Students' Critique of CHED Memo Order 14

 

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Prepared by the National Executive Board
National Union of Students of the Philippines
May 2006>

I. Introduction

CHED Memo Order 14 (CMO 14), entitled “Guidelines and Procedures to be observed by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) intending to increase Tuition and Other School Fees and introduce New Fees” is the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) response to the growing resistance of Filipinos over increasing tuition and other fees, which render access to education more difficult during these times of economic hardship and crisis. It has the following features, according to CHED:

1. it covers not only tuition but “other school fee” increases including “new fees”;

2. allowable increase in both tuition and other fees less than or equivalent to the prevailing year’s inflation rates, shall not be subjected to consultations;

3. increase of tuition and other fees over the prevailing year’s average inflation rate shall require a consultation process with the concerned sectoral representatives;

4. New fees shall be for actual specific student services rendered as may be identified by the school authorities and certified by the recognized student council and faculty association;

5. Submission of a Certificate of Agreement signed by the duly authorized representatives of the HEI’s Administration, Student Councils/Governments, Faculty, Alumni and/or non-teaching permanent associations whenever applicable in cases that application of new fees are initiated and agreed upon by the students;

6. The recognized student publication should be allowed to cover the consultation;

7. The Higher Education Institutions shall submit all annual report on increases in other fees and as to how they were utilized;

8. Organization of the Task Force on Tuition and Other School Fees at the Regional levels, in lieu of the Multi-Sectoral Committee on Tuition Fees;

9. For applications referred by the CHED Regional Offices to the Regional Task Force on Tuition and Other School Fees, the CHEDROs shall enclose the application with its recommendation to the Executive Director within 30 days upon resolution by the Task Force but in no case later than April 15 of the year the intended increase shall be implemented.

CMO 14 is the revised guidelines of the previous CHED Memo Order 13 series of 1998 underlining the procedures for schools intending to increase tuition. However, CMO 13 proved to be ineffective in tuition increase as private schools evaded the memorandum through institution of new fees and circumvention of the consultation process.

The National Union of Students of the Philippines, along with other youth and student organizations and student councils, organized protest actions and pressed upon reforms in the regulation of school fees. Hence, on 9 May 2005, CHED adopted CMO 14. However, the struggle for accessible education in the country remains as the new memo order, in fact, aggravated the school fee increases and leaves much to be desired by the Filipino people.

II. Inability of CMO 14 to regulate spiraling school fee increase

CHED responded to the exposé of the students that schools evaded the consultation process of CMO 13 by increasing other school fees or creating new ones, but not the tuition fee. Hence, CMO 14 covered “increase in tuition and other school fee charges, including new fee charges of Higher Education Institutions” as stated in Article 1, Section 1. Other school fees are defined in the memo as:

“Charges in addition to tuition that are collected for a specific purpose or service, as may be identified by the school authorities such as medical and dental, athletic, audio-visual, guidance, insurance, laboratory fee, laboratory deposit, library, student organization, internet, school publication, energy, developmental, related learning experience, study tours, miscellaneous, etc.” (Article 2, Section 6)

A. Pegging tuition and other school fee increases to the inflation rate

While laudable in its inclusion of other school fees, CMO 14, however, introduced the concept of pegging tuition and other fee increases to the prevailing national inflation rate (NIR). Erroneously, it propagated that “(t)he allowable increase in tuition and other fees should be not more than the prevailing national inflation rate. Increases in tuition and other fees over and above the national inflation rate shall be subject to consultation with stockholders and approval of the Commission on Higher Education.” (Article 3, Sec 8) Thus, false connotation of CMO 14 as a “tuition cap” proliferated.

CMO 14, in fact, is far from being a tuition cap. It implicitly defined the consultation with constituents as the regulatory mechanism for the schools proposing fee increase beyond the NIR. However, the consultation process itself sides with the school administration, as experienced in the past CMO. This will be discussed in further detail later.

CHED explicitly provided exemptions for consultations in Article 3, Sec 10, and they are as follows:

“Consultations shall not be required for the following:

a. The rate of increases in tuition and other school fees is less than or equal to the rate of the prevailing year’s national inflation rate as determined by the National Economic Development Program.

b. Tuition for incoming freshmen. However, any increase shall be based on prevailing national inflation rate.”

CHED employed a false sense of logic for using the prevailing inflation rate as an index to the rate of tuition and other fees. By allowing increases without student consultations, the CHED institutionalized annual increases in tuition, other fees and new fees as students are stricken off their role to confront these increases through student consultations. There must always be student consultations regardless of how small or big the rate of increases will be.

