higher education

A Speech on the Tragic Cost of Higher Education in the Philippines

Note from the Editor: Therese Franceazca Balagtas is one of UniPro’s interns for the summer. At our recent Staff Development Workshop, she delivered a speech on the “UniIssue” of education in the Philippines. Read on to see her thoughtful take on the controversial topic.- by Therese Franceazca Balagtas

IMG001f Sixty thousand pesos – That is the average annual cost of tuition for a student entering college in the Philippines. You can expect a high school graduate entering his/her first year of college to shell out somewhere between thirty thousand to up to ninety thousand pesos just for tuition alone.

When you ask Filipino parents about their dreams for their children, an inevitable answer would be to be able to send them to school and finish their education. This isn’t surprising most especially because the Philippines is a nation that values education. For Filipinos, education is a prized possession and a college diploma is one’s ticket to a better life. So it should also come to no surprise that many Filipino parents go beyond their means in order to give their children a decent education.

Unfortunately, in the Philippines, higher education comes with a hefty price tag. Private schools are notorious for their constant increase in tuition costs mainly because they are profit driven institutions. But even state-run universities and colleges have a difficult time providing financial support to students due to the shrinking financial funding from the government. This makes the costs of higher education stiff for many Filipino households. You’re probably wondering, how about the public school system, isn’t that free and subsidized by the government? Yes that’s true, public schools are subsidized by the government and can be attained for free or at a very low cost. However, the public schooling system only applies to grade school through high school, which means that for a college education it is expected for the student and his/her family to bear the full cost.

Earlier this year, Kristel Tejada, a student from the University of the Philippines-Manila committed suicide after she could no longer fund her own education at the university and after being humiliated due to her incapacity to do so. It is unfortunate for a student to take her own life simply because she couldn’t afford her own education. It is even more upsetting because the University of the Philippines is a state university known for their “Iskolar ng Bayan” (national scholars), and their supposed higher sensitivity for aiding students from less advantaged sectors possessing academic merit and potential.

Regrettably, her suicide is just a symptom of a larger crisis affecting the country’s educational system. Many educational institutions are notorious for implementing a tuition installment plan, which strategically places payment due dates right before exam time. These plans delay and sometimes even prevent students from taking important exams because they are unable to pay their tuition on time. During the time I spent studying in the Philippines, I’ve seen parents and students alike ask for an extension come exam time because they simply couldn’t scrape together funds to be able to pay their tuition in time for exams.

The sad truth is, many Filipino students discover at some point in their college career that they are no longer able to afford tuition. That being said, they either end up transferring to a sub-par institution or drop out of college altogether. I think the youth should not be denied access to a college education simply because of financial constraints. The government should be able to invest more in student loan programs and full scholarships, which in turn give qualified recipients a clear shot at earning their degrees. They should also keep in mind compassion for deserving students from the bottom of the nation’s economic tiers. Consider the possibility of more young people who are better trained at skills and professions because they were given the opportunity to earn a college degree. Consider the possibility of parents less burdened by the high cost of education. Think about what that could possibly do to make our society better.

Education Equality in the Motherland

Since 1925, the basic education system in the Philippines has been surveyed and reformed countless times. However, such reforms haven’t exactly proved to be successful. The current Philippine education system, which was modeled to reflect the K-12 system in the US, continues to face much critique. Some argue for a decentralization of the basic education system by installing school-based management, as to cater to the needs of each particular socioeconomic environment and other influential factors. According to the World Bank, Philippine primary school enrollment is relatively high. UNESCO reports that literacy rates are also high. However, the education system continues to struggle with lack of resources, understaffed schools, and managerial and organizational issues. Secondary school enrollment is usually lower. As of 2012, the Department of Education (DepEd) made school compulsory. Though enrollment may be higher than it has been in the past, there is a severe lack of employment opportunity for after graduation.

Many activists and reformers are pushing for efforts to revitalize the education system, such as Teach for the Philippines; they continue to work toward education equality throughout the PI. However, how can a nation create larger, systemic change to a problem that countries face across the world?


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967, is currently pushing for regional economic collaboration by 2015. Member countries include Brunei, Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia , Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It is even a goal to use English as the primary language of communication, which is why there’s a major push for language acquisition across ASEAN. However, according to a 2008/2009 report, the Philippine Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM) notes that the country has a poor performance of improving the education system, unlike many other Asian nations. This creates even further concern for the future of the Philippines.

In addition to primary and secondary school reform, there is also a call to address higher education. As ASEAN promotes the movement of goods, services and labor between its member countries, the Philippine Daily Inquirer raises and important question: “What does this mean for our students who will be graduating from universities in a few years and will then be looking for work?”

As employment opportunities are already scarce, not just in the Philippines alone, but across the Philippine diaspora, I wonder what will happen to my friends and family. The struggle to find work continues to grow more competitive. Some of my relatives and family friends, despite attaining a higher degree back in the PI, are now domestic helpers or working in retail, for example. How is this fair, when such hardworking individuals are forced to find work outside of their expertise or training?

Many Filipinos have migrated, leaving behind families in search for work. Something must be done to reverse this “brain drain”, and I believe should be continuous support and investment in education. We need the youth of the PI and the larger Pilipino community to know we believe in them by providing them with the tools needed to succeed in a global community, and not just for economic gain.