Short-notice F2F classes sends UP students scrambling for dorms

Johnnen Manalang, an incoming fourth-year Applied Physics student at UP Diliman (UPD), was relieved when the university finally announced that the university will shift to blended learning, after two years of attending online classes in her home at Nueva Ecija amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mahirap iyong setup kasi especially sa amin, marami kaming lab classes. Dahil sa pandemic, na-rob kami ng opportunity and experience kung papaano talaga gawin iyong mga ginagawa namin sa lab,” she said.

In a memorandum dated June 20 and only made public on July 9, the university declared that it is shifting to three blended learning setups with varying levels of in-person participation for the first semester of A.Y. 2022 to 2023, which starts Sept. 5. 

These learning setups include:  

  • blended online learning, or fully online classes;
  • blended block learning, or a combination of independent online study with intensive face-to-face sessions (i.e. laboratory classes); and 
  • classic blended learning or a rotation of in-person sessions (i.e. guided practice and group work) and asynchronous online learning.

With less than a week left before UPD reopens its gates for limited face-to-face classes in the next semester, students like Manalang face uncertainty with where they would stay in or near UPD as they compete for limited dorm slots.

“Maganda sana naging face-to-face na kasi ang hirap talaga ng online classes, pero ang hirap naman mag-shift ngayon dahil ang dami kong inaalala,” Manalang told TNP.

Race against time

UP lets academic units decide on the form of blended learning they will adopt in the coming semester. But at least one in four UPD students surveyed by Rise for Education Alliance – UP Diliman was unaware of all their classes’ setups for next semester’s blended learning. 

Other concerns among the respondents include the lack of clear guidelines for the implementation of the blended learning setup. The online survey was conducted on 1,532 students between Aug. 8 to Aug. 14.

In Manalang’s case, she learned that two of her classes will be conducting face-to-face classes only during the first pre-enlistment round on Aug. 8, giving her less than a month to find accommodation.

Manalang, a former dormer at Kalayaan Hall, had secured all the necessary documents for application as early as Aug. 3, such as her parents’ latest Income Tax Return and certificate of employment

However, she found out that the results of the dormitory application will only be out on Sept. 2, three days before the start of classes.The application period ran from Aug. 22 to Aug. 26. 

Maganda sana talaga mag-dorm sa UP kasi secured, mababa lang iyong fees, [pero] since sobrang tagal ng mag-decide [ng admin], kailangan ko maghanap ng alternative sa labas.” she said.

In an email sent to TNP on Aug. 30, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Loujaye Sonido explained that the short application period is due to a limited number of people working in the UP Computer Center, which updates the DormApp, the university’s online portal for dorm application.

“Still, we announced this early so that students can prepare their documents and requirements ahead of the application period. In the past, dorm results were often released toward if not on the first day of registration,” Sonido said.

Sonido added that the university is aware of the average demand for dormitory slots. “We have fortunately been able to track dorm application data/demand for years since we have DormApp,” she added.

Lack of affordable student housing

The competition for UP dorm slots is also expected to be tighter this year than in previous years as dorms will be operating at partial capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions. According to the OVCSA memorandum, dorms with ensuite restrooms will operate at 30 to 60% capacity, while dorms with shared restrooms will be at 50% capacity.

Office of Student Housing Officer-in-Charge Sarah Tajonera said there were 2,163 dorm applicants this year, but only 881 available slots can be given to students, excluding Kamia and Molave dormitories, which will serve as transient houses for students. This means that three in five dorm applications were rejected this semester.

Unfortunately, Manalang was one of the dorm applicants who did not make the cut this year. 

Manalang said she had difficulty finding other places to stay in Quezon City. With most universities also holding face-to-face classes, most of the places she found online were already full or had no available slots for student dormers like her.

Kung two days lang may pasok [face-to-face], hindi siya practical,” she said. “Kailangang may [plan B] hanggang kahit saan para lang maging handa kami,” she added.

Having no assurance of a dormitory slot is also a big challenge for Geuel Quizon, an incoming senior student from the College of Science. Currently living in his hometown in Albay, Quizon prefers a face-to-face setup, as frequent typhoons and power interruptions have disadvantaged him in the last two years of online schooling. 

Quizon is also a former dormer at Kalayaan Hall before the pandemic, and he wanted to apply again because of the dorm’s affordability and security. But unlike Manalang, he did not want to gamble waiting for the dorm application result as the school opening draws near.

Sobrang magigipit na kami sa oras, paano na lang iyong mga walang plan B? Paano kung hindi ako matatanggap tapos pasukan na? Lalo na hindi full capacity iyong mga dorm, hindi lahat mabibigyan,” he said.

He wanted to exhaust all his means to find affordable and efficient housing outside UPD just to make it before the opening of classes. Quizon said he would be willing to cough up P5,000 every month for housing, in sharp contrast to paying P500 a month when he stayed in the Kalayaan Hall during his freshman year.

Worst case scenario, sa pasukan na lang ako maghahanap ng bahay or makikitira muna ako sa friends ko habang naghahanap,” he said.

‘No sense of urgency’

OSH said it is possible to have additional slots in the next few months if the community transmission of COVID-19 remains low.

The OVCSA also said they are working on increasing slots in UPD’s eight campus dormitories. However, health and safety during the pandemic are still the university’s main priority. 

“We have to work within the guidelines imposed by higher offices. We do not want to provide dorm spaces only to jeopardize the health and wellness of stayers. The return to full capacity must be done gradually and safely,” Sonido said.

University Student Council Chairperson Latrell Felix argued that the dorm process could have been much earlier to give students more time to make arrangements for their accommodation. 

Walang sense of urgency ang nangyari kaya tayong mga student nangangarag na kung papaano na ba tayo next semester. Kung prepared naman ang ating university, bakit ang bagal natin sa pagbaba ng policies?” she said.

The USC chair also said the university did not consult them in the dorm application this year and emphasized that accessible student housing is necessary for students’ transition to blended learning.

“Dormitory should be accessible and a right for the students. Dapat ginagawang accessible talaga iyong mga housing services natin at hindi na dapat nagkakaroon ng any additional fees,” she said. 

For Manalang, there should have been proper and earlier consultation with the students about the university’s transition to blended learning next semester to know their needs.

May mga townhall meetings naman na nangyari pero I think medyo late na yon ginanap. Kasi most of the things na ina-announce nila, in my opinion, ay fixed na… napagdesisyonan na,” she said.

Quizon said UP should have concrete plans in its proposition to have limited face-to-face classes in the next academic year considering that the university went online for two years.

“Paano kaming mga nasa malalayong lugar pa, papaano kami maghahanda kung ilang linggo na lang pasukan na tapos ganito pala,” Quizon said.