The University of the Philippines being the premier state university of the country gives premium to the principle that education is a fundamental right and as such enshrined in its university code system, the right of every student to have access to education without prejudice to and against with his/her socio-economic stature. The university exists on government subsidy, part of which gives students’ tuition. The UP students therefore is popularly referred to as “Iskolar ng Bayan” on the assumption that government subsidy makes him/her a government scholar on that public money bankrolls his/her college education. In principle, this is true to form without a concept that education is a fundamental right. Over the years however this has been serviced through the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) which the student body had time and again vehemently opposed arguing that the scheme is anti-poor.
The effectivity of the STFAP to address the plight of students to avail themselves with a UP student has always been contested by the student body in the 25 years since the introduction of the socialized student tuition fee scheme. Representation of this argument has always been consistent with every student regent that has sat in the board of regents over the year. This year, there emerged yet another strong clamor from the student to scrap the STFAP after the tragic suicide of Kristel Tejada due to problems with her financial incapability to settle her student loan. The tuition scheme’s promise to equitably aid students through college is once again pointed out by the student body as a form of social injustice.
The students however remain hopeful that their arguments for the abolition of STFAP and rollback to flatrate tuition scheme will eventually be heard by the Board of Regents through their student representative. The Board of Regents is the body that makes policies for the entire UP system through its representatives from the different sectors of the university community.
The concept of academic freedom and the principle of education as a right constitute the thrust of the university as an academic institution. To uphold this thrust, policies have to remain faithful to and consistent with it. We therefore can fully understand this concept and principle as the academic institution’s culture of thought and practice.
Anthropologists had viewed culture in two paradigms. One proposes that culture is practiced by a homogeneous group of people that defines concepts or the entire group as bounded by time and space. The newer paradigm on the other hand asserts that culture is dynamic and is practiced by a heterogeneous composition and is in a constant flow of redefinition and contestation. The first paradigm points to a dominant group that asserts its interpretation of reality unquestioned by virtue of its accepted consensual sense of truth through its legitimization in society’s institutions such as the law. The second paradigm emphasizes the continuous process of challenging key concepts of culture by different groups trying and negotiating its understanding of reality.
The Board of Regents on November 28 railroaded its policy to uphold the STFAP and come up with a rewording of the UP Code System via the articles concerning student loans and tuition fees supposedly to address the issue of education as a right in response to the tragic death of Kristel Tejada. This it did even in the absence of some of its members in the BOR including the Student Regent. Clearly a violation of the UP Charter, the Board of Regents in particularly in the persons of President Pascual and Licuanan went ahead to pass a policy insensitive to the concerns, problems and interests of the entire student body. We can glean from this case or scenario the workings of the first paradigm of culture where decisions in the definition of key terms affecting the interest of a group or institution is being tackled only by a select few, in this instance the appointees of the President Ninoy Aquino: Pascual and Licuanan. Pascual and Licuanan draw on PNoy’s administration thrust for the university which is to commercialize state universities and to raise proceeds from it. This is understandably saw because both an appointees of the President Aquino. It is clear in this scenario that policy-making is made from the top down to the exclusion of other groups’ interests such as that of the student body. This is an illustration of the old anthropological old definition of culture. The escalating clamor among students to fight for their right to education and have their representation equally heard by and have their rightful position in the BOR is and should be the ideal scenario for the new definition of culture. In the end, it should be understood that UP as a community is comprised of different groups and interests whose existence in the community are supposed to be premise on the principle of academic freedom and the right to education. Academic freedom as a culture of practice takes into account all the differing argument for the definition of key concepts integral to the community’s existence and allows an environment that opens up to the flow of contestation necessary to the dynamic definition of culture.