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Free tuition in all SUCs is doable, only 0.5% of National Budget for ‘Free Higher Education’ – Gatchalian

Photo by Mark Cayabyab

As more students graduate from college this month, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) senatorial candidate Win Gatchalian vowed to champion free higher education for all students once he wins a seat in the Senate despite fierce opposition from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

“I filed the ‘Free Higher Education Act’ in the 16th congress in order to abolish all tuition fees in SUCs (state universities and colleges) and provide broader access to tertiary education to millions of underprivileged Filipino youth,” Gatchalian told members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) on Sunday.

“But to my surprise and disappointment it was met by fierce resistance from the government. The Commission on Higher Education categorically declared that it is vehemently opposed to Free Higher Education. In an official statement released last November, CHED declared that Free Higher Education will prove detrimental to the interests of both public and private higher educational institutions,” added Gatchalian.

The CEGP is the oldest and longest-running alliance of tertiary student publications and student journalists nationwide founded in July 25, 1931. It has over 750 student publications as members from more than 500 schools in 68 (out of 81) provinces and cities nationwide.

The NUSP is a nation-wide alliance of student councils/governments/unions committed to the advancement of the students’ democratic rights and welfare.It has 650 member student councils all over the country supported by provincial and municipal formations.

A majority member of the House committee on higher and technical education, Gatchalian told some 300 CEGP and NUSP leaders that the measure, which would only cost P15 billion or 0.5 percent of the current P3-trillion national budget, would have prevented the death of University of the Philippines (UP) Manila student Kristel Tejada, who reportedly took her life after her application for a loan to continue her studies was denied.

“Such measure will allow students, especially the vulnerable ones, to stay in school in the event of severe economic shocks. Put simply, free higher education, the abolition of all tuition fees would have prevented the tragic, lamentable, and untimely demise of Ms. Kristel Tejada,” explained Gatchalian.

The Valenzuela City lawmaker pointed out that around 2.4 million youths are not in college because of the high costs associated with education, based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. Meanwhile, over three million youths are not in college because they are either working or looking for work.

“They (CHED) argued that only eight out of every 100 students are considered as poor.They claim that free higher education will benefit mostly the middle class, upper-middle class, and upper class families. This is absurd. One of the reasons why there are only a few poor college students is because millions of other youths cannot get into college,” said Gatchalian.

Gatchalian has previously argued that compared to free higher education, a socialized tuition system– like the one being implemented in UP– is not effective in making education more affordable to students.

The former three-term mayor of Valenzuela City also condemned CHED’s bias for private higher education institutions (HEIs), saying the institution should instead be concerned in keeping its mandate of making quality education accessible to all.

“CHED argues that the Free Higher Education act will result in a mass exodus from private HEIs to SUCs. CHED believes that Free Higher Education will imperil private HEIs. First and foremost, why is CHED seemingly more concerned with the financial position of private HEIs than broadening access to quality higher education?,” asked Gatchalian.

Gatchalian maintained that CHED is mandated to ensure access to quality higher education – especially those who are unable to pay for higher education. Second, we are proposing the abolition of tuition fees – not the abolition of entrance exams.

“CHED argues that we cannot afford to abolish tuition fees AND upgrade the facilities of SUCs. This is unacceptable. Free higher education and the modernization of SUCs should NOT be mutually exclusive. CHED should be fighting for the funding needed for BOTH the abolition of tuition fees and the modernization of SUC facilities – not asking us to choose one or the other, not arguing that one cannot be implemented without sacrificing the other,” Gatchalian said.

Among the measures Gatchalian unveiled on Sunday as part of his education agenda are the upgrade of the education infrastructure system; enhancement of teachers’ proficiency in math and science; increase in time alloted for the said subjects; increase in the absorptive capacity of science high schools, and; establishment of research institutions in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. (Monica Cantilero)