MANILA - The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the distribution of tertiary education subsidies (TES) and reimbursements for tuition and miscellaneous fees, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) admitted in Friday’s hearing of the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education.
CHED assured lawmakers, however, that existing student beneficiaries will continue to be covered.
CHED Chairperson Prospero De Vera explained that beneficiaries’ submission of documents and requirements were affected by the COVID-19-induced lockdowns and restrictions.
“A lot of the submission of the reimbursement requirements for tuition and miscellaneous required documents signed by the president and the registrar of the university [slowed down] and there was no courier service that can be used to send them from all over the country to the UniFAST office. So, a lot of that really slowed down things early this year, and it continues to slow down things,” he said.
“Only when the reimbursement claims are complete and vetted, that’s the only time that the financial documents move. Any slowdown in the submission slows down the ability to evaluate documents and allocate the funds,” De Vera added, as he asked the committee to look into ways to address it either administratively or through a legislation.
“The distribution of TES, especially by the state universities and colleges, was also hit badly by COVID because many of them were physically distributing the TES,” De Vera said.
Another factor, according to De Vera, was the delayed release of funds to CHED.
“This was affected principally also by the type of governmental transactions, as well as the competing needs for funds because of COVID,” De Vera said.
He apologized to students, state and local universities and colleges for the delays in reimbursing tuition and miscellaneous fees for academic year 2019 and 2020.
De Vera announced though that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has already signed the notice of allocation amounting to P11 billion.
“Today, I was informed that a notice of cash allocation of P11 billion has been signed by the DBM. We have been waiting for this amount for a long time. I hope that this money will now be given to CHED so that we can now pay our payables for academic year 2019-2020,” he said.
“We have not paid the reimbursement of tuition and miscellaneous fees for state universities and colleges and LUCs [Local Universities and Colleges]. Some of them have had problems paying their faculty because their income has been affected by the slow release. We will release as fast as the DBM gives us the money,” De Vera promised.
“So, the P11 billion will be used for the reimbursement, plus hopefully it will suffice for the 2nd semester tertiary education subsidy of the beneficiaries,” he noted.
“Humihingi ho kami ng paumanhin sa mga bata at mga eskuwelahan,” De Vera said.
LIMITED IN-PERSON CLASSES
CHED, meanwhile, is eyeing the conduct of limited in-person classes in areas classified as low-risk modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) by January.
“We are exploring the possibility of allowing limited face-to-face only in these low-risk MGCQ areas,” De Vera said, noting that CHED has finalized the guidelines in consultation with the Department of Health.
Of the country’s higher education institutions, 20 opened last June and July, 731 are scheduled to open this August, and 186 plan to begin classes next month until October.
De Vera said among the biggest challenges in reopening HEIs are connectivity issues and capacity building for faculty members on developing content for flexible learning arrangements.
“There are still areas where a significant number of faculty members still need training,” he said.
CHED has launched a website where learning materials can be downloaded for faculties and students. It also launched a bayanihan project where 6 top universities experienced in flexible learning would train faculty members of smaller private universities.
Also in Friday’s committee hearing, the panel approved bills seeking to establish a CHED provincial office in Northern Samar, as well as TESDA training and assessment centers in Paracelis, Mountain Province, Benguet, and Mati, Davao Oriental.
The committee also approved a measure providing for the integration of the North Luzon Philippines State College (NLPSC) with the Ilocos Sur Polytechnic State College (ISPSC), and its conversion into a state university.