Friday, April 21, 2017

Zero tuition in SUCs foretaste of universal access to tertiary education — Salceda
By Johnny C. Nunez

LEGAZPI CITY, April 21 (PNA) —- College students in the Bicol University here and its campuses in Tabaco City and Polangui and Guinobatan towns, and in all State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) in the country, will no longer have to pay their tuition fees starting this school year, 2017-2018.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said this piece of good news, however, only gives the country a foretaste of more exciting benefits coming when the Universal Access to Tertiary Education Act of 2017 (HB 7221) which he principally authored becomes a law.

Salceda, vice chair of the House Committee on Appropriations also co-authored the free SUCs tuition bill that college students will start enjoying this year, and was once its “noisiest and most ardent campaigner during the hearings attended by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED)”.

The lawmaker, however said HB 7221 will be the real game changer that will provide lasting effects on the country’s growth. The measure provides wider coverage for students in SUCs including both tuitions and school fees, accessible to even those enrolled in technical vocational institutions run by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

He said those enrolled in private universities and colleges, community colleges and TESDA-accredited institutions will have access through: a subsidy, “free for those belonging to families within the 50% lowest income bracket,” and/or through the National Student Loan Program (NSLP) for those belonging to families not within the top 20 percent income bracket, and payable only after graduation when they land good paying jobs or put up feasible business ventures.

The House Committee on Higher and Technical Education has already approved HB 7221 last March, after two other bills were consolidated with it. The highlights of the consolidated measure include full funding of SUCs with its proposed P38 billion budget and another P21.6 billion for other expenses; sufficient funding for Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in Technical Vocational Institutes (TVI) run by TESDA with P6.7 billion; Tertiary Education Subsidy, P15 billion limited to Decile 1 to 5 students, for tuition and other expenses in accredited private HEIs, LUCs, SUCs and TESDA accredited TVIs.

The measure aims to provide other mechanisms to increase the participation rate in tertiary education from all socio-economic classes; give all Filipinos equal opportunities to quality education in both private and public schools; give priority to academically able students from poor families; optimize utilization of government resources in education; and recognize the complementary roles of public and private institutions in the tertiary education.

It also provides the NSLP with a P15 billion allocation, limited to Decile 1 to 8, for tuition and other expenses in accredited HEIs and SUCs. Aside from promoting universal access to tertiary education in SUCs and state-run TVIs, HB 2771 strengthens the unified financial assistance system for tertiary education, and amends an older legislation, RA 10687 more known as the UniFAST Law.

Under the measure, NSLP loans are payable when their beneficiaries become gainfully employed or become entrepreneurs and their gross incomes reach the minimum critical threshold.

Payments will be collected on top of their Social Security System or Government Service Insurance System premiums, based on a reasonable schedule of repayment and interest rates, UniFAST will formulate.

Salceda considers the bill’s passage in the House as “a major victory and a legacy borne out of Albay's commitment to higher education for all,” since it absorbed the major elements of his original bill, which includes the Higher Education Contribution Scheme or HECS, now NSLP, as a major modality.

Eligible under the program are Filipino citizens pursuing bachelor's degrees or comparable undergraduate degree courses.

After qualifying for admission, students are “exempt from paying tuition and other school fees for enrolled subjects. Disqualified are those taking second courses. (PNA)