MANILA (UPDATE)- Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Prospero de Vera on Wednesday defended the free tuition for higher education, amid sustainability concerns raised by Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
De Vera said investing in the education of college students is the “best anti-poverty strategy,” and a way to produce highly skilled manpower.
"There are many beneficiaries of (free tuition in) higher education, first in the family to go to university, and first in the family to graduate… Sila ang magsisiguro na ‘yung kanilang kahirapan ay hindi ipapamana sa kanilang mga anak," he told the House Committee on Appropriations during the hearing on CHED’s proposed 2024 budget.
"I don’t think there’s anything better than that for a country to do- investing in its young people… It’s the best anti-poverty strategy. You educate an individual, you make him employable, and you make sure the poverty stops with him or with her. That is well documented," he added.
De Vera added that the implementation of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education has increased access to college education.
“We’ve been implementing free higher education for 5 years now. The results are out there to see. Number one, participation in higher education has significantly increased. 41% of university students are actually enrolled in universities vs 30+% in the previous years. That’s a significant increase,” he said.
“The president has already spoken. I will just follow the instruction of the President,” De Vera noted.
"My take is that you strongly disagree. Your statement though not in clear terms is strong disagreement to the secretary,” Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez commented.
The lawmaker also supports free tuition for tertiary education.
“To get all the support to 1.6 million scholars, to take out the scholarship program we’ll now see a decay of education in our country. these students need this to be able to finish their studies,” Rodriguez said.
“Education is the great emancipator of people from the bondage of poverty. With education you are able to move forward with your family,” he added.
Asked whether the CHED chair will recommend to the Marcos Jr. administration to continue with the implementation of free college education, De Vera said “the President committed to do so in his State of the Nation Address.”
Of the P36.4-billion budget requested by CHED for 2024, the Department of Budget and Management granted only P29.6 billion.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman observed that CHED’s budget continues to decline since 2022. That’s amid a shift in enrollment towards public schools from private schools. CHED said the ratio used to be 70-30 in favor of private schools, but it is currently at 50-50. De Vera said this prompted the commission to slash the tertiary education subsidy (TES) granted to beneficiaries.
“We are lowering the tertiary education subsidy amount so we can still cover a significant number of TES grantees. That is the response of the UNIFAST board recognizing the problem of the fiscal space in government,” he told the panel.
“Because of the smaller amount for TES grantees, some of our students may not have as much capacity to continue their education as before. Because we decreased the TES grant from about P60,000 to P20,000 in private schools and from P40,000 to P20,000 in state universities and colleges,” De Vera noted.
CHED said the attrition rate of college students is declining. From a high of 41% at height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now at 27.2%, which De Vera said is “manageable”.
Kabataan Party List Representative Raoul Manuel, meanwhile, questioned the annual tuition hike in several private higher education institutions.
“At least ba aaralin manlang ng CHED ang policies sa pagmomonitor niya at pagbabantay ng fees?” he asked.
“For the schools that are under the authority of CHED for tuition fees, we have actually made sure that their increases are very close to the regional inflation rate. Pag may sobrang laki, sinasabihan namin sila na ibaba ang increase with tuition and school fees,” De Vera replied.
But for Manuel, such effort is not enough. The CHED chairperson asserted that the need for private schools to fund qualified professors should also be considered.
“May schools kasi almost every year nagtataas ng tuition, kasama rito yung mga autonomous … It’s like complicit ang CHED sa ginagawa na lang nilang pagkakitaan ang edukasyon ng mga kabataan … Kulang kulang din ang facilities at equipment, 'yung sahod ng teacher kulang din naman. Pwede bang baguhin ng CHED ang policy on that?” Manuel asked.
"Private schools are at a disadvantage to public universities now because of the higher salary standardization in state universities and colleges, we have seen a significant movement of professors qualified with graduate degrees moving from private to public. Nalalagasan po ang maraming private schools. for them to be competitive and for them to comply with standards, they need additional funding. It is always a very difficult balancing act that we have to do. If we don’t allow private universities to increase tuition fees and we don’t subsidize them either, they run the risk of losing good faculty, the deterioration of their programs. In the end ang kawawa rin po ay mga estudyante nila,” De Vera answered.
CHED admitted that it has yet to include in the tertiary education curriculum the teaching of Martial Law atrocities as well as the lives and sacrifices of human rights victims. That’s even if it is mandated by Republic Act 10368, which was enacted ten years ago.
De Vera made the admission to the question raised by Lagman. De Vera assured the lawmaker that it will discuss the implementation of the mandate with the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
“Under Sec. 27 of RA 10368… the human rights commission shall also coordinate and collaborate with the DepEd to ensure that the teaching of martial law atrocities, the lives and sacrifices of victims in our history are included in the basic, secondary and tertiary education curricula. Has CHED discharged this mandate?” Lagman asked.
“Not yet. But we will sit down with the Commission as you have brought it to our attention,” De Vera replied.
“Please remember that this law has been passed many years ago,” Lagman noted.
CHED also said it has yet to comply with the law’s mandate to provide non-monetary reparation to the human rights victims or their families, because it is prioritizing the efforts to construct the museum in honor and memory of the victims.
The House Committee on Appropriations suspended its deliberations on the proposed 2024 budget for CHED. It will resume on September 11.
FROM THE ARCHIVES