By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A bill seeking to make education tuition-free in state colleges and universities was filed at the House of Representatives, on the heel of this year’s increased budget for the Commission on Higher Education (Ched).
Student activist-turned legislator Sarah Elago, representative of the Kabataan Partylist, filed the Comprehensive Free Public Higher Education Bill, or House Bill 4800, which aims to restore the public character of state universities and colleges, which have required rising tuition in the past decades.
Striking while the iron is hot, the solon hopes to ensure that Ched’s budget of P8.3 billion ($170 million) this year will translate to free college for some 1.6 million students.
Filed on Jan. 23, HB 4800 will abolish the tuition system, readmit dropouts and give special grant for financially-disadvantaged students in state universities and colleges, local state universities and the University of the Philippines System.
“The bill seeks to address the cumulative effect of decades of neoliberal restructuring in education that left Filipino students and their families heavily burdened, with most opting to drop out of school due to the prohibitive cost it entails,” Elago said.
The commercialization of education is “the heart of the crisis” in education, said the bill, citing the laws such as the Education Act of 1982 under deposed President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and President Benigno S. Aquino’s Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform.
“Neoliberal policies on education have slowly but steadily crept in public policy, thereby chipping and eroding the public character of our educational institutions throughout the years,” the bill read.
Citing data from the 2013 Functional Literacy, Education, and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS), Elago said there are some four million out?of?school Filipino children and youth, ages ranging from six to 24. This means one in every 10 school-age children and youth is not able to study.
The bill also cited a Ched report which said 37 percent of the bottom 20 percent of the population cannot continue their studies because of “high cost of education/financial concerns.”
Another Ched data said private higher education institutions also proliferate in the country, numbering 1,706 out of the total 1,934 higher education institutions. Only 228 are public.
Bill supports full tuition, not subsidies
Elago, however, clarified that the bill does not support the concept of “subsidizing” tuition and other school fees. Instead, the bill “seeks to finance the actual ‘cost of attendance’ of students, the total amount a particular state-run university or college needs to provide education for a student per year, including proportional cost per student for personnel services, maintenance and other operating expenses, and capital outlay.”
The proposed law authorizes Ched to give special grant for financially-disadvantaged students, to be determined by their public school. These include the following:
(1) Allowance for books, supplies, transportation, and other personal expenses, including allowance for the rental or purchase of a personal computer or laptop.
(2) Allowance for board and lodging.
(3) For a student with a disability, an allowance related to the student’s disability, including special services, personal assistance, transportation, equipment, and supplies.
The bill also seeks for the formulation of a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented higher education curriculum that is “responsive to the needs and the goals of the nation.”
The curriculum shall “foster patriotism and nationalism by instilling in every student the firm resolve never to allow our people to be dominated and controlled by foreign powers or domestic tyrants.” Education will focus on “developing a self-reliant and independent national economy,” based on agrarian reform, and driven by the development agriculture and national industries.
Elago said that if enacted, the bill will benefit not only the 1.6 million students currently enrolled in SUCs, but also “millions others who will be able to enter college without fearing the heavy costs.”