Friday, 10 February 2017 10:10

Economic managers junk free tuition

The government’s economic managers have junked the proposed across-the-board free tuition for students in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), saying it is unsustainable and will only benefit the rich.

They said the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) is a better alternative.

In a joint position paper submitted to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd and Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno said UniFAST provides a more coherent and comprehensive framework to address the educational needs of students.

The economic managers said that while all citizens have the right to quality education, they do not agree that an across-the-board free tuition for all undergraduate students in SUCs is the best way for the government to achieve the mandate of providing education to all.

“The proposed free tuition policy is expected to have little impact on poor children’s enrolment in college,” they said, stressing that tuition does not comprise the biggest share of the cost of college education.

Based on the grant structure of the government’s Student Grants-In-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (SGP-PA), tuition constitutes merely one-third (P20,000) of the annual cost of P60,000 per student covered by the grant.

The officials said living expenses make up the biggest chunk of the cost of college education (P35,000 for 10 months). Instructional materials comes third at P5,000.

Since poor families will be unable to pay for the two-thirds cost of college education, they will still be unable to send their children to college.

“The proposed free tuition policy will benefit largely the non-poor students who predominate in SUCs. In 2014, only 12 percent of the students attending SUCs belong to the bottom 20 percent of the family income classification based on the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey,” the economic managers said.

They believe that an untargeted tuition subsidy to undergraduate students enrolled in SUCs will mostly benefit families who can afford to send their children to college while many deserving and qualified poor students unable to enrol in SUCs will be left out.

The economic managers also pointed out that an across-the-board free tuition policy will trigger an exodus of students to SUCs which would eventually affect the overall quality of graduates given that a number of private higher education institutions perform better than SUCs.

“Also, the budgetary support for free tuition will be difficult to sustain,” the Cabinet officials said.

They explained that if the tuition funding requirement is to be based on the national average tuition of SUCs under the SGP-PA – which is at P20,000 per annum – the estimated 1.4 million students currently enrolled in SUCs would require about P28 billion budgetary support from the government.

The economic managers recommended funding UniFAST instead, which they said is better designed to ensure a more efficient and effective use of government funds.

Established in 2014 through Republic Act 10687, UniFAST is designed to unify and harmonize all modalities of publicly-funded Student Financial Assistance Programs such as scholarships, grants-in-aid and student loans for tertiary education. The law provides full financing to deserving students, which generally favors the poor.

The officials argued that UniFAST is the better alternative because it has a clear delineation among its three modes of financial assistance in terms of objectives and target beneficiaries, applicability in SUCs and private educational institutions, a test-based eligibility requirement, and adherence to the acceptable standards of the Commission on Higher Education.

“The government should implement its mandate of promoting quality and accessible education within the limits of fiscal prudence, and with the use of appropriate tools and targeting mechanism. The UniFAST is better designed to ensure a more efficient and effective use of government funds,” they explained.
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