MANILA – The government needs P20-billion to implement the free tuition law next year and cover some 1 million students in state-run higher education institutions, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) said Thursday.
CHEd Commissioner Prospero De Vera said about P16.8 billion of the fund would be allocated to 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) and 16 local universities and colleges (LUCs).
At least P3 billion will meanwhile go to technical-vocational schools under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
With the 2018 proposed budget already in Congress, De Vera said funding for the free tuition program may be sourced from the budgets of various agencies which have scholarship programs, such as CHEd, the Department of Science and Technology, and the Department of Agriculture.
“[Together] with the House of Representatives and the Senate, we will look for other funding sources from the 2018 National Expenditure Program,” De Vera said in a news conference in Malacañang.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law last week the bill granting free tuition in state-run institutions despite his economic team’s funding concerns.
On Wednesday, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, chair of the House appropriations committee, said lawmakers have identified sources for P16 billion in funds to support free college education next year.
He said funding could be pooled together from scholarship programs of various government agencies.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, meanwhile, made the assurance that the recently signed law would not be left unfunded.
On the sidelines of the Sulong Pilipinas forum in Mandaluyong on Wednesday, Diokno said measures would be put in place to ensure that the poorest and most deserving students would be given priority under the free tuition law.
The budget chief said high school students will have to pass entrance exams to qualify for admission in state-run colleges and universities with free tuition. He added that students enjoying free tuition may also be asked to do civic work.
The finer details of the law, De Vera said, would be reflected in its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) that the CHED, TESDA, the Department of Budget and Management, and other relevant government agencies are working on and would release soon.
Meanwhile, De Vera noted that only 16 out of the 111 LUCs are qualified to offer free tuition, being the only ones to meet CHEd standards.
“Looking at the LUCs is not a very easy process. You have to look at the facilities, look at the quality of instruction, look at their faculty profile, and they are all over the country,” De Vera said.
“The problem is about half of the LUCs have not even applied for evaluation. So maybe, because now they will get government subsidy, maybe they will apply because we cannot force them to be part of it, they have got to apply,” he added.
LUCs are CHEd-accredited public higher education institutions established by local government units through an enabling ordinance financially supported by the local government concerned.
SUCs, on the other hand, refer to public higher education institutions established by national laws which are financed and maintained by the national government and are governed by their respective independent boards of trustees or regents.
TIGHTER ADMISSION, RETENTION POLICIES
To ensure that funds would not be wasted, De Vera students would be required to abide by certain admission and retention standards.
Under the law, students who have already attained a bachelor’s degree or comparable undergraduate degree from any higher education institution whether public or private are not entitled to free tuition.
Also disqualified from receiving free tuition are students who failed to comply with admission and retention policies of the SUC or LUC, and those who failed to complete their bachelor’s degree or comparable undergraduate degree within a year after the period prescribed in their program.
Echoing Diokno, De Vera said entrance exams would ensure that the admission of students into government-funded schools would still be regulated.
“They should not have open admission. All state universities now have entrance exams. There might be a temptation on the part of some state universities because there’s government subsidy to increase the number of students because they will be receiving additional funding from government,” De Vera said.
“So we are telling the state universities and colleges that the new free tuition and miscellaneous [fees] law should not be used as an excuse... to do open admissions.”
Another measure that may be implemented in the wake of the signing of the free tuition law is the “no transfer policy,” which bars students already on their second year in college from transferring to a state-run institution offering free tuition.
“This is to allay the fears of some including those from private schools that there will be a massive transfer of students from private universities to SUCs,” he said.
“The possible shift of enrollees that intend to go to private universities but will go to SUCs will probably happen only for the entering freshmen batch. But for the second, third and fourth year, we are discouraging wholesale transfers from private universities to state universities and colleges,” he added.