippine Daily Inquirer commented that the money allocated for Philippine education “is still sorely lacking to give every deserving Filipino… a chance at a decent education.”
Inquirer said the Secretary of Education himself has admitted that the education funds (only 2.3% of the GDP) remain way lower than UN recommended spending, which should be at least 6% of a country’s GDP.

Around the world, universities also face similar constraints in funding as they are being expected to be more self-sufficient year after year. In a time when global economies are in total wreck, those who have vicious interests won’t have a hard time seeing education as a business potential.

In fact, education has becoming a billion-dollar enterprise around the world as government funding decreases. In Australia, for instance, a number of universities  have to rely on full-fee paying international students for income generation. In 2010-2011 alone, international students brought in $16.3 billion, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Back to the University of the Philippines, UP has a mechanism supposed to help the poor: STFAP. In essence, students coming from poor families will be subsidized by those who can afford. A family’s financial income and assets determine the tuition fee that students should pay. Problem is, a number of experiences will tell that STFAP has always failed in correctly assigning brackets. Also, just a curious question, in this country ruled by the few elites, just how many can subsidize a bloating population of poor but deserving students?

Dear media, focus

These issues need to populate the minds of policymakers, the national media, classrooms, the social media, because education is one key element to social progress that government has long  been ignoring due to other invested interests that the state apparatuses have been successfully hiding.
International researches have demonstrated that higher adult literacy and numeracy skills lead to positive economic and social outcomes. Injecting funds to education, especially higher education, is investing on the nations’s mind to redress the ills of the society and address the limitations of humanity.
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I write for Sydney-based Campus Review and Education Review magazines, thus the so many comparisons with Australia.
Also, this blog post can only come up with more questions than solutions, but the very act of writing about it lifts a burden I’ve been carrying since Kristel’s passing. I do not know her, but I too was once a student of the University of the Philippines who was given a wrong STFAP bracket, and had to endure one of the most difficult times of my life.

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