UP Tacloban students decry STFAP re-bracketing glitch
MANILA, Philippines – Students of the University of the Philippines Visayas-Tacloban College (UPVTC) returned to school Monday, January 13, greeted by the bad news that they would be paying higher tuition than expected.
Students were expecting to be automatically assigned to the lowest income bracket in the university's socialized tuition scheme, following the losses that their families encountered in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
Their request for this was, however, made past the deadline set by the administration. They were not as detailed about their situation either that could have helped assessors to grant their requests, a UP official told Rappler.
In December 2013, the UPVTC Office of Student Affairs (OSA) opened applications for re-bracketing under the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), which categorizes students according to their socio-economic class. Bracket E students get full scholarship and allowances. (READ: UP to reform student financial assistance program)
Under the UPVTC call, both STFAP and non-STFAP grantees could apply for financial assistance, but especially those greatly affected by the typhoon.
Lowest bracket for all
Shortly after the deadline for applications on December 11, the UPVTC Student Council appealed to the UP Board of Regents (BOR) for all applicants to be re-bracketed to E1 and E2 without exceptions.
They said that regardless of students' former brackets, everyone was affected by Yolanda. Some parents, they said, did not have access to their salaries after the typhoon closed down or even destroyed a lot of offices. In addition, the budget of most households is usually allocated "to other more pressing matters." (READ: 'Dark Christmas' for UP Tacloban students)
But OSA coordinator Zenia Mariveles said those who wanted to be re-bracketed should have stipulated "clearly and in detail" their situation.
"The fact is, not all students were directly hit by the typhoon. They were equitably assessed based on condition," she told Rappler on Wednesday, January 15.
Students are assessed according to gravity of damage, economic status, size of family and number of siblings studying, health status of breadwinner, and other factors.
Who needs it more?
What students found unfair was that most of the 524 cross-enrollees to 6 other UP campuses were re-bracketed to brackets E1 and E2, when those who stayed behind in UP Tacloban clearly needed more help. (READ: UP offers cross-enrollment for Tacloban campus students)
In their letter to the BOR, SC chairperson Francisco Banguis Jr said more than 800 students who did not cross-register are the most affected "since they did not have the luxury to go to a new place to study."
"Asking for a fee would further disincentivize them," Banguis wrote.
In addition, the SC believes even students not geographically affected by the typhoon should be re-bracketed to E1 and E2 because the cost of living in Tacloban has become expensive since the typhoon.
In a comprehensive report from the SC last Monday, they noted that prices of commodities in the city have gone up, with some one half more than the regular retail price. For instance, a P10 mineral water bottle now costs P15, transportation from Guiuan to Tacloban is now at P200 from P120, and tricycle and jeepney fares are both P10 each, from P7 and P8, respectively.
Yet as much as they want to accommodate everyone, Mariveles said there are budgetary constraints.
As of Monday, only 600 students applied for re-bracketing, but applications are still ongoing until next Monday, January 20.
To date, the SC has not received any formal response from the BOR.
The student body also pointed out inconsistencies in the assessments, particularly of two siblings who live in the same household but were assigned different brackets – a problem common to all UP campuses since the STFAP was introduced more than two decades ago.
"We were able to confirm it earlier this morning when the results were made public," Shawn Capucion, UPVTC-USC representative, told Rappler on Wednesday,
The older sibling, Batch 2009, was assigned to Bracket E, while the younger one in Batch 2012 was assigned to Bracket D.