COMMENTARY – Is education a right or a privilege?
President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 10931 or the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act of 2017” last August 4. The central provision of this law is its guarantee of exemption from tuition and other school fees for all Filipino students who will be admitted in all government-run universities and colleges. It will take effect beginning school year 2018-2019. (The Filipino Scribe shall give RA 10931 a closer look in an upcoming post. – MM)
Section 2 of RA 10931 declares that “quality education is an inalienable right of all Filipinos” and that “it is the policy of the state to protect and promote the rights of all students to quality education at all levels.” The debate on whether education is a right or a privilege has been raging on for many decades now. That’s because there’s no hard and fast answer to the question.
Of course, the politically correct answer to this question is to say that education is a right. That’s what we hear from international personalities like Hillary Clinton and Malala Yousafzai as well as progressive organizations like the National Union of Students in the Philippines.
The 1987 Constitution, for its part, also reiterates the importance of universal access to education. “The
State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take
appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all,” Article XIV, section 1 mandates.
In the next provision, however, the Constitution made it clear that free public education is only
guaranteed for the elementary and high school levels. At the heart of the debate on whether education is a
right or privilege is the spiraling cost of pursuing college. Private colleges raise tuition fees every year, often
in big percentages. It is not unusual for students to drop out in the middle of the semester or to go on leave because their families cannot pay for their education.
When I was still a college instructor, I’ve encountered a lot of performing students who didn’t take the finals exam because of the school’s “no permit, no exam” policy (they got a grade of “incomplete” instead). The high tuition rates in private colleges forces students to turn to state universities and colleges (SUCs) as their only alternative.
It is very easy for politicians to promise free tuition for all students aiming to study in state and city
universities and colleges. However, that will make those institutions totally reliant on government subsidy
and deals/partnerships with the private sector.
First question – How can the institutions finance their requirements for new facilities and infrastructure upgrades if their ability to generate income is severely constricted?
And also, what about the educators? It is a fact that they deserve COMPETITIVE PAY which they
should receive ON TIME. How can that happen if their salaries are fully dependent on what the national and local government is willing to give their institutions?
Many people look at SUCs only through students’ viewpoint. The aspect of school maintenance and teacher salaries can’t be ignored.
In conclusion, it can be said that basic education is a right because it is within the extent of what the
government can provide for free. However, tertiary education can be considered a privilege because it
cannot be given entirely for free by the state. Parents and sometimes even students themselves will have
to invest considerable amount of money for this.