‘Zero tuition in SUCs near reality’
LEGAZPI CITY—College students in Bicol University here and its campuses in Tabaco City and Polangui and Guinobatan towns, and in all state universities and colleges or 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, filed as House Bill 7221 in Congress that he principally authored, becomes a law.
Salceda, vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, also co-authored the free SUCs tuition bill that college students will start enjoying this year. He said he was its “noisiest and most ardent campaigner” during the hearings attended by the Commission on Higher Education.
The lawmaker said HB 7221 will be “the real game changer that provides 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.
He said those enrolled in private universities and colleges, community colleges, and Tesda-accredited institutions will still have access. One is through a subsidy, “free for those belonging to families within the 50 percent lowest income bracket,” he said.
The subsidy could also be accessed through the National Student Loan Program 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, Salceda added.
The House Committee on Higher and Technical Education 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 or TVET in technical vocational institutes or TVI run by Tesda with P6.7 billion; and 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.
The measure, Salceda said, aims to provide other mechanisms to increase the participation rate in tertiary education from all socio-economic classes. It also seeks to give all Filipinos equal opportunities to quality education in both private and public schools, give priority to academically-able students from poor families, optimize use of government resources in education, and recognize the complementary roles of public and private institutions in tertiary education.
HB 7221 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.
Apart from promoting universal access to tertiary education in SUCs and state-run TVIs, the bill strengthens the unified financial assistance system for tertiary education, and amends an older legislation, Republic Act 10687, 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.