Many were delighted when the Duterte Administration announced that P8.3 billion will be allotted to public tertiary education for Academic Year (AY) 2017-2018. This aims to provide deserving students subsidy for their tuition fees. However, the P8.3 billion fund, or the Higher Education Support Fund (HESF), though unprecedented in scale, is insufficient to cover all the current students of the 114 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), more so, the more than three million out-of-school youth in the entire country.
The HESF was originally allocated to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to provide development projects in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). However, during the budget deliberation in the Senate and Bicameral Committee, the said P8.3 billion was diverted to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). It was an accidental allocation because the Senate does not want another pork barrel-like feature in the budget.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and CHED were tasked to create a set of guidelines on how the P8.3 billion will be utilized to serve poor yet deserving students. Last April, DBM and CHED released a Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) which serves as the implementing rules for the utilization of the HESF.
According to the JMC, the HESF will be divided among the SUCs according to the estimated income from tuition fee declared in their Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing (BESF).
The budget shall be lodged to CHED. Each state university or college shall collate student profiles for screening and deliberation. Data on who qualified for the Free Tuition Scheme shall be submitted to CHED together with the amount to be billed against the SUC’s HESF share. The process is similar to the voucher system of the Department of Education (DepED).
The JMC stated further that there will be a prioritization scheme:
First Priority. They are students who are nationally funded by Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs). They shall be the first to be enrolled, and their tuition shall be charged on their relevant StuFAP provided that the amount they receive exceeds an annual total benefit of P15,000. If they are receiving an amount equal to or lower than P15,000, they will both receive the StuFAP and will still be eligible to the Free Tuition Scheme.
Second Priority. After the StuFAP beneficiaries have been enrolled, the remaining students will be grouped into (1) Continuing, or those who were enrolled in the same SUC in the previous semester, and (2) New Enrollees and Returning, or those who were not enrolled in the previous semester.
Moreover, the JMC specifically stated that “SUCs shall bill the CHED for the total tuition subsidies awarded to students, subject to their budget ceiling per semester. The budget ceiling per semester shall not exceed 50% of the budget allocated to the SUC.”
In this regard, it can be deduced that the P8.3 billion fund is not fully intended to give free or accessible education for all.
Tuition and Laboratory Fees Increase in Bulacan State University
Before media exploded with the University of the Philippines – Diliman’s premature announcement of a “Temporary Suspension of Collection” of tuition and registration fees, the Bulacan State University (BulSU) was in bedlam weeks earlier because of the Free Tuition Policy and because of the increase in tuition laboratory fee.
Last May, BulSU’s Board of Regents passed a resolution increasing the P200 per unit Tuition Laboratory Fee to P600 per unit. According to university officials, the fee increase is needed to generate income for the salaries of part-time teachers. BulSU President Cecilia Gascon promised that the increase will not be shouldered by the students, as the increase will be charged to the Higher Education Support Fund.
In another announcement, Gascon said that no tuition fee shall be collected during the recent enrollment period. Many students were jubilant. However, STAND BULSU and Partido Pagkakaisa ng mga Demokratikong Mag-aaral (PDM), that now leads the Student Government and occupies the seat of the Student Regent, began to critically question the possibility the Tuition Free Policy of the President. The progressive student groups observed that during the enrollment period, instead of a zero tuition assessment, the amount of P5,000 to P10,000 tuition fee, depending on the number of Tuition and Tuition laboratory units, is still reflected. More so, upon payment of miscellaneous fees, the tuition reflected as outstanding balance.
What is the Problem?
According to Annex A of the DBM-CHED JMC 1 and 1A, BulSU has an allotted total budget of P178 million, or P89 million (50%) per semester. With a projected undergraduate population of 38,000, and an average base tuition fee of P7,000, the total budget needed to cover the entire undergraduate student population is a staggering P266 million for one semester alone. A plain look at the figures will reveal that the P178 million budget allotted for BulSU will not be enough to cover even a semester in BulSU.
On the one hand, there will be students who will be catered by the Free Tuition Scheme. However, those who will not be catered will have to shoulder the P600 per unit Tuition Laboratory Fee. Once the university experiences massive deficits due to insufficient state subsidy, the university administration shall have no other recourse but to collect the outstanding balances of students. This poses an even larger problem especially since the accidental allocation of HESF to SUCs will only cover cover the academic year 2017-2018.
Free tuition, even the no tuition collection, is a welcome move. But vigilance and the continued collective assertion must remain intact, always, even with President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing the Free Tuition Bill into law last August 3, 2017. Republic Act 10931 or “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act” aims to provide full subsidies for tuition and other school fees for students in state universities and colleges (SUCs), local universities and colleges (LUCs), and state-run technical and vocational schools.
Photo: STAND Bulacan State University