IN the excitement of President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (RA 10931 or EAQTEA), people have jumped to wanting to implement it without reading it. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno has declared that he will head the formulation of the new law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRRs), and Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) commissioner Popoy de Vera has come out in a Malacañang press briefing to describe a staggered implementation of the law, first funding free tuition in the state universities and colleges (SUCs), then in accredited local universities and colleges (LUCs), then presumably the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education Act (UniFAST) over a period of three or four years, if I understood him correctly.
For a law that was very carefully crafted by Congress after extensive consultation of stakeholders towards providing not only access to higher education to all but also of ensuring its quality, the sense is the IRRs are now already being crafted by persons who are primarily interested in denying it appropriate funds, or by persons who do not appreciate the genius of this bill in its recognition of the constitutionally mandated complementarity between public and private education. Clearly, the economic official who pressured President Duterte to veto this act should not head the committee on its IRRs. And the spokesman for CHEd should wait for the legal formulation of legitimate IRRs before explaining how it is to be implemented.
Not just for SUCs
Again, RA 10931 is not just about free tuition for the privileged few in the SUCs. It is about universal access to quality higher education for all where public and private higher education institutions (HEIs) work together to provide all quality higher education. That is what must be funded and implemented in its entirety. Otherwise, the law is undermined. Otherwise, where the President is committed to the rule of law, his Cabinet secretaries honor this commitment in the breach.
The law is clear: Concerning the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 10931, “within sixty days from the effectivity of this act, the UniFAST board, in consultation with the CHEd, the Tesda [Technical Education and Skills Development Authority], and other relevant stakeholders in higher and technical education, shall promulgate the implementing rules and regulations necessary to ensure the efficient and effective implementation of this Act.
The membership of the UniFAST board is defined by the UniFAST Law (RA 10687) and expanded by the EAQTEA Law (RA 10931).
According to the UniFAST law, the membership of the board consists of the following:
“(a) The CHEd chairperson as ex officio chairperson;
“(b) The Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) as ex officio co-chairperson;
“(c) The TESDA Director General as ex officio co-chairperson;
“(d) The Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) as ex officio member;
“(d) A representative from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) as ex officio member;
“(e) A representative from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) as ex officio member;
“(f) A representative from the National Youth Commission (NYC) as ex officio member” (Sec. 14)
The UAQTEA law or RA 10931 expanded this membership by five to include the:
“(a) President of the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges member;
“(b) Chairman of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations as member;
“(c) Chairman of the Association of Local Colleges and Universities as member;
“(d) President of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) as a non-voting member;
“(e) President of the Social Security System (GSIS) as a non-voting member” (Sec 13).
For the IRRs of the EAQTEA Law (RA 10931), it is CHEd Chairman Patricia Licuanan who must convene the expanded UniFAST board consisting of 12 members (10 voting and 2 non-voting). It is the IRR that this board promulgates that shall govern the implementation of RA 10931.
Not just about jobs
This said, allow me some personal reflections:
The economic managers who have formulated the National Development Plan which envisions a socially just society by 2040 should befriend the EAQTEA in its entirety. Certainly, higher education must address the mismatch between academe and industry or between academe and the economy. But higher education is not only about jobs. It is about forming Filipino citizens who value their being Filipino in a just and peaceful Philippine society, their humanity in a humane global society, and who therefore critically understand the difference between freedom and arbitrariness, duty and licentiousness, religion and ideology, radicalism and extremism, efficiency and corruption, and affirm personal dual responsibilities in followership and leadership.
The funding for the EAQTEA should be for its provisions in its entirety. Funding must not just be for blind access to but deserved quality higher education. Quality education is not a monopoly of the SUCs, just as universal access is not a virtue of private education. But outputting graduates optimally who will contribute well to the realization of AmbisyonNatin 2040 must result from the wise encouragement and financial support of the complementary between the country’s public and private HEIs today. The cooperation between public and private HEIs is acknowledged by the new partnership between the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) and the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), which will soon be expanded to include the Association of Local Colleges and Universities (ALCU). That is why the heads of these organizations are now part of the UniFAST board.
The UniFAST board will have to determine how scarce resources can be best used to optimize the output of quality graduates through the EAQTEA. Prioritization of SUCs over LUCs over private HEIs may undermine this. Support, on the other hand, of qualified students wishing higher education to serve the higher manpower requirements of the “smart population” envisaged in AmbisyonNatin 2040 in either public or private HEIs of evidenced quality may advance it. The prioritization may therefore be for those quality scientists, engineers, social scientists, doctors, nurses, and even religious and moral leaders required by AmbisyonNatin 2040, and not those going to this or that type of HEI.
In the long term, quality will have to be nurtured through the HEIs’ commitment to quality assurance within the Asean Quality Assurance Framework. Both PASUC and COCOPEA have formally committed themselves to this.
Finally, to make this work, funding must from the beginning be large enough to make not only the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) but the Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education function in proper complementarity. The latter fund is wisely not a hand-out, but a loan seriously to be repaid. The loan fund, therefore, will eventually revolve, allowing more and more qualified students access to quality education. Unto this end, the law states, “Repayment shall be effected by incorporating a portion of the loan amount or a portion thereof in the employee’s monthly Social Security System (SSS) or Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) contribution, as the case may be, based on a reasonable schedule of repayment and interest rates, as may be formulated by the UniFAST Board” (Sec. 8). It is for this reason that RA10931 provides that both the presidents of the SSS and the GSIS be non-voting members of the UniFAST board.
Funding must be large enough
In the end, it is not the Department of Budget and Management secretary that is to provide funds for this milestone in educational legislation. It is Congress, through the General Appropriations Act (Sec. 15). I am grateful that such legislators as Rep. Karlo Nograles and Sen. Loren Legarda have shown themselves to be very supportive of quality higher education for all. As President Duterte rightly said after he signed the bill into law, it is now up to the Congress to fund it. Among things that Congress fund, quality higher education for all must certainly be a priority.
The author is president of Ateneo de Davao University and former chairman of the Coordinating Council for Private Education Association (COCOPEA).