Following the realignment of P8.3 billion in the proposed 2017 budget to remove tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs) next year, education advocates yesterday called on the government to ensure that the policy would be institutionalized and implemented in succeeding years.  File photo

Free higher education pushed
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - December 18, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Free tuition is not enough.

Following the realignment of P8.3 billion in the proposed 2017 budget to remove tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs) next year, education advocates yesterday called on the government to ensure that the policy would be institutionalized and implemented in succeeding years.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago pushed for the passage of a comprehensive Free Public Education Law to remove the burden of paying tuition and other fees from the students and their families.

She noted the
 allocation, which was realigned during the budget deliberations in the Senate, would not cover miscellaneous and other fees charged by schools.

“(These) have become a greater scourge than tuition. This is an issue that is not covered by Congress’ recent move, an issue that we should continue railing against,” the lawmaker added.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian – the author of the proposed Free Higher Education Act in the Senate – lauded the realignment of the P8.3 billion, saying 1.4 million students would benefit from the move.

He called on his colleagues to support the passage of his proposed measure to institutionalize the gains made by the allocation in 2017 budget.

Calling it a game changer and a step in the right direction, Elago said students and the rest of the country should continue pushing for the implementation of pro-people policies in the education sector.

“This development did not spring from benevolence. In fact, this is a victory for the youth movement which has long fought for the right to education,” Elago said.

“This is a recognition of the long-standing clamor of the Philippine student movement for the government to veer away from letting state schools to charge and profit from public higher education,” she added.

Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chair Patricia Licuanan said they were currently coordinating with other agencies to craft the implementing rules on how to operationalize the P8.3-billion allocation.

“Logistically, it will be difficult. How do you share, how do you divide up P8 billion with 113 SUCs (and the University of the Philippines)? What formula do you use?” she said in a television interview.

Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said there should be no problem for the CHED in implementing the expanded free tuition SUCs despite squabbling among officials. 

Recto, who introduced the free public college tuition provision in the P3.35-trillion national budget for 2017, also said the implementation of the program would not as complicated as Licuanan was making it appear.

According to Recto, the CHED does not have to do anything but disburse the funds to the 114 SUCs based on their respective claims for tuition.

He argued that the CHED would not even have to go through the individual records of every scholar in the SUCs.

“This will not be retail spending on their part. All it has to do is to disburse to the 114 state universities and colleges the amount that their students would have paid for tuition,” Recto said.

“So the reimbursement will be wholesale, so to speak, to 114 entities only. It’s not like they will have to put an approval stamp on each and every enrollment form,” he added.

Recto said apprehensions from some quarters in CHED might have been prodded by its failure to spend billions of pesos in scholarship several years ago.

He also aired his confidence that President Duterte would not veto the provision since he and every other candidate in the May 2016 presidential elections made it a campaign promise to provide free tuition for students. 

“We ran the numbers and we saw that at this level of public spending, in this era of trillion-peso budgets, this can be done,” Recto said.

The P8.3 billion that was added to the CHED’s 2017 budget was exclusively for the payment of tuition to the SUCs.

The funds originated from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways for projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

It was Sen. Panfilo Lacson who pushed for the removal of the P8.3 billion from the DPWH because it would violate the Organic Act of the ARMM and it was inserted in the budget in pork barrel-like fashion, which he said was unconstitutional.

The P8.3 billion that is now with the CHED will be distributed among 114 SUCs based on the amount of tuition each school is projected to collect next year as reported in the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing (BESF) document. – Marvin Sy

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