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Glitch in the system: A history of SAIS and the six-year clamor for its junking

In exclusive interviews with the Perspective, former and current student leaders revisited the six-year fight to finally replace the Student Academic Information System (SAIS).

UPLB students score major triumph six years after the implementation of the hotly contested Student Academic Information System (SAIS), following Administrative Order No. 103 from the Office of the Chancellor (OC). 

The order, dated March 14, states UPLB Chancellor Jose Camacho Jr.’s constitution of an ad hoc committee that will “oversee the development and implementation” of the new information system called UPLB DX Academic Management Information System, which will replace SAIS.

In a Facebook post, the UPLB University Student Council (USC) regarded the recent development as “an unquestioned victory of the whole UPLB student body after more than half a decade of campaigning and asserting for the junking of SAIS”.

“The UPLB University Student Council believes that the student body deserves quality education services in all forms, and this development is the fruit of our collective struggle of demanding what we rightfully deserve,” UPLB USC wrote.

SAIS has a six-year history of technical difficulties, causing delays during registration, pre-registration periods, and inputting of grades, compelling students and faculty alike to clamor for its junking.

2011-2015: The birth of a new system

The University of the Philippines’ Electronic UP (eUP) Project is a legacy project of then-UP President Alfredo E. Pascual (PAEP), under which SAIS belongs to. eUP and SAIS are both part of the “UP Strategic Plan 2011-2017: The Path to Greatness”, which intended to turn UP into a “globally competitive university alongside other top Asian campuses”.

The eUP project utilized system software from the PeopleSoft Campus Solutions program that was created and developed by the United States’ Oracle Database. Oracle has five information management systems, including SAIS.

According to then-UP Assistant Vice President for Development and eUP project implementer Director Jaime D.L. Caro, a total of 724.9 million has been allotted for eUP expenses in general. Specifically, 37.7 million has been allotted for SAIS, and is good for five years . 

During the 42nd General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC), former Student Regent Mico Pangalangan stated in his End of Term Report that the P750 million eUP project is estimated to cost P1 billion.

In April 2013, a pilot run for SAIS was conducted in the UP System Office, and two UP campuses: UP Manila (UPM) and UP Open University (UPOU). SAIS was then officially launched in these two constituent units in October 2013, where glitches caused the start of classes in UPM to be delayed. 

This prompted hundreds of UPLB students to stage the first walkout on November 13, 2015 against the commercialization of UP, as is evident in the faulty implementation of eUP and SAIS.

The walkout resulted in the delay of the implementation of SAIS in UPLB, according to then-USC Councilor Charm Maranan in an exclusive interview with the Perspective.

The UPLB administration brought SystemOne back in that semester in what Maranan tagged as the fastest and most efficient run of SystemOne.

Mabagal din naman talaga si SystemOne sems prior, pero when funding was given to it na kinaya na mag-procure ng server, sobrang bilis ni SystemOne. This proves na sana kung pinondohan lang si SystemOne, kaya naman niya talaga na i-cater ‘yong students.”

[“SystemOne was also working very slow in previous semesters, but when funding was given to it such that servers were finally procured, it ran smoothly. This proves that if only funding was allocated for SystemOne, it can really cater the students.”]

(RELATED STORIES: SAIS replaces SystemOne; #JunkSAIS: Mas Malala sa Singko; #UPLBWalkout: Students join forces against commercialized education and repressive student policies)

Students hold protest after SAIS replaces SystemOne.
[P] File Photo

2016: “Birthing pains”

#JunkSAIS placed first in the Philippine Trends on Twitter after first-time SAIS users were introduced to the new official online registration system of UPLB.

Regular students were scheduled for midnight of July 29, 2016 to access SAIS on the second day of online registration. At the time, Maranan said that no schedules were created for each batch; unlike in recent years, where certain batches are assigned to a scheduled SAIS appointment.

Hindi talaga niya [SAIS] kakayanin kasi walang schedule, noong first time siyang in-implement ay lahat, open season talaga. So, ang nangyari nag-crash ang server, mismong SAIS team hindi na ma-access si SAIS,” she said.

[“SAIS was really unable to handle the registration because there was no schedule when it was first implemented; it was an open season enrollment for everyone. As such, the server crashed that even the SAIS team was unable to access SAIS itself.”]

At around 2:00 AM, eUP staff Chris Salvatierra announced that the SAIS team is working on the fluctuating status and continuous crashing of the site. He apologized and added that SAIS may be accessed at 9:00 AM on the same day.

Despite the announced SAIS downtime, several students were reported to successfully enlist their courses at around 3:00 AM (READ: #JunkSAIS: SAIS Registration Leads to Chaos; #JunkSAIS: Student gets blocked by @UPLBofficial for calling them out).

It was then found that accessing SAIS using the UPLB WiFi was more efficient, causing students to camp inside the university grounds from the night of the following day, July 30, until July 31.