CHED, itself, took off its regulatory function in CMO 14 because of the consultation exemption based on the NIR. CHED Regional Offices (CHEDRO) would only need to check the documentary requirements (article 5, sec 13, except letter b) of schools proposing within the NIR. Hence, the schools shall only wait for ministerial confirmation of their fee proposals.

The basic point is that, at these times of increasing prices of consumer goods and utilities, an increase in school fees, even though within the inflation rate, is already an injustice to students and parents alike. Access to quality education, thus, becomes narrower to the Filipino people.

B. Ladderized tuition increase

The mechanism of increasing tuition only to incoming first year students is called ladderized tuition increase. This mechanism has been used by school owners to circumvent the CMO 13 before. Student leaders exposed this deceiving means as a way for schools to increase tuition without consultation with the sectors involved.

Thus, it was even more appalling when CMO 14 legitimized this mechanism and got away with the democratic process of consultations. Through the ladderized scheme, school owners belittled the social concern of students for they mistakenly see the students as customers with only personal interests to look over to.

Student councils and leaders argue that they are still an involved sector although they will not be directly affected by the tuition increase. Future students and youth are reduced of their opportunities to enter tertiary education because of increase in their tuition. Hence, again, access to education becomes narrower because of this scheme.

III. Faulty consultation process

As earlier discussed, the consultation process was implicitly connoted as the regulatory mechanism for school fee increases. However, upon analysis of CMO14 and actual experiences of consultations, the process generally, is a sham.

Article 3, Sec 11 stipulates the manner of the consultation process, and it includes participation of the student publication to cover the consultation (sec 11.6), posting of notices at conspicuous places at least 30 days before the actual consultation (sec 11.2), and accessibility of the latest audited financial statements and tuition utilization upon request of the authorized representatives of the sectors (sec 11.5).

However, participation of the students and other sectors are reduced. Sec 11.4 stated that:

“Consultation should be done with legitimate and authorized representatives from the recognized:

a.) supreme student councils/governments;
b.) faculty unions;
c.) non-teaching personnel associations and/or
d.) alumni associations.

Each sector will be allowed at most three representatives. In the absence of a student council/government in an HEI, the student organizations and societies recognized by the HEI shall select not more than three representative who will participate in the consultation.” (emphasis added)

Consultations with the students must not be limited to the student councils/governments. Open and public assemblies must be conducted by the school to ensure accountability and maximum participation of the students.

Opposition to school fee increase proposals has no place in the consultations. In fact, some say that consultations are just “sermons at the mount” or plain information dissemination. Expression of dissent is reduced to refusal to sign attendance sheets, as stipulated in Article 5, Sec 13:

a.) “Certificate of Conduct Consultation (CCC) duly notarized containing the following information:

1. tuition utilization
2. proposed increases in other fees and how the fees are to be used (Annex A).

The following will be attached: a) the minutes and b) attendance sheet signed by the concerned School Heads and the aforementioned authorized representatives to the consultation. If the authorized representatives refuse to sign, a notation shall be made in the said document which shall be submitted for notarization.” (emphasis added)

If the school administrators are to be true to the meaning of consultations, then, it must include counter-proposals, consent and dissent to their proposed school fee increase.

IV. Silencing grievances

A Regional Task Force on Tuition Fee and Other School Fees is composed through the CMO 14. It is composed of the following:

1. CHED Regional Director – Chairman
2. National Economic Development Authority – Vice Chairman
3. Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) – member
4. Coordinating Council for Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) – member
5. Association of Christian Schools, Colleges and Universities (ACSCU) – member
6. Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) – member
7. Regional Faculty Union Representative – member
8. Regional Student Representative to be designated by the National Youth Commission (NYC) – member
9. National Anti-Poverty Commission – member

Sectoral representatives are clearly outnumbered by representatives of school owners and administrators, who are expected to protect their interests.

The Task Force, however, is just lip service for students because it is powerless and lacks authority. Its functions are thus stated (Article 7, Sec 17):

17.1 “The task force shall serve as recommendatory body for all complaints, disputes and disagreements on applications for increases in tuition and other school fee and for new fees implemented in HEIs under the CHEDRO’s jurisdiction.

17.2 Failure of the said Task Force to act within 30 days from receipt of the cases elevated to them shall result in the implementation of increase in tuition and other school fees as well as new fees.”

