"Every Filipino has now a fighting chance to complete tertiary education."
Finally, the 17th Congress is cranking the legislative maze and putting out needed legislation before its sine die adjournment. If they will not move, it would be the worst record of a legislature, post Martial Law to have only 2 legislations passed, the General Appropriations Act of 2017 and the postponement of the Barangay elections.
The Bicameral Conference Committee approved the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education last 29 May 2017. The measure mandates free education in State Universities and Colleges or SUCs and in Local Universities and Colleges or LUCs. Heralded as a reform in the Philippines’ education system, the bill will open tertiary education to all Filipinos regardless of means.
Students in private universities and colleges can likewise avail of the law considering that “all students enrolled in SUCs, local universities and colleges and in state-run technical-vocational institutions are exempt from paying tuition and other school fees-which include library fees, computer fees, laboratory fees, school ID fees, athletic fees, admission fees, guidance fees, handbook fees, entrance fees, registration fees, medical and dental fees, and other similar or related fees.” To support the cost of free tertiary education, a “Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) will be established which may also cover the tuition and other school fees of poor students enrolled in private colleges and universities, equivalent to the tuition and other school fees of the nearest SUC in the area.”
There are some 1.6 million students in 114 national government-funded SUCs and 102 LUCs who stand to benefit from the law. Critical to the roll out of the measure when signed into law is the funding needed so there is no policy implementation gap. Consequently, funding must be provided for under the proposed 2018 budget that President Duterte will be submitting to Congress once he delivers his 2nd State of the Nation Address come July 2017.
The TES will be included in the budgets of the CHED and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and will be administered by the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) Board. “The UniFAST law of 2015 mandated system and created a Board that would “oversee and harmonize all student financial assistance programs for a more targeted, speedy and sustained granting of scholarship programs.”
Whether some would see this measure as giving free lunch or as a public-private partnership model in education, one thing is made clear, every Filipino has now a fighting chance to complete tertiary education. It likewise levels the playing field between public and private academic institutions.