Senate passes bill on free tuition in state colleges

Jee Y. Geronimo
'This passage of the Affordable Higher Education for All Act is a clear message from the Senate to every Filipino that we prioritize education, that we choose to invest, first and foremost, in our students,' says Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV

FREE TUITION. The Senate passes on 3rd and final reading the Affordable Higher Education for All Act. File photo by Mark Demayo

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, March 13, passed on 3rd and final reading a bill that will provide full tuition subsidy for students in state universities and colleges (SUCs).

With 18 affirmative votes, the Senate approved Senate Bill 1304 which seeks to institutionalize a tuition-free policy in the country’s 112 SUCs.

“[This] is truly an important day in the 17th Congress,” Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said on Monday. (READ: Free tuition in state colleges: What the bill says)

He added: “We saw that this passage of the Affordable Higher Education for All Act is a clear message from the Senate to every Filipino that we prioritize education, that we choose to invest, first and foremost, in our students, our children in the next generation. And indeed… this investment as a country is the best that we can undertake.”

Aquino went on to thank his fellow senators, with a special mention to Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, and Senator Francis Escudero – the new chair of the Senate committee on education, arts, and culture – “for allowing me to finish this important measure and take it to the finish line.”

He also thanked Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan and other CHED commissioners “who helped us with this bill even if, at the beginning, we may have had our share of disagreements.”

Under the proposed measure, CHED is mandated to manage and administer an SUC Tuition Subsidy Fund that will be made available to SUCs that will comply with requirements set by the law.

Filipino students currently enrolled or will enroll in SUCs can get the full tuition subsidy upon meeting the admission requirements of the state university or college.

In recent years, CHED has expressed its reservations about the policy, saying a tuition-free policy will likely lead to a massive exodus of students from private higher education institutions (HEIs) to SUCs.

Even the Philippines’ economic managers believe fully funding the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) is a better alternative to the proposed tuition-free policy in SUCs.

Rejecting statements that the policy will only benefit “non-poor” students, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto on Monday said the Senate bill “will benefit poor, near-poor, including the middle class.”

He added, “But if a rising tide raises all ships, including the rich, then it should not be used as an argument against this measure.”

Recto said free tuition is not an entitlement without a condition, and that students must still qualify for college admission because “the bill does not override admission protocols.”

Addressing fears of students in private HEIs flocking to SUCs, Recto said an amendment was included in the bill to expand and strengthen programs authorized in the UniFAST Law and make them available to HEIs.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also pointed out the inclusion of her amendment to make the qualifying examination free of charge for students.

“This amendment articulates the sentiment of our students from our youth networks, including Akbayan Youth and the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, and frees our Filipino youth and their families – majority of whom live on less than P80,000 annually – from the additional burden of entrance exam fees, fees which can instead be redirected to be used for other school-related expenses,” she explained.

Senator Richard Gordon, meanwhile, called the bill a “game changer” because it “provides confidence to our people who feel college education is a mountain so high they’ll never reach it.” – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.