Gov’t has enough funds for free tuition program -- Chiz
By Bobby Q. Labalan Sorsogon City- The government has enough money to fund the newly signed law which grants free tuition fee students in state universities and colleges and other similar government institutions. This was the assertion of Sen. Chiz Escudero following the signing by Pres. Duterte of Republic Act 10931 or the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act”. He said the free tuition program only needs P20 billion in its initial implementation and not P100 billion as earlier stated by Duterte’s economic managers. “The fund requirement is less than half of one percent of this year’s budget and less than three percent of the budget allocated for roads and other infrastructure projects,” Escudero, who was the main author of the law, said in an interview here. Escudero, who chairs the Senate education committee, said the government has a huge unspent budget that could be used to fund the free tuition and other fees of students as stated in the new law. He cited as an example the budget of the Department of Education (DepEd) for the hiring of 40,000 teachers for this year but which until now has only hired less than half of the target number. The budget for the teachers is for one full year salary plus 13th month pay, he added. Escudero also mentioned the budget for school building amounting to P63 billion but only P29 billion had been obligated so far as of last week. He said that with the on-set of the rainy season it would be very unlikely that the government would be able to meet its target. He added that he discussed with Pres. Duterte and his economic managers the details of the law and explained to them how and where to find the funds for it. He said that the 2017 budget already had an allocation of P7 billion for the free tuition only but no provision yet for the free miscellaneous fees. Escudero clarified that the law has three components and that the free tuition fee is just one of them. He said there is also the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) component which provides grants to students for their other needs like board and lodging, transportation, cash allowance and even tuition fee for private school enrolment like in Ateneo, De La Salle and other similar institutions. The third component is the UniFast which provides loan to any student who needs fund for post-secondary education for whatever course or even for a second or third course, Escudero added. He said the law is a student-centric regime which would allow any student to avail of the three components all at the same time. But Escudero explained that any individual who wants to enrol in any government higher education institution (HEI) must still comply with the rules and regulations on admission being imposed by these institutions. One limiting factor also is the capacity of the HEIs on the number of students that can be accommodated. Escudero said the other details on the implementation of the law would be contained in the implementing rules and regulations to be formulated by concerned agencies. The senator stressed that the investment in human resource is far better than the government’s investment in infrastructure.