Stop subsidizing the rich at UP

Tuition Fees Per Year in Pesos (36 units, or for a year): Education for all, certainly, but charge the rich


The Manila Times, March 27, 2013

WHAT makes the suicide of University of the Philippines student Kristel Tejada so tragic is this:

While she got so despondent that her family couldn’t afford her tuition fees, the university has actually been subsidizing children of the Philippine elite.

The UP’s “full tuition” fee (imposed for students whose families ostensibly make P1 million or more a year) is P54,000 for 36 units, for a year’s maximum academic load. That’s a preposterous 5 percent of their income that they’re allocating for their son or daughter’s college education, really the best in the country.That’s peanuts for the rich, not even close to what they spend in the year eating out.

The populists and Leftists at UP would protest that this—or any tuition level actually—is too high for a state university. But this is a subsidized rate: There have been studies that the actual cost for UP’s quality college education would be three times that, about P150, 000.

That UP’s full tuition is a subsidized rate is reflected by the fact the Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle universities charge about P120,000 per year. Note that these schools have hundreds of millions of pesos in donations and endowment funds, which means that they have revenues other than tuition fees to recover their costs.

The tuition fee a rich student pays at the UP in fact is not too far from the P47,000 at the FEU, UE and similar colleges, whose quality of education is lower than the state university’s. Taxpayers are therefore subsidizing the highquality education of the children of country’s rich.

The UP—it is an academic institution, after all—should gather data to find out the extent of its subsidy of rich students. I do hope it can provide me with data to show the distribution of its students as to their families’ income levels, which it terms as “brackets”, from the highest A and B (P0.5 to P1 million annually, or P42,000 to P83,000 monthly) to the lowest E2 (P80,000 a year or less or P6,700 month).

I suspect that at least 50 percent and even as high 80 percent of UP students are from the richest strata of our society. If that’s the case, it’s a system that shames us: Why should taxpayers subsidize the education of the rich?

In the classes I took there, there were usually only three or four you’d easily conclude would be from poor families. A classmate who dressed poorly and had a thick Visayan accent, I would learn later had a sugar plantation in Iloilo. A professor friend of mine had rued the decline of activism in UP by remarking: “My students’ big issue is parking.”

For many UP students, the cost of their college education wouldn’t be more than the price of the car they’re using or what they spend for their yearly vacation abroad. Just look at any list of UP’s outstanding alumni: In one such list posted in the Internet, I couldn’t identify a single one I’m certain came from a poor family. Even children of many tycoons have studied and are studying in UP.

The major reason why UP students are mostly from the rich is because of its stiff entrance exams. Those who pass these exams are mostly from the best, and most expensive high schools, because the quality of our public school system has drastically deteriorated.

This hasn’t been the case in the past, probably up to the late 1960s and early 70s. In that era, students from public high schools such Florentino Torres in Tondo, Ramon Magsaysay in Cubao and Manila, Elpidio Quirino in Project 3,  Emilio Aguinaldo in that military camp could compete with the likes of Ateneo and La Salle.

No longer. Our public school system—which is the primary mechanism for a family’s crawling out of poverty – is so bad that more and more of its graduates are unable to even speak or write proper English, much less to think clearly. The OFW phenomenon has made things worse as the most capable teachers have gone abroad, working as domestic helpers as their salaries here haven’t risen in pace with inflation over the decades.

There is some empirical evidence for our public school’s alarming deterioration. In 2011, senior high school students in Cebu City’s public schools took the so­ called “Filipino Intelligence Test” (FIT) to determine if they had the verbal and mental skills necessary to enter college. Based on the average scores of the students, only three of the 63 public schools in Cebu City passed.

Kristel’s death shouldn’t just spark “soul­searching” for UP policy­makers. The brainpower of the academe should be mobilized to come up with data and studies for the most equitable and self­sustaining tuition system. Noisy students demanding for more funds from government for education might as well demand world peace and harmony. It just won’t happen, at least for generations.

