Free college program possible this year

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THE free tertiary education program may be available to more than four million students in the country starting the second semester of school year 2017-2018 if President Rodrigo Duterte signs the bill in June.

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With the ratification of a bicameral conference committee report on the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act on Tuesday, Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th said the bill only needs the signature of the President and a draft of Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) for the measure to take effect.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Aquino, the sponsor of the proposed law that grants free education in state universities and colleges (SUCs) and local universities and colleges (LUCs), said all students, rich or poor, can enroll for free in government universities and colleges.

“We’re hoping that by November or the second semester, college students in SUCs and LUCs won’t have to pay anything,” he added.

According to Aquino, there are some conflicting provisions between the IRR of the Free Tuition Policy of CHED and the Congress-approved bill but the latter will prevail.

The senator mentioned an IRR of the commission that grants free tuition only to those under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the government and those belonging to lower-income families.

But under the free tuition bill, all students, regardless of their social status, are covered by the law.

“We want this law to make college education easily accessible to everyone because a complicated education program would make it useless,” Aquino said.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the government will need P50 billion to P53 billion per year to fund the program.

The government, according to the senator, is capable of funding the law since Malacanang is planning to raise the national budget for next year by P400 billion.

With that increase in the 2018 budget, CHED only needs an additional P20 billion because Congress already found a source for the P30 billion.

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