Text by Godwin Noel Manalo and Anna Kristal Tagunicar
With less than a week before the opening of classes, UP College of Law students urged the university to freeze the collection of tuition fees this semester as they double down on shouldering the costs of remote learning.
Law students have been excluded from the benefits of RA 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act since its implementation in 2017. The law only provides free education to students pursuing undergraduate degrees.
The Order of the Purple Feather (OPF), the highest honor society of the UP College of Law, conducted a survey in August among 77 law students and found that 19 would have problems with paying school fees this semester.
More than half of students surveyed said they have unstable access to the internet.
One of the struggling law students is incoming sophomore Lui Millares. He has been striving to provide for his family’s needs while finding ways to pay for his tuition this semester. This has made him consider putting his law school dreams on hold to make ends meet for his family.
Since the lockdown, he has had to assume the breadwinner role of the family by taking up part-time jobs after his mother hung her coat as a doctor due to old age and existing medical conditions.
“Naisip ko na if mag [Leave of Absence] kaya muna ako to help our family more or di kaya ituloy ko na din mag-aral kasi sayang din,” he said.
With two siblings also attending online classes this year, he said that he is nowhere near ready for the upcoming semester.
As of writing, UP Law students pay school fees estimated at P26,000 per semester.
These fees, Millares said, could have been better allotted for buying his mom’s medicine, paying their bills, and providing food for his family instead.
To subsidize his law school expenses, Millares plans to apply for the Student Learning Assistance System (SLAS or formerly Student Financial Assistance) once the application forms are released. The SLAS includes tuition grants, living allowance, and other forms of financial aid.
In 2018, more than a thousand undergraduate students were excluded from the benefits of free tuition. This percentage does not include those who are under the graduate programs. (Read more: Higit 1,000 mag-aaral sa UPD, walang libreng matrikula)
No Student Left Behind
The OPF wrote a letter to University President Danilo Concepcion August 26 urging the university to waive the collection of school fees.
The shift to online classes will be a big struggle as students have to pay additional fees for electricity, internet connection, and electronic devices, read the letter.
Since the university will not be using facilities due to the suspension of face-to-face classes, they stated that the funding should be reallocated for covering waived fees instead.
“UP students, through the Student Regent, have been calling for safe, free, accessible, and quality education,” OPF Chancellor Jerome Joker Dela Cruz said.
“We want to add our voice in the campaign. We also want particular attention be given to school fees because while the same tuition system is imposed on law students, we do not enjoy the benefits of Republic Act 10931.”
The UP Law Student Government (LSG), along with the support of other UP law-based organizations, echoed the calls for suspending the collection of fees through a similar letter addressed to Concepcion on Sept. 2.
“The physical facilities provided by the University to aid students in their studies will largely be unavailable for students for the coming academic year,” read the letter.
“It will be the students themselves who will shoulder the costs necessary to keep up with remote learning, in addition to school fees should they be charged this academic year.”
With registration for graduate students starting Sept. 7, the university has yet to respond to these appeals.
Under the wide protests against the opening of classes, the collection of school fees has become a major concern that many students like Millares will have to struggle through to adapt to the sudden shift to remote learning.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article indicated that law students are graduate students. A Bachelor of Laws degree in UP Diliman is considered an undergraduate degree.