The UP’s president, Alfredo Pascual, is supposed to be a finance and business wizard, the first such head of the university who doesn’t have a deep academic background. He should prove his expertise by reforming the university’s tuition system.

I have a few suggestions. The UP’s full tuition rates should reflect real costs of a college education. These could be doubled, from its P54, 000 yearly to P100,000, or the rates at the Ateneo and La Salle, and the rich would very well afford this. This would increase the UP’s revenues so that it would have more funds to subsidize its poorer students.

Another higher bracket should be set up. Students whose families earn P5 million or more— about P400,000 monthly— should be required to pay an annual tuition of P200,000. Preposterous? That’s just $4,894, a bargain compared to what they’ll spend if they study in a US university, which would cost $ 15,000 excluding room, board and other expenses.

While the UP’s socialized tuition and financial assistance program is a great one, its mechanisms should be revised from its present guideline that a student is rich until he proves he is poor. The UP’s procedure now is for a student to be put at the highest “A” level unless he applies to be classified into lower income brackets, in which the tuition is much lower or even free. But he has to present documents, including such things as the family’s Meralco and water bills.

It is a tedious process, in which a student could very well trip, as what happened to Kristel who didn’t submit on time the requirements for her re­ classification to the lowest bracket.

Practices in US universities — and even at the Ateneo for its financial aid programs— could be adopted instead of the UPs’ present system:

A student’s application to be classified into a lower bracket should be automatically approved. He would be required to submit only one document with his application: a notarized – i.e., public—document in which he and his parents swear that the annual income they claim is accurate. They would also declare in that document that they would not contest the expulsion of the student if it were found later on that their income declaration is untruthful. I would think that no parent would risk his child’s UP education by lying in this document.

As another check on the system though, rather than the costly process of checking each and every application, the UP could just undertake random checks on of the income level the students had declared. I’m sure that with all their sociologists and statisticians, the UP would be able to determine how many such random checks will be made to make sure the system is working.

Since it will be announced that that there will be such random checks, parents would most likely prefer to play it safe and be accurate in declaring their income levels.


After this article came out Congressman Roilo Golez and my former colleague in the Cabinet emailed me:

Sir: Please include another public school, Quirino High School of Project 3, Quezon City, that could during my time there and until now compete with the likes of Ateneo and La Salle for entrance to UP where I finished my MBA and three years of AB Political Science. My co alumni there were the likes of Patricia Aragon Sto. Tomas, Guillermo Parayno, Stella Suarez, Cornelio Padilla, Victor Manarang, etc. who all made it big in their respective fields. Thank you. Roy

I certainly agree, one of the best schools indeed at that time, and I’ve included Elpidio Quirino in this revised version of my Manila Times column.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Neal

    Sir, can you provide links to the studies that says that the actual cost of a UP education is about P 150000?

  2. ABNER

    “The major reason why UP students are mostly from the rich is because of its stiff entrance exams. Those who pass these exams are mostly from the best, and most expensive high schools, because the quality of our public school system has drastically deteriorated.”

    I never thought of this but it is true indeed. There’s a chain of causes why our college system end up to this. Stop the brain drain and retain the best teachers – the future of the country is really on their hand and in the whole family itself where no father or mother leave their children behind to earn meager amount of money in foreign land.

    I believe that Family and School are the two best foundations for a strong nation.

    More power po Ka Bert for such enlightening post.


    1. Rigoberto Tiglao

      I reallly hope that in order for us as a nation to come up with a solution, UP should make public how many students are in Bracket A (the richest who pay a tuition of P54,000 for an 18-unit year down to Bracket E2 (who are subsidized). If it turns out that majority are form the A or even B bracket, we have a big problem.

  3. Rigoberto Tiglao

    This was emailed to me ( by a reader:

    Yes, you are right about UP. 90% of the students are from the rich. Hope they do something about it.

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