No one should be left behind. That’s the goal that our education system should aspire to. Now and in the future.
But it appears Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno has other ideas—and not exactly to give the youth from the poor and disadvantaged sectors in our society comprising nearly a fourth of the total population the means to acquire college education and improve their lives.
The head of the administration’s economic team is pushing for a review of free college education in state universities and colleges (SUCs) because, he said, the program is “unwieldy, inefficient and wasteful” and government resources are finite.
He wants the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (UAQTE) law enacted during the previous administration to be radically changed to remove the “universal” part to “limited,” that is, only to those who pass a national examination.
The problem with this kind of thinking is it is highly discriminatory and leaves those who have undergone less-than-ideal primary and high school education no opportunity to pursue quality higher education that would give them new skills and knowledge necessary to turn their lives around.
Secretary Diokno, it should be pointed out, headed the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas during the previous administration and presumed to have approved the tuition-free college education law.
Why is he now singing a different tune, considering that he graduated from the state-funded University of the Philippines?
No wonder groups such as the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT)-SUCs are stoutly opposed to Diokno’s proposal, saying efforts “to scrimp” on tertiary education subsidy appear “contemptuous of our Filipino youth.”
The group pointed out that Diokno’s statement that the UAQTE program is wasteful is alarming as the budget for the program “only totals… 0.83 percent of the 2023 national budget” but has granted free college education to over two million students in SUCs.
“How can that be seen as a waste of public funds?” they asked.
Diokno has argued that an indicator of wastefulness is the rising dropout rate.
He cited data from the Commission on Higher Education showing that at least 40 percent of pandemic-era students either paused or stopped attending school.
But critics say this is not the fault of the students forced to stop schooling during the pandemic because of the tight economic situation resulting from job losses and closure of many businesses.
What Secretary Diokno ought to do, as a first step, may be to trim the fat in top-heavy government offices.
Then he should take the lead in fighting corruption in those agencies that everybody knows are already steeped in shady deals.
If the World Bank is to be believed, over a fourth of our national budget is lost to corruption every year.
Surely the Department of Finance—led by Diokno himself—has enough power and influence in his hands to remedy this dire situation.