IRR draft of free tuition law, full of loopholes – Kabataan
◢ Rat San Juan
The Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (R.A. 10931) remains pending three months after the act was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte. However, the latest IRR draft has several contentious provisions that will possibly limit free tuition and loan coverage.
Copies of the IRR draft, last revised on October 13, were provided during a public consultation on R.A. 10931 organized by Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) on October 19.
The government should aim to increase rather than limit student population in state universities and colleges (SUCs), said Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago. “Napaka-mapanganib ang hinggil sa mga exemptions. Kumbaga mas nagtatalakay pa nga [ang IRR draft] sa kung sino ang hindi kasali.”
Exemptions listed in Section 6 of the IRR draft are students who hold a bachelor’s degree, meet their program’s maximum residency rule (MRR), opt out of the free education provision, or fail to comply with admission and retention policies, resulting in the student’s permanent dismissal.
Additionally, for shiftees, any semester where the student benefitted from free education will be subtracted from the remaining expected duration of the current program the student is enrolled in. In the case of transferees, this includes any period when the student was under any government-funded Student Financial Assistance Program (StuFAP).
“Ang ginagawa ng Duterte admin ngayon, inaagaw nila at saka pinagkakait ang tagumpay na nakamit ng mga estudyante…Sa IRR [draft], posible nga na malimitahan, maikutan, at gamitin mismo yung batas para hindi mabigay ang libreng edukasyon,” said Elago.
The IRR draft also reveals a problematic Student Loan Program (SLP), according to Elago. Coverage of the SLP includes private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). “Kung ano mang pondo ang ilalaan diyan, magbibigay siya ng preferential [treatment], o mauuna muna yung mga naka-enroll sa private [HEIs],” she added.
According to Section 39 of the IRR draft, student prioritization for the SLP is based on the availability of alternative financing sources, cost recovery or paying capacity, acknowledgement of the private sector’s contribution to the tertiary education system, and additional incentives to high-performing or highly-abled students. The provision also states that the prioritization mechanism is subject to the availability of funds.
The selective loan program will prove an obstacle to financially-disadvantaged students, said Elago. “Sa laganap pa rin na kahirapan ng ating bayan, kahit libre pa ang tuition and other school fees (OSFs), mahirap pa rin sa maraming kabataan, lalo na ‘yung mula sa mga mahihirap na pamilya, ‘yung daily expenses, [katulad ng] pamasahe, pambaon,” she added.
Such loopholes will mostly affect students who rely on additional financial assistance to sustain themselves. The average living expense of UP Diliman students is estimated at P37,000 each semester based on data from the Office of Student Scholarships and Services (OSSS).
In light of the IRR draft, Student Regent Shari Oliquino has encouraged the youth to guard developments in the campaign for free education and to take an uncompromising stance against tuition, OSFs, and all forms of payment. “Pag sinasabi nating karapatan sa edukasyon, pagtatanggal talaga siya sa lahat ng mekanismo ng paniningil sa mga estudyante,” she said.
The final version of the IRR is set to be released this month, according to UniFAST Interim Deputy Executive Director Nicki Tenazas. ◢
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