MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, May 25, passed on 3rd and final reading a bill that seeks to expand government financial assistance for college students.
Senate Bill 2679 or the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) bill rationalizes all ongoing student financial assistance programs of the government to help more students stay in college.
Under the proposed measure, the student financial assistance programs come in different modalities:
- Scholarships – grantees will be identified based on objective indicators derived from credible databases, including students whose families are beneficiaries of the poverty alleviation programs of the government
- Grants-in-aid – for students belonging to poor families and marginalized sectors
- National Student Loan Program
- Socialized tuition fee scheme – 40% to 100% tuition discount on top of a stipend in state universities and colleges and public technical-vocational institutes
One of the bill’s co-authors, Senator Ralph Recto, recently introduced an amendment to prioritize the top 3 graduates of every public high school in the grant of student loans.
“Once the student graduates from college, through the assistance of loan or tuition subsidy extended to him by UniFAST, and finds a job, he can start repaying the loan in installment basis,” Recto said in a statement Monday.
He added: “We don’t want to burden our college scholars of simultaneously working for good grades while also looking for cash to pay for their schooling.”
The approval of the Senate bill comes amid increasing tuition and other school fees in at least 313 private higher education institutions in the Philippines.
In a separate statement, Senator Pia Cayetano said the current system served only 2% or 60,000 college students in 2011 “while there were hundreds of thousands of eligible students in need of financial assistance.”
Meanwhile, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said majority of the 62 existing student financial assistance programs had low coverage.
Citing a Commission on Higher Education study, the senator added that these programs were “increasingly enjoyed by student beneficiaries from high income families.”
“To date, we have no way of checking whether the education grants extended by the government had actually reached those who deserved it, much less whether such assistance helped students land decent job and earn higher salaries. Without any institutional means of tracking, we may never know for sure,” Angara said.
The proposed bill seeks to increase enrollment and completion rates in tertiary education.
The House of Representatives has passed its own version of the UniFAST bill as early as June 2014.
The Senate and the House will have to convene a bicameral conference committee to reconcile conflicting provisions of the bill. The bicam report needs to be ratified before the final bill is transmitted to Malacañang.
Congress has yet to set a date for the bicam. – Rappler.com
Studen loan application image from Shutterstock