University student’s tragic death prompts calls for academic reforms

University student’s tragic death prompts calls for academic reforms
Candles are lit near the gate of Far Eastern University's main campus in Sampaloc, Manila, during a prayer vigil for Keilo Acuin, a medical technology student who fell to his death from a footbridge on July 17. —PHOTOS BY LIENIEL GABUNI

Some 100 members of the Far Eastern University (FEU) community gathered on the night of July 20 for a prayer vigil for Keilo Acuin, a 22-year-old medical technology student who fell to his death from a nearby footbridge on España Boulevard and P. Campa Street in Sampaloc, Manila.

Before the assembly, hundreds of students were seen wearing black T-shirts on FEU’s main campus on Nicanor Reyes Sr. Street (formerly Morayta) in Sampaloc. 

Participants lit candles, observed a moment of silence, and held signs that read “FEU, Listen!”, “Mental Health Matters!”, “FEU, Address Our Concerns!”, “#ParaKanKeilo”, “Welfare Muna Bago Rankings at Profit!” and “Address the Mental Health Crisis!”

Acuin was among the 84% (554 out of 658) of the outgoing third-year students taking up BS Medical Technology (BSMT) who did not meet the cutoff for the course’s internship program the following year, according to his long-time friend, Charles Coprad. 

FEU’s retention policy requires students to achieve an overall quality point average (QPA) of at least 2.20 to qualify for internship. It has raised concerns about the quality of education the students had received during the coronavirus pandemic years, given that only 16% of the students reached the QPA threshold.

Puzzled, frustrated

The university’s Mentoring and Educational Enrichment Training (MEET) Program was the last hope for students who did not meet the QPA threshold and provided a chance for readmission to the BSMT program for those with QPAs of 1.80 to 2.19.

But on June 19, Luis Dominick Antig, the newly appointed chair of the  Medical Technology Department, unexpectedly limited the readmission threshold to only 2.00 to 2.19, leaving many students puzzled and frustrated. 

Under FEU’s student handbook, Article VIII, Section 4, students are granted the right to be consulted through their representatives before any policies that affect them are implemented.

The new MEET retention policy leaves most students who failed to qualify with no choice but to either transfer to other schools or switch to programs that need not take professional board licensure examinations to complete their education. tried to reach Antig and Albert Doloiras, the immediate past BSMT department chair, by email for comments, but as of this writing, it had yet to receive a reply.

Students and friends of Acuin mourn his death and call on the school administration to pay attention to the mental health of students when making policies.

“Ang pagkawala ng isa ay sobra na (The loss of one is too much),” said Kej Andres, spokesperson of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines and prayer leader at the vigil.

Ryan Ferrer, the chair of the Kabataan Partylist FEU, pointed out that students at the university have often faced restrictive standards and burdensome requirements, including taking at least five quizzes per day for five consecutive days.

Prioritizing PRC ranking

Ferrer criticized the university for prioritizing its ranking (passing rate) at the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) over the welfare of its students. Before the pandemic in 2019, FEU boasted an impressive 95.41% passing rate for board exam first-timers, but in 2022, the rate dropped to 63.13%.

“We cannot ignore the realities of our education system and allow young lives to be lost due to academic pressure,” said Kabataan Partylist FEU. 

The group demanded that both FEU administration and the government pay attention to and prioritize students’ mental well-being, reassess current policies and curriculum, and ensure a pro-student education. It urged them to heed the students’ demands and consider their suggestions, recognize their needs, and implement reforms.

Valuing mental health

In a statement, the FEU Central Student Organization asked the school to adopt a pro-student system that values the mental health and overall well-being of students. 

It emphasized the importance of creating a supportive and empowering environment that not only enhances the students’ academic achievements but also their holistic growth as individuals. The goal is to ensure that the tragedy that befell Acuin never occurs again.

Vigil participants observe a moment of silence for Acuin.

Acuin’s “commitment to his studies, his passion for helping others, and his infectious joy touched the lives of all those who knew him.” it said. 

“He really wanted to finish MedTech as it was his dream to get a license. He was determined to finish school. That was why from Samar he went to FEU. He loved this course so much,” said Robina Kidd Bolosa, one of Keilo’s closest friends.

FEU, in a statement released on Tuesday, informed the community that its guidance and counseling office and the Healing Spaces Psychology Center were available to anyone seeking support and solace. It has yet to respond to calls for academic reforms, however.

Acuin was a member of Delta Harmonica, the official singing organization of the FEU Medical Technology Society. 

Bolosa said no one expected the tragedy to happen. “Keilo was a strong person. He never showed his problems in front of our friends.”

He said he talked with Acuin on July 16, the day before his death. “There were no signs that he was capable of doing this. His smile was beautiful.”

Because of his family’s lack of resources, the transport of Acuin’s remains to his hometown, Calbayog City in Samar, was delayed until July 19. Some of his friends launched a donation drive on Facebook to help cover the expenses.

Lieniel Gabuni, a third-year journalism student, is an intern from the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. —Ed.

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