Maranan said that students that time were angered by the chaos that led them to camp out. 

Ano’ng point ng isang online registration system na ire-require kang bumalik sa UPLB? Kaya nga nag-online registration para kahit hindi pa nakakabalik ng campus, makakapag-enlist tayo,” she added.

[“What is the point of an online registration system that requires students to go back to UPLB? The reason we do an online registration is for students to be able to enlist even if we are not inside the campus.”]

The effect of the whole SAIS fiasco was the first “First Day Rage,” during which more than 800 students and faculty members marked the first day classes in August 2016 with a protest, which called to #JunkSAIS, to extend the registration, and to hold the UP administration accountable (READ: #JunkSAIS | UPLB students: ‘The students, united, will never be defeated!’).

Upon learning that Dr. Caro was reportedly in the Office of the Chancellor, students demanded a dialogue with him. However, the UPLB administration responded “by locking down the Main Library, and lying on the whereabouts of Dr. Caro”.

Due to the students’ clamor for Dr. Caro to face them, student protesters successfully gained entry into the library, leaving the glass door broken. They were unable to speak with Dr. Caro as he had already left the building.

Maranan shared that this forced then-University Registrar Dr. Myrna Carandang and then-Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs (VCAA) Portia Lapitan to explain to students what was happening.

“Due to anger and mixed pent-up emotions of the students dahil walang subject, walang tulog, nabasag ‘yong pintuan ng Main Library, which would enforce the UPLB admin to face the students,” she said.

[“Due to anger and mixed pent-up emotions of the students because they have no subjects, no sleep, and the glass door of the Main Library was broken, it forced the UPLB administration to face the students.”]

Students enter the Main Library.
[P] File Photo

At the 1320th Board of Regents (BOR) meeting held on August 25, 2016, then-UPLB USC chairperson Merwin Jacob Alinea stressed the “abandonment of the UP administration at a time when the students pleaded for support during the online enrollment” (READ: UP studes slam 1320th BOR meeting).

Maranan disclosed in the interview that when they asked PAEP during the BOR meeting if he could be held accountable for SAIS and eUP, PAEP responded with a “yes”. 

In a previous report by the Perspective, PAEP said, “Paninindigan natin ‘yan!” [“We will stand by it!”] when asked if he is ready to face charges. The Ombudsman case against PAEP was already filed.

The UP administration was also asked to publicly apologize after discrediting the thesis of UP Diliman College of Mass Communication (CMC) students Ronn Joshua Bautista and Krixia Subingsubing titled, “System Error: An Investigative Study on the Implementation of eUP Project in the University of the Philippines.” 

The said thesis uncovered controversies surrounding the bidding process, as well as comparisons of SAIS to the existing homegrown systems in constituent units. It was considered by UPLB USC leaders as the “backbone” of the #JunkSAIS campaign, taking it as a reference for the figures presented in mobilizations and dialogues.

Meanwhile, students once again walked out of their classes in September. The UPLB administration insisted that SAIS’ technical difficulties were only “birthing pains”. 

Then-UPLB Chancellor Dr. Fernando Sanchez, Jr. failed to personally sit down with the USC and the students in a formal dialogue, but assured that a committee for registration concerns would be established. It never resulted in fruition.

Students storm the 1320th BOR meeting.
[P] File Photo

2017-2020: Repressive student policies

On August 2, 2017, UPLB students continued the tradition of the First Day Rage protest, carrying calls to junk SAIS and to address the hiatus in the registration of the first semester of A.Y. 2017-2018. 

UPLB students marched to the Main Library demanding a dialogue with Chancellor Sanchez, but were only faced with VCAA Lapitan addressing them in an informal dialogue. VCAA Lapitan reportedly deserted the students in the middle of heated debates on free tuition and registration concerns.

Meanwhile, the University Police Force (UPF) and the Community Service Brigade (CSB) formed a barricade to block the Main Library despite students being promised entrance to the for a formal dialogue. 

Students forced entry into the library to reiterate their demands, leaving the glass door broken for a second time. As a result, three student protesters faced formal charges for damaging University property (READ: UPLB students face disciplinary charges over broken glass door).

Despite dialogues, then USC chairperson Maranan said that the UPLB administration remained non-committed to junk SAIS.

As such, the #JunkSAIS call became a staple demand in all mass actions conducted in the campus, according to incumbent UPLB USC Chairperson Siegfred Severino in an exclusive interview with the Perspective. 

“By 2018, wala nang masyadong specific na action for junking it [SAIS], laging general call na siya. Kasi, after ‘yong mga activities noong 2016-2017, ni-disengage na sila [estudyante] ng admin, so ang ginawa na lang ay kada laging magma-mob, isasama lagi ang SAIS.”

[“By 2018, there were no specific actions for junking SAIS; it just became a general call. After the activities in 2016-2017, the students were disengaged by the administration. As such, in every mobilization, the call to junk SAIS is always included.”]

