The Duterte administration is set to earmark P20 billion out of the proposed P3.7-trillion national budget for 2018 to fund the new law granting free education in state universities and colleges (SUCs).
Commissioner Prospero de Vera of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) made the announcement a day after the House appropriations panel chief, Rep. Karlo Nograles of Davao City, disclosed that Congress and the Executive department were looking at pooling P16.8 billion in scholarship funds of various government agencies for 2018 and part of the 2017 scholarship allocation of P8 billion.
“We estimate that the law will cost us P16.8 billion for SUCs, and between P3 billion to P4 billion for the technical and vocational courses under Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority),” de Vera said.
“We’re looking at current scholarship and financial assistance money already existing in the budget of several government agencies. And these include CHEd, DOST (Department of Science and Technology), Department of Agriculture…where there are existing scholarship programs…We’ll see how much of these can be put into the allocation for 2018. And then together with the House of Representatives and the Senate, we will look for other funding sources from the 2018 budget,” de Vera added.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed on August 3 Republic Act (RA) 10931, or the Universal Access to Quality
Tertiary Education Act, but admitted days later that the government didn’t have the money for it.
Senators have said they could fund the law by cutting “pork” in the national budget.
At the House of Representatives, the committee on appropriations said the budgets of three agencies can be slashed as lawmakers scrambled to find money to fund the free tuition program.
“The panel has initially identified the three government agencies, which may get budget cuts due to low absorptive capacity and sluggish implementation of projects and programs,” Appropriations chairman Rep. Karlo Nograles said.
The three agencies are the Departments of Agrarian Reform, Information Communications Technology and Transportation.
These three agencies can contribute at least P37.5 billion which can act as a standby fund once the free college education program is fully implemented.
Pass entrance exam first
De Vera clarified that the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the new law would not allow SUCs to adopt an open admission system.
Students must pass an entrance exam. Also, students from private universities won’t be allowed to transfer to SUCs. Thus, transferees in the second, third and fourth year levels won’t get free tuition.
“The SUCs should have a controlled admission. They need to tighten their existing admission and retention policies so that there won’t be massive transfer of students from private universities to SUCs. Of course, we need this [policy of controlled admission]so that the SUCs won’t be tempted to take everybody in just because they will be subsidized by the government,” de Vera explained.
“There are other components of the law that we’re looking at, including ensuring that only students who enroll on a full load and finish their course on time will be able to access the funding assistance of government,” he said.
“There’s also the possibility of enrollees intending to go to private universities but will go to SUCs, but this will probably happen only for the entering freshmen batch. For the second, third and fourth years, we are discouraging wholesale transfers from private universities to state universities and colleges.”
No second degree
Likewise, students who want to take a second degree won’t be covered by the law.
Students in 112 SUCs nationwide are already enjoying free tuition subsidy from the government.
The new law, however, expands the government subsidy for tertiary education by paying for standard miscellaneous fees, covering 111 other SUCs under local governments, funding technical and vocational education under Tesda, providing additional subsidy for very poor students, and putting up a student loan fund through government financial institutions.
“We hope to finish the IRR very fast so that we can implement this in June 2018,” de Vera added.
with James Galvez and YMMAN JAKE M. BIACO, TMTC INTERN