Free tuition as fake news
The Duterte administration has once again mistaken motion for progress.
Exactly 235 days after the signing into law of Republic Act No. 10931, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, the Commission on Higher Education released its implementing rules and regulations (IRRs).
“This is not a license to accept everyone to universities and colleges,” CHEd officer in charge Prospero de Vera was quoted as saying during the launch of the IRRs. His statement is telling as it goes beyond the stringent qualifications for free tuition and speaks of how, up to this point, the government begrudges its implementation.
In a commentary I wrote in December 2016 in this paper, I described the move to legislate free college education as a “paradigm shift which signals the beginning of the reversal of longstanding dogma in government—that college education is mainly a private pursuit.” Yet the actual implementation of the Free Education Law has been mired in inconveniences and delays.
During a hearing at the House of Representatives last month, De Vera offered flimsy excuses for the delayed implementation of free education. He reported that out of the P8.3 billion originally appropriated by Congress to jump-start free education in fiscal year 2017, only P3 billion had been disbursed so far. In so many ways, he evaded answering questions on why many students of state universities and colleges still paid tuition during the current academic year, despite the availability of funds. He offered no respite for those who had paid tuition and had yet to be reimbursed.
Such indifference — springing from the head of CHEd itself — bodes ill for the implementation of RA 10931. A total of
P40 billion is in place for its implementation, of which P16 billion is for free public higher education. Despite the presence of funds, CHEd’s history of bungling things keeps us on the edge of our seats.
CHEd’s unwillingness to implement free education may in part be due to force of habit, as Chris Tejada puts it. Tejada is the father of Kristel Tejada, a student of the University of the Philippines Manila who is thought to have taken her life five years ago due to matriculation problems. It was a tragedy that put the issue of the rising cost of education in the country in the national spotlight. During a forum to commemorate Kristel’s death last March 15, Tejada offered his view that CHEd is purposely delaying the implementation of the Free Education Law because it is a “foreign concept” for our education officials, given how they had been serving as mere stamp pads for tuition increases for decades. As Tejada remembered the plight of his daughter, he asked, “Does the Free Education Law truly set
students and parents free?”
After reading through the 32-page IRRs of RA 10931, it is with a heavy heart that I will respond to Tejada with a resounding “No.”
Not only is the fine print filled with exceptions that enable state schools to still compel students to pay, the IRRs also
blatantly twist the concept of free education to guarantee profits for private higher education institutions through the “Tertiary Education Subsidy” which allots public funds to pay for students who opt to enter private colleges, to the tune of P15.9 billion (or almost at par with the budget allotted for free public higher education). For CHEd, this is a “win-win” situation, as the private higher education institutions — which have long treated education as a business — will continue to line their pockets with profit.
The Duterte administration has hailed the passage of RA 10931 as one of its core achievements. Yet, given where things stand at present, free education has become more of what this administration keeps regurgitating: fake news.
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Marjohara Tucay is the national president of Kabataan Partylist.
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