Firstly, the task force is just a recommendatory body. Its findings and reports are not binding and as such, can be vetoed or dismissed by the CHEDRO.

Secondly, CMO 14 heavily favors school owners under section 17.2. Delaying strategies may be used by schools in case of complaints since failure of the task force to act within 30 days will automatically render the fee proposal approved. This provision escapes logic and even puts into question the role and responsibility of CHED as a regulatory agency.

Thirdly, the inutility of the Task Force was aggravated by CHED when it amended CMO14 on 23 February 2006. Specifically, Article 7, Section 17 was amended to:

“The task force shall serve as a recommendatory body for all complaints, by the authorized participants or representatives to the consultation provided under Section 11.4 of this Order relating to the proceedings of the consultation in connection with the application for increases in tuition, other school fees and for new fees implemented by HEIs within the CHEDRO’s jurisdiction.” (emphasis added)

Again, CMO 14 restricted room for grievances and complaints. The task force shall only entertain complaints “by the authorized participants to the consultation”. This shall only mean that ordinary students, parents, faculty members, personnel) may not file complaints by themselves. We see this amendment as a way to limit participation of student federations and unions, like the NUSP from pursuing complaints and appeals. In the end, CHED favors the school administrators with this provision.

It must be noted that Task Force may only act on complaints elevated upon it by the CHEDRO. Article 6 Section 14.4 states that:

“In appropriate instances, (the CHEDRO may) elevate to the Regional Task Force on Tuition and Other School Fees the unresolved cases on tuition and other school fee increase, and new fee disputes.”

Hence, the CHEDRO has the prerogative which cases it may elevate to the Task Force for consideration. It may, in fact, happen that no case may be forwarded to the task force and the CHEDRO will handle all complaints by itself, thus rendering the task force useless.

V. Summary and recommendations

246 private HEIs from all over the country increased tuition in 2005. That number doubled to 458 PHEIs increasing their tuition, as of 5 May 2006. CHED argues that CMO 14 decreased the amount of increase because of the inflation rate rule. Yet, this is yet to be seen in actual national statistics. Moreover, with the enormous number of schools proposing tuition hike, CMO 14 was thus proven ineffective in regulation of tuition.

Student protests are on the way in action to stop the tsunami of tuition hike. School fee hikes this coming 2006-2007 academic year are coupled with weekly oil price hikes, increasing prices of consumer goods because of higher prices of transportation, natural calamities, and additional tax in the form of expanded value-added tax. Thus, parents will find it hard again to put their children to school this coming June.

In anticipation to student protest actions, CHED instructed state universities and colleges (SUCs) in a memorandum not to increase tuition and other fees this coming school year. President Arroyo, through CHED, appealed to private schools to forego their plans of tuition hikes this year. The appeal went that CHED will only allow increase within the inflation rate. To this, the government was further exposed of its lack of teeth against tuition hikes. It can only go as far appeals, which lack concrete action.

NUSP provides some recommendations to answer the perennial problem of increasing costs of education:

1. On the immediate, stop tuition increases for the next few years. High tuition has caused dwindling of enrollment in private schools while increasing population density in SUCs. SUCs on the other hand, receive less support from the national government, hence forcing them to increase fees all the same. Access to education has thus been reduced.

2. Create a genuine policy of school fee regulation – a policy that sides not the school owners. In particular, it must state that consultations are truly consultative, and it must take the consent of the sectors involved. Student participation must be recognized and need not be repressed.

3. A more active and representative kind of Regional Task Force must be created with functions that are not limited to hearing of complaints. The task force should be given the authority to look into tuition use and other school fee increases.

4. Regulation must not be limited to the “how much”, but must include the “which” and “why” aspect in school fee increases. We note that schools introduce many kinds of fees that range from the redundant to the absurd, like development fee, smart fee, copier fee, athletic fee, sports fee, UAAP fee, aircon fee, energy fee, electricity fee, etc.

On the whole, the commercialized system of education needs to be reviewed by the government. Privatization and corporatization of SUCs must be stopped. In fact, the public school system needs more support logistically and financially to drive national education objectives of development.

CHED and the national government need to listen to the youth and students that have, for the longest time, pressed for reforms in the education system. The legislature shall play an important role in this movement for education reforms. Hence, it must focus its attention to find answer to this perennial problem.

The NUSP shall always be at the forefront in the realization of these objectives for the students. Youth and student organizations must be active in pushing for changes and the advancement of the basic right to education. ###

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