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Back to basic education support

It seems that the recently signed law that grants full tuition subsidy for all students in state universities and colleges, local universities and colleges, and state-run technical-vocational schools has been ill-advised, and could prove detrimental in the long run to the quality of higher public education.

As announced by the President’s designated spokesperson when the signed law was made public, free tuition in tertiary public schools would be “a pillar or cornerstone of the President’s social development policy.” Unfortunately, this could be the farthest from reality.

If the President truly wants to build a good foundation for social development, tertiary education in the public sector – despite its many problems – is not the key. There are many, many more problems in education that precious taxpayers’ money should be spent on.

While the lack of classrooms in both primary and secondary levels has continuously been addressed during the previous administration both in the private and public sectors, other associated problems have to be addressed, foremost being the upgrade of classroom facilities.

Basic education issues

Many barrio public schools have not seen a computer, as they cannot be connected to the wired world for technical reasons. Many also do not have an adequate library that would truly complement the learning of children.

There is still the lack of quality teachers who should have amassed solid hours of training and exposure to new teaching trends. Because of the lack of government support, the supposed “retraining” of teachers has been beyond the minimum needed to prepare them to become learning warriors.

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More importantly, we are not seeing a dramatic shift in statistics to show that a larger percentage of students entering kindergarten will graduate primary or secondary schooling. In this case, the tuition fee is not the main problem; it is the everyday expense of sending a kid to school.

While poverty continues to be a real issue, the quality of education is a major deterrent to becoming ready for tertiary schooling. Many graduates of high school are unable to enter state colleges because they do not make the cut.

Unless the basic issues of primary and secondary education – or in more current lingo, of K-12 – is resolved, we will not be able to see enough underprivileged students whose education will truly become catalysts for a better life entering tertiary levels.

Only 12%

According to statistics, only 12 percent of the current student population at tertiary levels may be considered poor, or coming from the bottom 20 percent of the income classes. Simple math shows that there will be a bigger percentage of students coming from middle- and upper-class levels benefitting from the free tuition fees.

Based on the above arguments, four of the six objectives on which the free tertiary tuition law, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, was premised on will not be achieved.

We clearly cannot see the law leading to the participation rate of all socio-economic classes in tertiary education, nor will it provide equal opportunity to quality tertiary education in both private and public educational institutions.

Neither will it give priority to students who are academically able and coming from poor families. And definitely, this is not the best way to optimize government resources for education, estimated at about P100 billion annually.

Again, using simple math, we will be giving away P80 billion annually to students whose parents can truly afford to send their children to a university or college education. Clearly, the new law is one that favors the privileged more than the underprivileged.

Deteriorating quality

The other problem that education specialists see resulting from the new law is the degradation of tertiary education quality in public colleges and universities, whether at the national or local government level. Already, we have been seeing our competitive ranking continuously dropping through past years in the ASEAN region.

This has been attributed to the decreasing quality of faculty members because of restricted state and local government budgets. In a globally competitive environment, education today requires teaching staff that are abreast with international developments, who in turn demand higher salaries.

With the affected educational institutions foregoing tuition income, including (as stipulated by the law) a gamut of other fees like library, computer, laboratory, school ID, athletic, admission, development, guidance, handbook, entrance, registration, medical and dental, cultural and many others, this could further impair their capability to continue becoming competitive.

If the affected schools are not able to get the supposedly tuition fee income from their respective government funding units for one reason or another, justifiable or otherwise, not only is the teaching budget affected, but also the maintenance and upgrading of current facilities.

Role review

Our tertiary public schools deserve more than adequate government support if we want them to become not so much as instruments in delivering social development, but as active catalysts in nation-building. We need them to graduate top-notch students who will bring pride to our country.

For this matter, a review of the role of public tertiary education must be an ongoing exercise that should be directly linked to nationhood. Our public schools in the higher learning levels need to be ahead in the disciplines, which incidentally should be aligned with the national development goals.

It has been noted, likewise, that public tertiary schools and universities all too often are in direct competition with courses offered by the private sector, which is a waste of state resources considering the financial constraints of our public educational system.

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