Licuanan says CHED has weak absorptive capacity
MANILA - Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan admitted before lawmakers of the House Appropriations Committee that her agency cannot cope with the huge amount of funds it has been given for scholarships.
"I will admit that is a bit of a challenge. We have to beef up our offices to handle the large number of graduates that pass through us," Licuanan said when asked during the budget hearing if the lack of staff hampers the processing of scholarships.
Licuanan added that the huge increase for CHED's financial assistance budget was not initiated by CHED.
"The problem came when we were deluged with funds from what was the former Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). The proportion that we had to manage really increased, and I will admit it tried our carrying capacity. We haven't quite recovered yet," Licuanan said.
Aside from the lack of manpower, the higher education chief explained that the discrepancy between the academic and fiscal calendars also makes the disbursement of scholarship funds more complicated.
"The academic calendar is something we have to work with. The fact is, schools start accepting students in April or May so it is in the second and third quarter (of the year) where we get (the bulk of) requests for scholarships. The academic calendar is not in sync with fiscal calendar, and that puts us at a disadvantage," Licuanan said.
Licuanan told lawmakers that as a band-aid solution, CHED implemented a new policy where the entire agency's budget has to be spent within a year.
As of now, CHED's budget for higher education development services, which includes scholarships and K-12, still has 65% or P2.8-billion.
Other areas where the CHED seems to be underspending is faculty development and research as the agency cannot give funds to offices that have not liquidated previous grants.
Licuanan said they are now studying different options, including devolving the higher education fund to colleges and universities, and even giving direct cash grants to students.
CHED is seeking a P13.3-billion budget for 2017, up from its P9.6-billion allocation in 2016.
Five-and-a-half-billion pesos will go to the student financial assistance program while P4.5-billion will go to the CHED's implementation of the K-12 program for those who will be affected by the shift to K-12.