Socialized tuition scheme to complement free tuition bill
■ Hans Christian Marin
The free tertiary education bill approved in the lower house could pave the way for the implementation of a nationwide socialized tuition scheme— one that has consistently been used for profiteering in the country’s only national university.
Youth group Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Jane Elago said this amid the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education’s approval on March 6 of the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act,” a bill that would waive tuition and other school fees payment across the country’s 114 state universities and colleges (SUCs).
Although the bill promises free tuition and subsidies in SUCS, the same profiteering scheme in the Socialized Tuition System (STS) in UP might be used, Elago said.
Under STS, only students with families earning an annual income of less than P135,000 are granted free tuition, while those with no tuition discount pay at least P22,500 every semester for a normal 15 unit load. Tuition and other fees collection in UP has averaged to P890 million every year since 2013, data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) showed (see sidebar 1).
In the proposed bill, a Student Loan Program will also be implemented where P12 billion will be used to subsidize the education of eligible students in private higher education institutions (HEIs) and local universities and colleges.
The bill previously drew flak from private institutions for supposedly depriving them of student enrollment given the free tuition offered in SUCs.
The current form of the bill wants public funds to be used for profit-making by private HEIs that are worried that greater funding for SUCs will result in the transferring of students from private to public HEIs, Elago said.
On the other hand, the bill will also seek funding from official development assistance or foreign loans. Elago also warned that seeking funds through foreign aid always comes with a cost that might compromise the nature of Philippine education.
“Dapat ang pagsuporta sa free public education ay true sa clamor ng mga estudyante at ng mga eskwelahan. Hindi dapat ginagawang negosyo ang edukasyon,” Elago said.
Opposition from CHED
In December 2016, Congress granted an additional P8.3 billion budget to Commission on Higher Education (CHED) originally to make tuition fee free for at least 1.6 million students in SUCs. The additional budget came from funds initially allocated for development projects of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
However, the additional budget must be doubled to P16 billion as this is the amount needed to make tuition free for all SUCs, CHED Commissioner Patricia Licuanan said.
Free tuition will also not help the poor as only about eight percent of them are enrolled in college and majority of them have stopped schooling, Licuanan added.
Recognizing that P16 billion is just 0.48 percent of the country’s total budget of P3.35 trillion in 2017, National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) Spokesperson Mark Lim still believes free tuition is a positive step towards making education more accessible to the poor.
About 1.6 million students in SUCs pay an average of P9,407 in tuition every year, data from Senator Bam Aquino’s Free Higher Education For All Act revealed. This is already 5.54 percent of the average family income of minimum wage workers amounting to P170,100, where more than half is spent on food while about a third is spent for other payments like rent and bills, data from IBON Foundation stated.
With the high cost of education and insufficient family income, four million children and youth aged six to 24 were forced to drop out of school in 2013, data from Philippine Statistics Authority showed.
“The statements [of Licuanan] show a lack of understanding on the struggles of the youth and the crisis of tertiary education. They seem to ignore the factors that made tertiary education inaccessible to the poor in the first place–expensive tuition and other school fees,” Lim said.
Fight for free tuition
While the tertiary education bill is set to be signed on its third reading before Congress takes a recess on March 15, Lim believes that along with changing and improving some of the bill’s provisions, the government should also repeal repressive educational policies such as the Education Act of 1982 and the Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform (RPHER).
The Education Act of 1982 maintains the existence of tuition and OSFs in all universities while RPHER pushes SUCs to become self-sufficient by 2016. As consistent with RPHER, SUCs have been earning a total income average of P25 billion a year since 2013 to augment their annual budget.
“The government should establish a system of free public higher education. Youth and students groups should further intensify the struggle for free education by mounting successive protests nationwide,” Lim said. ■
Short URL: http://www.philippinecollegian.org/?p=11699