7 problems with free tuition law implementation, according to Salceda

Mara Cepeda
7 problems with free tuition law implementation, according to Salceda
Albay Representative Joey Salceda, a principal author of the law, says only a few schools have received funding, while several students are unable to apply for loans

MANILA, Philippines – Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda slammed the “stupid” and “bad” implementation of the free tuition law, in a report submitted to Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 

Salceda is part of the House of Representatives’ 3-man contingent to the joint oversight committee that had assessed the implementation of Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act. (READ: 8 things you need to know about the free tuition law)

The congressman is among the principal authors of the law.

“It’s implementation, stupid. No matter how good the law, it fails due to bad implementation,” said Salceda in his report to Arroyo dated Wednesday, November 21. 

“As principal author, sponsor, and advocate of universal access to quality tertiary education, [I think] this dismal turn of events deprives ordinary Filipinos of a major step to achieving their aspirations and does not bode well for the contribution of this law to nation-building and national development, particularly if the flaws in implementation are not remedied decisively and expeditiously,” he added. 

Duterte signed RA 10931 in August 2017, while its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) were launched in March 2018.

The law covers the tuition and fees of students enrolled in 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs), 87 accredited local universities and colleges (LUCs), and all technical-vocation education and training (TVET) programs registered under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

Salceda discussed 7 primary concerns about the implementation of the free tuition law: 

Only 9 schools are given funding: Salceda said that as of November 9, only 9 out of 199 public higher education institutions (HEIs) –112 SUCs and 87 LUCs – have been given funds to implement the free tuition law during the first semester, while none has been paid for the second semester.

“This seriously undermines the financial capacity of public tertiary institutions in pursuing and implementing their programs and projects in infrastructure, innovations…. Moreso, such fiscal instability presents clear and present danger for these institutions to collecting and configuring student fees in gray areas, thus defeating the overarching intent of the law for free tuition and other school fees,” said Salceda.

UniFAST retains control of free higher education budget: Salceda also said it is “difficult to understand” why the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) still has control over the free higher education budget. He said the free tuition law states that after the first year of implementation, the said budget should already go directly to SUCs.

Salceda argued continuing this billing system in 2019 is “undesirable” as it “removes the certainty of a holistic budget envelop” that SUCs can use, delays payments due to the back and forth of billing documents, and requires “significant” investments just to manage the billing process. 

No policy issued yet on the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES): Salceda said this has led to scenario where only 400,000 out of around 1 million applicants will be given the subsidies.

“This is an unforced error, largely self-inflicted recipe for dissatisfaction, automatically creating a pool of 600,000 thwarted ambitions,” said Salceda.

Problematic disbursement for P7-billion fund for TVET programs: Salceda said that the entire P7 billion allocated for TVET programs was disbursed to Tesda. But there are “rampant” reports that TVET institutions have been “compelled” to collect fees that were later found to be eligible for reimbursement. 

Salceda said this is “posing restraint on the ability of students to avail of tech-voc education.” He added that Tesda also “misunderstood” the purpose of the P7-billion fund “by just conveniently adding allowance to expedite utilization.”

National Student Loan Program (NSLP) not implemented at all: Salceda said the non-implementation of the loan program has led to students to stop their schooling or makes it difficult for them to manage their educational fees with their daily expenses. 

Salceda also said that the regular source of funding for the NSLP – money that should be earmarked under the funds of the Development Bank of the Philippines – has been removed.

He said only a “significantly smaller” part of the P1 billion supposedly allocated for the NSLP has been set aside for the loan program. But Salceda did not disclose the exact figure.

Loss of benefits under the Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs): According to Salceda, the UniFAST failed to properly consult with stakeholders, leading to a loss of benefits among StuFAPs beneficaries.

“This neglect is a direct result of the wrong prioritization on the billing system and numerous insignificant conferences, summits, and workshops,” said Salceda. 

Opposition to the Return Service System: Salceda said House members had long opposed the provision in the free tuition law’s IRR requiring schools to come up with “return service” programs for students who benefit from free tuition and other fees as a way of “giving back” to the country for funding their education.

Salceda said many students have already opted out of availing of the free tuition law’s benefits because of the return service clause. – 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.