SENATORS on Monday said the P8.3 billion infused into the budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for free college education in state universities and colleges (SUCs) is just the first step in the government’s plans to make tertiary education free.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian noted that the additional funding for CHED is a promising start for eventually institutionalizing the free tuition policy of the government.
Gatchalian, an author of the proposed Free Higher Education Act, warned that college students enrolled in SUCs could stand to lose their free tuition benefits if Congress failed to include a budget insertion to fund the program in the future.
The senator explained that funding the education of SUC students requires multi-year budgetary planning over four to five years, the typical length of an undergraduate degree program.
“We need to pass a law which would create a sort of security of tenure for SUC students by establishing a mechanism which will guarantee funding for their tuition over the entire span of their degree program. Otherwise, their right to education will be left at the mercy of budget season politics,” Gatchalian said.
He added that the law on free college education should not only ensure the right to education but also protect public funds from possible abuses.
Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th, also expressed the need to for a law, noting that while funds have already been earmarked for free tuition in SUCs next school year, there is still a need to have a law to make it a regular item in succeeding national budgets.
Aside from Gatchalian and Aquino, four other senators filed similar measures on free tuition in SUCs and the Senate expects to pass it by February or March next year.
“We’re hoping we can pass this by February or March in time for the June school year so that free tuition in SUC will be available every school year,” Aquino, chairman of the education committee, said. JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA