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Free tuition: Government may revive college entrance exam

Commission on Higher Education commissioner J. Prospero de Vera confirmed to The STAR over the weekend that there are discussions to administer the NCEE to control the possible exodus of students to state and local universities and colleges. Presidential Communications/Screengrab, File

MANILA, Philippines - With the free tuition policy signed into law, the government is now planning to re-implement the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) to manage the influx of students in state-funded higher education institutions. 

Commission on Higher Education (CHED) commissioner J. Prospero de Vera confirmed to The STAR over the weekend that there are discussions to administer the NCEE to control the possible exodus of students to state and local universities and colleges (SUC/LUC).

He said his proposal is to conduct a nationwide test that can guide the state-funded tertiary institutions in crafting their admission and retention policies.

“We will tell the SUCs and LUCs to tighten their admission and retention policies to ensure that they provide quality education,” De Vera added.

The CHED executive, however, stressed that re-implementing the NCEE would require the support of Congress as it was abolished through a law.

Former president Fidel Ramos signed in 1994 Republic Act 7731 that repealed an earlier presidential order creating the NCEE.

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It prohibits colleges and universities from refusing the admission of high school graduates who failed the nationwide test.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, who is supporting the return of the NCEE, has yet to respond to an inquiry on whether there are discussions with legislators for the repeal of the law.

President Duterte recently signed Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act that removes all fees in state-funded colleges and universities.

It also establishes financial assistance and student loan programs for college students in public and private schools.

Return service

De Vera said they are also looking at implementing a return service policy for students who will benefit from the free higher education act.

“We can put that in the admission policies of the schools,” said the CHED official. “We have to give the schools the decision (on how to implement this policy). Maybe start with courses that produce the critical manpower needed by the country.”

Several universities like the University of the Philippines are already implementing a return-service policy for students.

Various agencies, including CHED and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), are currently drafting the implementing rules and regulations of the new law, which is set to take effect next academic year.

‘Don’t rush crafting of IRR’

The CHED reportedly expects the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the free college education law to be signed in 15 days, or less than a month after Duterte signed the law last Aug. 3.

But Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte warned government agencies involved in crafting the IRR to study the new law carefully to prevent confusion among the public. 

“As what had happened with the Anti-Distracted Driving Act, a hurriedly crafted IRR could lead to confusion and delays in the full and effective implementation of this game-changing law,” he said.

“They should not be too hasty in undertaking this task so as to avoid coming out with a half-baked set of rules and regulations,” he added.

But where to get funds?

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III earlier said the government would need to implement revenue-generating or saving measures to fund RA 10931.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, also promised that his committee will “allot the necessary funding to finance Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.”

Congress is looking at re-allocating unused funds of various agencies for the free tuition program.

However, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano said he is opposed to Nograles’ proposal to reduce the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)’s proposed P10.28-billion budget to fund the government’s free college education program.

“Free tuition is equally important as students are enabled to exercise their right to education. On the other hand, agrarian reform is founded on the right of landless farmers and farmworkers to directly and indirectly own the lands they till,” Mariano said.

“Rep. Karlo Nograles’ proposal for the funding of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act is state abandonment and it pits the poor against the poor,” he added. – With Delon Porcalla, Rhodina Villanueva

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