What’s next after SUCs’ non-collection of tuition in the 1st semester?

Mara Cepeda
What’s next after SUCs’ non-collection of tuition in the 1st semester?
‘Just because [President Duterte] signed this into law doesn’t mean things will be miraculously okay tomorrow,’ says the UP vice president for public affairs

MANILA, Philippines – The newly signed free tuition law will only take effect in 2018, but state universities and colleges (SUCs) are no longer collecting tuition for the first semester this year. 

These SUCs include the 8 campuses under the University of the Philippines (UP) system, the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) in Ilocos Norte, and the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in the Zamboanga Peninsula. 

How were they able to do it? 

For 2017, a total of P8.3 billion was added to the budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to begin the implementation of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act as early as August. Students also must meet certain qualifications to be able to avail themselves of the free tuition policy.

These conditions must be in place in full scale for all 112 SUCs by January 2018 if the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is to smoothly implement Republic Act 10931. 

CHED Commissioner Prospero de Vera III said the government will build on the current guidelines of the 2017 no-tuition-collection policy in crafting RA 10931’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

“In crafting the IRR, we’re not starting from scratch because there is already an IRR on how to use the P8 billion for free tuition. Right now, all the SUCs are not charging tuition anymore…. So there is a mechanism for the P8 billion that can be the initial template on how to move forward,” De Vera told the House appropriations panel on Thursday, August 10.

Money matters

Jose Dalisay Jr, UP vice president for public affairs, said they decided to no longer collect tuition and other fees among qualified undergraduate students to “implement the spirit of [the law] as much as we could to remove the burden on our students.” 

They will be getting funds from the P183 million CHED gave UP this year for free tuition, though the UP administration is yet to estimate how much the none collection of tuition in the first semester would cost them. 

WMSU, on the other hand, has P40 million allotted for its free tuition policy. But vice president for academic affairs Carla Ochotorena said students are still required to pay P1,000 worth of miscellaneous fees. 

For MMSU, vice president for academic affairs Prima Fe Franco said CHED gave them P55 million to finance the free tuition of about 9,700 undergraduate students, who still need to pay their miscellaneous fees.

When the second semester comes, however, all SUCs will have to rely on the 2018 budget to implement the free tuition law. This is easier said than done, as Duterte’s economic managers estimate the government would have to spend P100 billion to fully implement RA 10931

In 2016, Last year, the government reallocated P8.3 billion to CHED to provide free tuition for SUCs, raising its budget to P18.705 billion in 2017. For 2018, however, CHED did not include funding for SUCs’ free tuition under its proposed budget worth P13.423 billion.  

CHED, the 17th Congress, and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) already met on Wednesday, August 9 to figure out how to sustain funding for the free tuition law. (READ: Congress ‘carving out’ funds for free tuition

House appropriations committee chairperson Karlo Nograles said they plan to do this by possibly realigning unused funds from the Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Agrarian Reform, and Department of Transportation.

“We have initially found almost P16 billion worth of funds from various scholarships in various departments that we can pool together and consolidate for the full implementation of the law,” said Nograles. 

These scholarships include those offered by SUCs, CHED, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

“We still need to come up with the total number of students who will benefit from this law, taking into account that for college next school year, there will be many seniors and freshmen coming in but fewer sophomores and juniors because of the K-12 program,” said Nograles.

“This final number will determine how much we really need,” he added. 

Choosing the qualified 

The free tuition law’s IRR must contain the proper qualification requirements for students. This would help ensure the law would truly benefit the poor.

“If the government will not be able to give us enough funds, we can screen for the really needy students,” said MMSU’s Franco. 

“We can glean that from the income tax returns…. We can always screen them because we are to prioritze the financially challenged but academically able,” she said. (READ: CHED asked to consider requiring financially able students to pay tuition)

MMSU’s free tuition policy is only applicable for incoming Filipino freshmen or current students who are Filipino citizens. Transferees are not covered.

The UP system also set limitations for its free tuition policy. Tuition fee will still be collected from the following:

  • Students who fail to comply with the admission and retention requirements of the university
  • Students who have already attained a bachelor’s degree or a comparable undergraduate degree from any public or private higher education institution
  • Students who fail to complete their bachelor’s degree or comparable undergraduate degree within a year after the period prescribed in their program
  • Students enrolled in UP’s graduate programs and law school

Even without the IRR, these same restrictions are already mandated by the free tuition law. (READ: SUCs may tighten admission due to free tuition law – CHED)

“I think it’s to prioritize, of course, whom the law was designed for, and these are the poorest students who are going for their 1st degrees. I think malinaw naman yun. Kung meron ka nang degree, eh ibang level na yun (I think that’s clear. If you already have a degree, then that’s a different level already),” explained Dalisay.

Improving public schools, training teachers

Still, analysts argue RA 10931 is anti-poor in the long run.  (READ: Free tuition alone won’t make college any more accessible)

An influx of students from middle to upper classes can be expected to go to SUCs instead. Some also point out that private school students have a higher chance of passing college entrance examinations because they received quality education compared to those from public high schools. 

These, in turn, may lead to poor Filipinos paying taxes to fund the schooling of the rich. 

“There may be some truth to that in terms of UP being largely a middle class school,” Dalisay said.  “But let’s not forget that if you go out there to other SUCs, that’s not the case. The students are overwhelmingly poor.” 

Ochotorena also said public school students should not always be underestimated. 

“Based on our experience, yung mga estudyante namin dito, mga nagta-top yung mga nanggaling sa public schools (the students who are topping their classes here are from public schools),” she said.

For Dalisay, implementing the free tuition law for SUCs goes hand in hand with investing more in public schools.

“What we need to work on in the long run is to democratize access to UP education so that we have more low-income people entering the student body. And that implies investing more in the improvement of our high schools, especially in the poorer regions and provinces so they can show higher passing rates in the UPCAT (UP College Admission Test),” said Dalisay.

Ochotorena also said proper training of public school teachers is crucial, as this would balance out the opportunities for both public and private school students. 

“We are upgrading because the faculty is not supposed to be stagnant. We look into what areas in terms of instructions are needed to be improved for our teachers,” she said. 

It’s a step-by-step process toward free tuition for all, but Dalisay reminded the public there is still a lot of legislative and budgetary processes to go through.

“Just because [Duterte] signed this into law doesn’t mean things will therefore be miraculously okay tomorrow. There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Dalisay. He explained programs, like stipends and student loans, will have to be considered by the government, too.

“I’m confident that Congress will rise to the challenge because, after all, if they can find funding for so many high-ticket items, I’m sure that they can come up with the billions for free education,” he said. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.