Yes to free Higher Education
CHED Chairman Popoy de Vera talks about the breakthroughs of the commission to achieve free education for the Filipino youth.
BY MARIEL ABANES
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENJIE TOLENTINO
A lot of Filipino students, especially those who are part of the poorest of families, rely on scholarships and financial assistance to be able to attend their graduation rites and accept their diploma. Education comes with a price. And with the growing demands of our society, daily survival alone is a big challenge. What more if you have one or a handful of children to send to school? That’s why for years, free education has been an ongoing call to the government. Previously, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) had rolled out several projects to address the situation. However, it only implemented the free education decree to state universities around the Philippines. While the number of beneficiaries from the said educational relief is steady, students enrolled in local universities and colleges (LUCs) remain dependent solely on their local government unit (LGU) or, worse, their own devices.
Then came the Republic Act 10931, also known as the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act in 2017. Providing free tuition and miscellaneous fees to students of state universities and colleges (SUCs), LUCs, and private institutions, more youth are granted access to quality education without the financial strain. YES TO CHANGE The implementation of the law is a big win especially for LUCs. Without the national government assistance in the past, it’s impossible for students not to shell out fees to be paid.
This results in students dropping out due to lack of monetary capabilities. When CHED Chairperson Prospero “Popoy” de Vera entered the scene, he was determined to include everyone—even LUCs—to the list of grantees of the commission. Seeing that their students need help the most, it’s only a logical decision to pursue the cause. “I stood up in public and said ‘yes’ to free higher education. That’s a political promise of the President during the campaign. So I am obligated to fight it out,” he recalls. And the rest, as Chairman Popoy says, is history.
After the law was passed, de Vera readily worked on things that needed fixing. Having served as vice president of the University of the Philippines (UP) and having sat on the boards of SUCs before, de Vera’s transition to the work as commissioner wasn’t much of a challenge. He already had a vision. Now, all he needs is to take action. In his first year in the position, the chairman created institutional reforms and resolved recurring policy concerns, which covered the exclusion of LUCs in CHED programs. He then gathered and arranged a meeting with the presidents of these campuses. “For the first time, the local universities and colleges became a part of the higher education family,” Chairman de Vera shares. “We established good relations with them, where before, the relations were really adversarial.” Another thing he promised was building a level-playing field among all institutions, whether state, local, or private. “We now require a certificate of program compliance for all degree programs. They must meet minimum requirements for the faculty who teach the course, the curriculum that is used, the facilities, and more,” he further explains. So no matter where a student chooses to pursue his studies, there’s an assurance of quality.
INCREASING GRANTEES “In terms of free higher education, the good news is that the budget has been increasing every year,” the commissioner happily reports. “We are able to get the commitment of the legislature and, of course, the President to not only maintain levels of funding, but increase the allotment as well.” In the beginning of 2017, when the house and the senate realigned the budget to CHED, the number of grantees for just free tuition totaled 800,000, spread across 112 state universities. When the Republic Act 10931 was finally passed, the numbers increased to 1,100,000. “From an initial free tuition, we now put free miscellaneous fees, too. Effectively, that doubled the amount of funds that was needed,” Chairman de Vera explains. In that year alone, the budget allocated for the higher education sector skyrocketed to P16 billion. Apart from this, the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) is also being carried out. This extension project of the Free Tuition Law is an additional subsidy given in priority to poor students and students residing in cities and municipalities where there is no public university.
It grants receivers P40,000 to P60,000. With an initial 200,000 beneficiaries in its first year, it’s now close to 500,000 students. Presently, recipients of free tuition have reached around 1,635,000. Add to that the number of grantees from TES, as well as the long-running CHED program Tulong Dunong.
The current beneficiaries now estimates at around two million students. “Palaki siya ng palaki, ganun ‘yung progression niya. And I am happy na when we go to congress, we are able to get what we want because maganda naman ang implementation ng program.
The sheer number has never been tried in any developing country in the world. Walang sumubok niyan, tayo lang,” he proudly states. WELCOMING LUCS The LUCs gained a big win in the passing of the free tuition law. Now that they’re part of the national government assistance, their students can now rest easy with the support being offered. But, of course, nothing comes without a price.
As a condition and a way to ensure quality education, CHED mandated that these institutions pass certain institutional standards. In the initial phases of implementation, CHED required schools to either have one or the other of two things: to have institutional recognition or to subject the campus’ degree programs to the certificate of program compliance.
While most institutions are able to comply with one; in two years, they have to acquire both qualifications. In due time, CHED, together with the Association of Local Colleges and Universities (ALCU), worked with the schools to achieve the promise. And now, out of 130 LUCs nationwide, 104 are already institutionally recognized. Apart from monetary assistance, CHED also allocated a budget to help schools become smart campuses. With the trend swaying towards greater digital agility, it’s important for academes to
“I said ‘yes’ to free higher education. That’s a political promise of the President, so I am obligated to fight it out.”
keep up with the times. Thus, the existence of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act. With a total budget of P3 billion to equip universities and colleges with technological advances, CHED is allocating gadgets and equipment such as laptops for faculty members. Connectivity is also on the priority list, as well as fiber optics, putting a system to interconnect the offices, adopting a learning management system, or developing source materials. However, the Act has only been applied to SUCs at the moment. But as ALCU president Dr. Ellen Presnedi says, they’re working hard with their members to qualify for the next Bayanihan program of CHED. With all these plans in place and leaders working hand-in-hand for education, the future is looking bright for the next generation of Filipinos.