CHED chair Patricia Licuanan said they are coordinating with the Department of Budget and Management, Commission on Audit and other oversight agencies to ensure the legality of the proposed guidelines in implementing the free tuition policy in state universities and colleges (SUCs). File photo

CHED: Free tuition scheme will be fair
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - December 25, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has assured the public that the implementation of the free tuition policy will be fair and guided by the intention of providing accessible and quality higher education for Filipinos.

CHED chair Patricia Licuanan said they are coordinating with the Department of Budget and Management, Commission on Audit and other oversight agencies to ensure the legality of the proposed guidelines in implementing the free tuition policy in state universities and colleges (SUCs).

“To bring the country closer to the reality of free college education, the commission will work overtime to ensure that the wisdom and specific intentions of lawmakers will be accurately reflected in the free tuition guidelines it is set to create,” Licuanan said.

“In the short term, this will incrementally improve enrollment rates, and will help free up financial resources for other college expenses and needs of the students. From a wider perspective, this amount will eventually increase the available income of families,” she added.

She issued the statement even as President Duterte placed under conditional implementation the P8-billion allocation to cover free tuition in SUCs.

In his message sent to Congress with regard to the 2017 budget, the President lauded the initiative of legislature to provide free tuition to college students in state schools and stressed the need to prioritize poor Filipino students.

“Yet, as with all new programs, there is a need to safeguard the proper implementation of the provision of free tuition fee. It is important to underscore that we must give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students,” said the President.

The P8-billion allocation was realigned from the infrastructure budget for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which Sen. Panfilo Lacson dubbed as a form of pork barrel during Senate deliberations.

The amount allocated to cover tuition in state schools was based on the estimated tuition collection of 113 SUCs and the University of the Philippines for 2016, according to advocates pushing for free education.

According to Licuanan, CHED is aware of issues and concerns raised by various sectors in relation to the new policy, including the need to ensure that the funds are spent according to how they are intended.

“It will be guided by fairness, cost recovery and alignment of incentives,” she said of the policy. “CHED will ensure that the wide-reaching implications of this major reform in Higher Education will be brought about effectively, and any negative consequences will be minimized.”

In an earlier position paper on the proposal, CHED stressed that disadvantaged students also need other support other than tuition, as the cost of education entails other expenses, such as the daily expenses of the students.

It also warned against possible influx of students from private to public schools, which may further disenfranchise students from disadvantaged sectors of society.

In addition to funding for free tuition, CHED will also receive a budget to implement various scholarship programs for college students, which the agency said might be used by students in state schools to cover for other school fees and expenses.

Licuanan said the timing for the reform is fortunate as strong political will and a robust economy allowed the country to embark on major reforms that were not possible in the past.

She said they would also coordinate with all private higher education institutions to ensure their role under the new policy, as well as with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for improved complementation of the post-secondary programs in the country.

Implement now

Meanwhile, a militant youth group has urged the Duterte administration to immediately implement the policy next month.

Anakbayan national chairman Vencer Crisostomo noted that some higher education institutions such as the University of the Philippines will just start its second semester due to the calendar shift.

“Government should not waste time and make sure that the move takes effect this January, in time for enrollment season for some schools affected by the calendar shift and exam season for most,” said Crisostomo.

“Duterte and CHED should immediately order all schools to stop collecting fees from all students. Even pending such an order, however, SUCs, through their board of administrators, can and must stop tuition collection,” he added.

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