Student Anca Paje wrote an online letter to her university’s Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs which she ended with this weighty admonition, “You are the vice chancellor, but first you are human. Like the people you deal with, the students you so easily dismiss. They are human, too. They dream, they hurt, and they are capable of change. Today, we almost lost someone. And as you may know, it’s not the first.”
Anca’s story is one of the many accounts of registration horrors which are now surfacing under #LetUsRegister after their university’s administration disapproved hundreds of appeals for the Maximum Residency Rule and readmission. In a dialogue, the school official stated that they disapprove roughly 600 cases every semester which translates to more than a thousand lives every school year put on limbo or pushed over the edge.
January marked the start of a new semester. Ideally, back-to-school jitters are caused by terror professors or not knowing anyone in class. But for one university, those are the least of your worries. Students have to get up early on a scheduled date, where graduating students and freshmen get first pick, and fight for slots through a website that crashes constantly. But you’re considered lucky if that’s the worst you have to go through. Many run back and forth between offices, practically begging for approval on requests for readmission, student loans, and student housing. They wait for hours or days to get a response even though registration extension is often denied. When you’re finally allowed to enroll for classes, they’re already at overcapacity so you start a petition for the subject you need, subject yourself to public humiliation under teacher’s prerogative, or simply accept that you’ll have to try next time even if it means you’ll be underload and delayed.
What does it mean when the Constitution ensures the enjoyment of academic freedom yet students jump through hoops and are being told “mayroon lang talagang deserving at hindi deserving ng [redacted] education?”
Riz Clinton Ang is a freelance hair and makeup artist and Language Proficiency instructor hoping to graduate this second semester of A.Y. 2019-2020. For them, getting delayed was a consequence of past mistakes. However, there were multiple factors and mental health was one of them. They were taking psychiatric medication while taking classes. However, it ended up being counterproductive. They felt that in order to be mentally stable enough to finish their degree, they needed to distance themself from stressors. One of those stressors? Stringent registration procedures imposed by the university.
“Anong motto ng [redacted]? Honor and excellence ‘di ba? Wala kang excellence kasi delayed ka.”
Liz (not her real name) has one last paper to submit before she can finally graduate. If she fails that last requirement then she says she would have to go through hell again by filing for an extension of residency. She’s had her readmission disapproved five times without any explanation or interview before. Her university’s Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs once told her “Anong motto ng [redacted]? Honor and excellence ‘di ba? Wala kang excellence kasi delayed ka.” Although she didn’t consider herself stellar, it hurt to hear that from someone whose position of power her life depended on at the time. The question wasn’t rhetorical and she was forced to agree and put herself down even more just so to have a fighting chance for request to be approved.
She shares some of the factors that could lead to students getting delayed. One of them is financial problems. There were days when she barely had enough money to eat, let alone pay for student loans. Some study in hunger and some try to balance studies with a job but that still doesn’t mean that they’ll have enough to pay for fees. Another factor is mental health concerns. She says that it’s an important and delicate aspect in the academe which the institution chooses to ignore and exacerbate. Intellectual capacity, a consideration in education reform, is also at play. Just because students don’t have the same pace in learning doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be afforded the same opportunities.
When a student comes forward with a story about how the response to her two-page appeal citing her trauma as a rape victim was that the events she mentioned were not enough reason to warrant readmission, it’s hard to deny that there is a stigma against delayed students.
For Clinton, high ranking administration officials are the ones that mark delayed students as delinquents because they have seen great empathy from fellow students and faculty members. Liz seconds this, saying that it’s the school administration that is anti-student. She’s been at the receiving end of hostility from school counselors and titas manning windows at college offices.
She says that since the administration can’t monetize students who can’t pay their tuition, it’s easier to just send them away under the pretense that new students are more deserving.
State universities and colleges are controlled and managed by the Commission on Higher Education even though they have their own Board. According to their website, the Commission on Higher Education’s vision and mission “catalyzes a Philippine higher education system that is locally responsive and globally competitive and serves as a force for lifelong learning, innovation, and social and cultural transformation.” Is this being fulfilled by their school?
Clinton doesn’t think so. They will be forced to drop out if their residency doesn’t get extended. They think that it could be because the university doesn’t want its rankings and reputation to go down. He says that while some take longer to finish their studies, it doesn’t make them stupid nor undeserving of prestigious education. The university only publicizing board exam passing rates, partnerships with foreign universities, and new scientists but never student-led activities shows where its priorities lie.
Liz agrees. She says that since the administration can’t monetize students who can’t pay their tuition, it’s easier to just send them away under the pretense that new students are more deserving. But then those students will be encountering the same problems and will then become part of a vicious cycle which she says was cultivated under the current chancellor. Being globally competitive is taking precedence over being locally responsive. The chancellor is nowhere to be seen or heard by the students and funding for student facilities and student programs are being diverted to more profitable ventures.
For many students, reasonably so, there is no other option but to graduate. They are fighting to get their diploma not only for themselves but for their families, mentors, and country as well. Clinton and Liz are not just numbers and here is what they have to say: To their fellow students, it’s hard but the fight continues. We are all humans deserving of rights and the right to tertiary education is one of them. We need it to help shape the country to be the best it can be. To the administration, you are put in your position to be public servants. As long quality education is not made accessible, there is blood on your hands.