House approves college access bill

The House Committee on Higher and Technical Education has approved a bill for universal access to tertiary education that will afford Filipinos “equal opportunity to quality education in both private and public educational institutions.” 

The measure, called the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act of 2017, consolidates House Bill 2771 filed by Albay Rep. Joey S. Salceda, and similar bills filed by party-list Reps. Antonio Tinio (ACT) and Sarah Jane Elago (Kabataan party-list), but adopted the title and major provisions of Salceda’s original bill.

The consolidated bill’s highlights include full funding of state universities and colleges or SUCs with its proposed P38-billion budget, and another P21.6 billion for other expenses. 

It also calls for sufficient funding for Technical Vocational Education and Training or TVET in Technical Vocational Institutes run by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority with P6.7 billion, also from Salceda’s original version. 

It also offers a Tertiary Education Subsidy of P15 billion, limited to Decile 1 to 5 students, for tuition and other expenses in accredited private higher education institutions, local universities and colleges, SUCs and Tesda-accredited TVIs, original provisions from the measures filed by Reps. Dakila Carlo E. Cua (Quirino) and Carlo Alexei B. Nograles (Davao City).

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

Its other salient features include the National Student Loan Program with a P15-billion allocation, limited to Decile 1 to 8, for tuition and other expenses in accredited HEIs and SUCs. The loan is payable upon the student-lender’s gainful employment when the beneficiary’s gross income reaches the minimum critical threshold, and will be collected as additional percentage on top of his or her Social Security System or Government Service Insurance System premiums.

Albay Rep. Joey S. Salceda

That provision was wholly taken from Salceda’s Higher Education Contribution Scheme or HECS proposal, patterned after the Australian model of free higher education, and renamed NSLP. 

HB 2771 also aims to strengthen the unified financial assistance system for tertiary education, and amends an older legislation, Republic Act 10687, better known as the UniFAST Law.

Salceda considers the bill’s House approval as is “a major victory -- 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 HECS, now NSLP, as a major modality. 

The same version was already successfully tested in Albay, where Salceda was governor for nine years.

The measure, Salceda explains, provides free higher education to Filipino citizens pursuing bachelor’s degrees or any comparable undergraduate degree courses. After qualifying for admission, the students “shall be exempt from paying tuition and other school fees for subjects they enroll in.” 

Disqualified are those taking their second courses and foreign students. The loan program will be administered by the UniFAST Board.

Based on the bill’s provisions, repayments shall start once the beneficiary finds gainful work, by incorporating a percentage of the loan amount to the employee’s monthly SSS or GSIS contributions, based on a reasonable schedule of repayment and interest rates, to be formulated by UniFAST.

Courses in private universities average P30,000 per semester. Salceda noted, however, that even the P1,000 per semester tuition fee in SUCs can be beyond the reach of a family of five, which needs at least P8,778 a month to meet only their basic needs.

While the government has been devoting a huge chunk of its budget to education, some P436 billion of the entire P3.002 billion in 2016, Salceda said it can hardly keep abreast with an ever-burgeoning population, so that every year, additional budget is needed to defray the growing education costs.

Returns on investments in tertiary education are well documented. In Canada, Salceda said 35 percent of the ROI in tertiary education goes to society, while 65 percent accrues to the individual. 

In the Philippines, ROI to education for individuals are substantial. Government studies show that in 2014, the median daily earnings of college graduates were 116 percent higher than the earnings of high school graduates, who in turn earned 26 percent more than elementary graduates. The return to society could be approximated at 60 percent, the Albay lawmaker said.

“Even those with college units only enjoyed a 27 percent advantage over those with secondary education. A Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey, also showed that one in every 10 (about four million) young Filipinos, was out-of-school in 2013,” said Salceda.

CHED figures reveal that two out of five high school graduates, or about 40 percent, do not pursue tertiary education due to high cost of tuition fees and miscellaneous expenses. 

A 2011 National Center for Education Statistics Report also showed that only three out of every five college enrollees graduate within six years. Most dropouts leave college before entering their second year primarily due to rising education costs.

Topics: House Committee on Higher and Technical Education , College access bill
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