UP Student Blues: Its Complicated

My STS class ended at 5:30 pm, We had closed the College of Science Auditorium and was going up to the stairs when I heard a voice from the darkness, “Sir, pwede bang pa prerog?”. In my first class a student asked permission to read out aloud a manifesto calling on UP to solve the problem of lack of bed space in the dormitory – apparently students protesting the lack of bed space spent time under the thunder storm the previous night. The latter image made its way to media and public attention. Prompting someone to ask, “If UP has a UP Town Center why does it not have a dormitory for its students?”.

A simple statement but it carries with very serious implications. If UP can have a high end mall why does it not have a dormitory ? Where did the money go? Can UP afford a mall? It is more complicated than just UP and the UP Town Center. I believe there are several reasons or conditions that caused the present ails of UP. One is the budgetary cuts, which has prompted the university to be creative in its sourcing of funds:

The UP Town Center lies on land once occupied by the University of the Philippines Integrated School or UPIS. Part of the lease was the construction of a new UPIS at the old Narra Dormitory.

Kalayaan Dormitory has a new wing funded by the UP Alumni.

A number of buildings around the Science Complex were funded by grants from presidents before President Aquino. And inside infrastructures and equipment have also been funded by the Alumni.

Grants, donations, aid, partnership with businesses, rental of land, and other ventures have been tried and done in order to make ends meet because of a budget that has been diminished. Of course academic institutions have done this to improve their services and work but the key word here is improve not bridge a budget gap.

A closer scrutiny of the problems at UP beginning with its budget allotment is needed.

Another issue in particular in UP is the shortage of slots for Science, Technology and Society. Here is a post from Dr. Benjamin Vallejo our coordinator for the UP Science and Society Program about the issue.

Students and UP registration system nearing a breakdown

Problems at enlistment

by Benjamin Vallejo originally posted on the FB page of the UP Science and Society Program [Source: Last accessed August 7, 2015]

Students who come to their professors and breaking down usually happen at the end of the semester. The reason is usually a 5.0 but some reasons include 1) A grade that made them miss by a hair’s breadth Latin honor status, or 2) A grade that made them lose a scholarship. Since many of my readers were once students, or are eternal students, they would realize how grave this situation is. These matters are serious for any student. Remember, a student’s job is to remain in good standing in school, no more no less!

For the first time in my long years of being in academe, I encountered a psych student almost at breakdown point since she for the whole registration period was only able to enlist in one three unit course and that she has been up at 3 AM each day to get a slot in her major courses. There are simply no more slots in her majors in her department! How on God’s earth can this happen?!?!?!

To give insight to this problem, let’s be scientific and I’ll give a simple arithmetical case plus a bit of matrix algebra. One of the first things I did when I headed the UP Science and Society Program (SSP) is to look at the numbers. (When I did my PhD, I had eat, breathe and s_it statistics! hehehehe!) There were only 4 sections of STS offered with 120 students each. This translates to 480 students per semester. At that time STS wasn’t required for undergrads and the mean number of students who want to take STS in a semester was 550. This means that SSP is able to service 87.27% of the usual demand with a backlog of 140 every academic year. We at times offered a summer class which reduced are backlog to around a manageable 20 students. Now since STS wasn’t required, the 20 students can be considered a loss to our estimate since they probably have enrolled in another class anyway.

Recall that the freshman intake in past years at UP Diliman was around 3,800 students per year. Let’s say that this cohort has a Leslie Matrix “death” rate of 20% (80% survival rate) and 0% birth rate. Freshmen do not reproduce to produce freshmen in their stay in UP! We will end up with a graduating cohort of 1520 from the initial freshie population. This estimate is reasonable since the estimated mean number of all undergraduates who graduate in UP Diliman per year is around 4000 and they come from various cohorts. Given the old calculations, SSP can service 1080 students a year which translates to a manageable 47-50% service rate at the second year of a cohort’s lifetime at UP.

Now that STS is required and let’s say the freshie intake rate is 1000 more than the 3800 students (as estimated by our college secretary Dr Chich Hernandez but I say this is a conservative estimate!). This would be 4,800 students. Again using a Leslie Matrix with the same parameters, the graduating cohort would be 1920 students and at sophomore year cohort there would be 3840 students. If we use the same number of STS slots available, 1080 per year, the proportion serviced at the sophomore year is 27%. Since all of the students have to take it, the backlog in theory would be 2760 per year.

Now we have nine sections with a mean of 150 students per section. I was able to do this by recruiting a few faculty on a part time basis and by slightly overloading the regular ones. This translates to 1500 students per sem or 3000 a year. This in theory should be able to service 78.12% of the demand per year. This leaves us with a backlog of 840 students per year. However I could no longer get more teachers to service the backlog. In the four years I have headed the SSP, the office of the university registrar estimates that the STS backlog is 4000 which is more than my Leslie Matrix estimate of 3360 per year based on tracking one freshman cohort. Four thousand is closer to reality since there are students who fall “out of sync” with their cohorts and get delayed. They too have to take STS. I haven’t described yet the statistical function to model this disaster. I will God hope, have the time and I am working on it! Also please note that the backlog describes the estimate of the usual number of graduates every year.

Now if this is the case in all academic departments based on what I heard, then the students and slots situation are at breaking point. And the freshie intake continues to increase! Many students fall out of sync with their cohort and so burden more the overburdened system. The only solution is to open more sections but that would mean getting more teachers. However the number faculty items are not keeping pace with the increase in freshman intake. Also the experienced professors are getting older, in population biology terms, their cohort is becoming senescent. They will retire but who will replace them? Very few young people are considering a teaching job as a professor and the standards to become one are stringent. The solution is two fold. Increase faculty items and make it enabling for young faculty to stay.

Thus it isn’t a surprise for me to see a student break down even before the sem starts. I am nearing a breakdown too! This is the future of the national research and graduate university which aims to be world class. Now I haven’t even started on the other aspect of my job which is to do excellent research and do extension work! The calendar shift seems to be peanuts!

The problems encountered at the University of the Philippines cannot be described with a simple statement or even a shallow coverage. In a time when tv, radio, print and online media is flooded with news about politicians grandstanding and gimmickry one would hope no one would expect coverage and attention be given to these issues. Fortunately, through the Internet one can actually bring this out, discuss about it and expound on it.

It is important to look closely at the present student blues at UP because it is complicated.

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