YOUTH AND teachers’ organizations welcomed the passage of ‘Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act’ today. The legislation, which Pres. Rodrigo Duterte signed last night amid objections from his economic managers, offers full tuition subsidy to state universities and colleges (SUCs), local universities and colleges, and vocational schools.
“The passage of the Free Tuition Law is an initial victory not only for the youth today but also for future generations,” Rep. Sarah Elago, whose group Kabataan Partylist authored the Free Tuition Bill in Congress. “But we have to keep vigilant on possible limits that may be inserted in the new law’s implementing rules and regulations.”
Elago added that a problem that needs to be immediately addressed is the exclusion of any type of funding for the free tuition legislation in the 2018 proposed national budget. She blamed Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Sec. Benjamin Diokno and Duterte’s other economic managers for removing the subsidy in next year’s proposed budget.
Earlier, Diokno said that subsidizing tuition in SUCs is too costly for the government. Socio-economic chief Ernesto Pernia also expressed opposition to the free tuition bill, saying that the budget needed for free tuition is too large and unsustainable.
The passage of the free tuition bill also benefits the quality of higher education in the country, according to university teachers’ group Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy in UP (CONTEND-UP).
“Investing in higher education benefits not only the individual but the entire country. Higher education has an indispensable role to play in gathering and transmitting the collective resources of human capability, human reasoning and human purposefulness to create a humane and prosperous society,” said CONTEND-UP in a statement.
Rep. Elago agrees that the universal access to education should also ensure its quality. “We should also push not only for universal access but on the quality of education,” she said. “Let us spur the movement for genuine nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented type of education.”
Socialized tuition system
At the same time, the student and educators’ organizations seek to revoke the Socialized Tuition System which provides tuition discounts based on a student’s household paying capacity.
“Let the passage of the free tuition law also spell doom to all other neoliberal, anti-student policies such as the Socialized Tuition Scheme that continue to burden students in the name of profit,” Elago said.
Mark Vincent Lim, spokesperson of the National Union of Students in the Philippines, also urged lawmakers to scrap the socialized tuition system. “The guise of ‘prioritizing the poor’ has been used to legitimize tuition and other school fee increases under the neoliberal framework of gearing SUCs to generate their own income through socialized tuition schemes which prioritize ‘poor but deserving students’,” said Lim.
He added that education is a right, and any scam used to justify tuition and all other school fees collection is uncalled for. “We have seen how the Socialized Tuition System has failed UP, and a nationwide implementation of the scheme would only defeat the purpose of the bill.”
The NUSP called on students, youth organizations, student councils and other groups to resist complacency. “It is our mandate to guard this bill in guarded optimism until the end of our fight for free education,” Lim said.
ACT national chairperson Benjie Valbuena also made a similar call. “Students, parents and teachers need to be watchful and ensure that the implementing rules and regulations of the law will not twist the intent of the law,” he said. “We call on Pres. Duterte to instruct his Budget Secretary to include the budget needs of the free higher education in its budget for 2018.”
Report by Elinor Bola and Raye Peralta