THE Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (Pasuc) are worried about the sustainability of free education, once the proposed measure granting free tuition to students enrolled in state universities and colleges (SUCs) is approved.
Patricia Licuanan, CHED chairman, said her agency will find a practical way of implementing free education as she assured that the P8.3-billion proposed budget for the poor students will be given to all state schools for the next academic year starting in June.
“But what I’m concerned about is whether this [free tuition]can be sustained over the long term because… and so maybe if we have a lot of money, we have no problem with it but if the budget is very limited, we have to prioritize the poorest [students], but how do we do that is still not clear to us,” Licuanan told this reporter in an interview at the sidelines of an education forum organized by the Philippine Association of Private Schools, Colleges and Universities (Papscu) at Club Filipino in San Juan City (Metro Manila) on Thursday.
“I think the P8.3-billion additional budget for state universities and colleges for 2017 would be enough, so it’s just a matter of how we are going to… what will happen in 2018 and so forth that I think we have a difficulty,” she explained.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th authored Senate Bill 177 or the Free Higher Education for All Act, a landmark legislation that aims to provide additional funding to state universities and colleges so that all poor but bright students can enroll in college.
Pasuc president Ricardo Rotoras said they will submit to the Senate the needed amount to fully subsidize all SUCs.
“We have this estimate, and how much we need in order to provide free education.
The amount is so enormous. We’re worried about the sustainability of providing the fund.
What we submitted is the framewor, but the figures or the estimate based on what we believe would be like reasonable funds that state universities and colleges would need but we did not yet submit them [figures], but the amount is quite big,” Rotoras added.
When asked if the government is capable of giving state schools additional funding every academic year, he replied, “Actually, we worry on that because if you look at the previous trend of the budget given to state universities and colleges, and considering the amount is not that big yet and then they provide how much more this plan to the budget for the education.”
There are 113 SUCs in the country and they serve about 1.6 million students, including University of the Philippines, Rotoras said.
“The average per capita right now is P27,000 per student, I mean, you can easily multiply the P27,000 x 1.6 million and that’s the current… and we also consider the state schools would be charging the fees,” he added.
“Now, the collection of state universities and colleges is about P27 billion and then if we add that the amount is quite big. I can give the figure but I don’t have it now but I can provide that when necessary,” Rotoras said.
The government, according to him, should pay not only the students’ tuition but also their miscellaneous fees.
“Miscellaneous [fees]are much bigger than tuition. Most of the students won’t be able to finish schooling because they pay not only the tuition but also the miscellaneous fees and other costs of education like boarding house, transportation and educational tours, among others,” he said.
“I think the government should really look into how much funds we really need if we intend to provide free tuition,” the educator added.
Rotoras underscored the significance of the complementary roles of public schools and private schools.
“We have to recognize the fact that we need the private schools. Countries in the region are also relying on help of private institutions. In other words, we have to look at this in the context as one higher education system,” he said.
“The government, alone, is not capable to provide all these educational services if the private schools would die. That’s something we have to look into also in the whole context how this free education should really target those who really need it,” Rotoras added, referring to poor students.
“We should not allow the private institutions to die because it’s not going to be sustainable if the private schools would not be there,” he said.
Rotoras sees a massive migration of students from private schools to state universities and colleges as a result of the free education policy in the state schools.
“Certainly, some students from the private schools would transfer to the public schools. For the past eight years, our growth rate in the state colleges and universities is about 8 percent, so we are increasing annually about 8 percent,” he said.
“If you look at it [free education], it’s really very attractive on the part of the parents and students to transfer to public schools. Let’s say 15 percent or 20 percent migration from the private schools, it’s not impossible to assume that percentage. And just imagine about 20 percent growth rate in the state colleges, and right now we have difficulty in providing them the classrooms, for the longest time we received substantial budget for capital outlay. Many of the state universities and colleges do not have the classrooms, do not have laboratory rooms, and do not have all these basic facilities. Just to cater to the existing students, we are really having difficulty on that,” the educator added.
Licuanan, however, said she sees this differently.
“Probably not now. One of the things they’re saying is that they will use… because now we only have few freshmen, so I don’t know if they will be allowed to transfer because one of the proposals in that technical working group is it should support only existing students for now,” she explained.
Licuanan, meanwhile, refuted claims of militant student group National Union of Students of the Philippines that she is “anti-student and anti-poor” for her statements regarding the new policy of free tuition in state universities and colleges.
“My remarks are anti-poor? How can it be anti-poor when I was saying that we should prioritize the poor students? I really don’t think I am the enemy here. They think me being against this free tuition, it is my duty to raise certain issues, which I did, but I want to say that whatever is the law I will implement it,” she said.
On Thursday, the student group claimed that Licuanan and CHED are “blatantly anti-student and anti-poor as they give conditions when it comes to providing free public education.”