On March 8, 2018, Maranan said that UPLB students staged another walkout caused by the no late registration policy and more than half a thousand Maximum Residence Rule (MRR) and readmission cases.

MRR pertains to students being disallowed to register after maxing out their residency equivalent to one and a half times the normal length of their degree program. Meanwhile, readmission, according to UP Code Article 389, is the process where students attempt to return after dismissal due to failed subjects, double probation, and leave of absence (LOA).

The issue on the piling-up of rejected MRR and readmission cases persisted until February 20, 2020 despite students pointing out that SAIS is one of the causes of the said concern (READ: Singko-Worthy Service: UPLB admin’s handling of MRR/Re-ad cases).

In 2019, then-Chancellor Sanchez finally faced UPLB students in a dialogue, but only around 100 students were reportedly allowed to enter the Makiling Ballroom at the Student Union building.

Severino mentioned that the UPLB administration remained firm in their assertion that SAIS is a system initiative and that they cannot do anything to change it.

Wala ring pinatunguhan kasi parang adamant ang UPLB admin. Kahit na pilit ina-assert ng students that time na ang eUP [SAIS] ay project lang ng isang UP president, hindi siya required gawin ng autonomous unit, especially kasi nasa UP Charter natin na laging priority ang homegrown systems.”

[“The UPLB admin was adamant so nothing changed. Even though students asserted that time that eUP is only a project of a UP President and is not required in an autonomous unit, especially since it is stated in the UP Charter that homegrown systems must be prioritized.”]

Students protest against repressive policies.
[P] File Photo

2021-present: “Worst” SAIS experience under online setup

With the shift to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Severino noted that the calls to junk SAIS starting A.Y. 2020-2021 remained the same.

Walang significant difference on how we do the calls. Mas ang framing lang ay nagshi-shift sa online learning and into digital infrastructures pero ‘yong online registration system natin ay sobrang bulok.”

[“There has been no significant difference on how we raise the calls. The framing this time is that we will be shifting into online learning and into digital infrastructures, yet our online registration system is still dysfunctional.”]

A few days before the pre-registration for first semester of A.Y. 2020-2021, , students struggled to add courses due to the slow performance of SAIS, coupled with its refusal to accept any of the users’ commands (READ: Four years later, SAIS still crashes).

Meanwhile, during the pre-registration for the second semester of A.Y 2021-2022 last January, the USC noted various student concerns regarding SAIS’ errors and inaccessibility, as the servers cannot handle the volume of Internet traffic from students trying to enroll.

Severino regarded the incident as one of the worst SAIS registrations that he experienced (READ: UPLB to ‘ease’ into second sem as constituents call for recovery break).

As USC chairperson, he was then included in the joint meeting of the Executive Committee and Management Committee with incumbent Chancellor Camacho, Vice Chancellors (VC), Assistants to the Vice Chancellors (AVC), college deans, and institute directors.

Severino shared that graduate school dean Dr. Jomar F. Rabajante, VC for Student Affairs Janette Silva, and even Chancellor Camacho expressed support for the junking of SAIS during the meeting due to its inefficiency. Even the UP system Information Technology Development Center (ITDC) director voiced disappointment with SAIS’ run for that semester.

Severino was also included in the ad hoc committee that will oversee the development of a new information system to replace SAIS.

With the replacement of SAIS, Maranan said that one of the struggles with the transition from one system to another is funding.

“For us to be able to develop our own management system, it’s very important that funding really be allocated. The support that our computer scientists, programmers, and developers need is that funding; they need all the support they can get from the administration.”

She added that changing the software is not the “be-all and end-all solution”, citing the problem with shortage of faculty and slots. The academic union previously raised the call for more permanent positions or a larger faculty to handle classes.

(RELATED STORIES: Youth groups hold online press conference to discuss demands amidst worsening education situation; UPLB REPS disclose pandemic work woes; demand better pay, health benefits, tenureship)

Furthermore, Severino stressed that the USC will ensure that the user interface and learning curve for the new UPLB DX Academic Management Information System are considered.

Babantayan natin na ‘yong user interface ay madaling i-navigate. Iisipin din natin kung ‘yong mga data ba sa SAIS right now ay mata-transition seamlessly sa DX AMIS [Academic Management Information System] na ipapalit. We have to ensure na madaling makakapag-adjust ‘yong mga estudyante, at ‘yong software na gagamitin ay madaling matutunan.

[“We will make sure that the user interface is easy to navigate. We also have to consider if the data in SAIS can be transitioned seamlessly to the DX Academic Management Information System. We have to ensure that students will easily adjust and that the software to be used is easy to learn.”] [P]

Photo by Juan Sebastian Evangelista

Layout by Mich Monteron

5 comments on “Glitch in the system: A history of SAIS and the six-year clamor for its junking

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