Senator Win Gatchalian urged the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) to have clear and definite guidelines for an improved implementation of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (Republic Act 10931) or the free tuition law.
Gatchalian, co-author and co-sponsor of the law, cited a discussion paper by state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), which identified unclear and delayed guidelines as “birthing pains” in the implementation of the landmark education reform measure. According to the study, this resulted in issues on disbursement, billing, and the processing of documentary requirements.
A component of the law that suffered from a lack of clear guidelines is the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES), which provides additional funding for education-related costs. These include books, transportation, board and lodging, and allowances for disability-related expenses among others. In the initial call for TES application, vague and incomplete guidelines led to a second call for submissions and changes in documentary requirements, which tend to be voluminous and redundant.
The delay in the release of guidelines was another major issue raised by higher education institutions (HEIs). When the detailed guidelines for TES was released in October 2018, enrollment for the first semester has already ended in most HEIs. For students who could have been given the chance to benefit from this subsidy missed the opportunity.
“Dahil sa lawak ng pagbabagong dulot ng free tuition law sa ating sistema ng edukasyon, naging isang malaking hamon para sa CHEd ang unang taon ng pagpapatupad nito. Ngayong malinaw na sa atin kung aling mga bahagi ng programa ang kinakailangang ayusin, mahalagang matutukan natin ang mga ito upang maging mas maayos na ang pagpapatupad ng batas sa mga susunod na taon,” Gatchalian said.
“Kung walang malinaw na pamantayan sa pagpapatupad ng programang ito, ang ating mga mag-aaral ang pangunahing maaapektuhan at marami ring kabataan ang maaaring hindi makinabang sa libreng kolehiyo,” he added.
Gatchalian also urged the CHEd and UniFAST to ensure that the manpower in charge of rolling out the free tuition law has adequate technical capacity.
As of December 3 last year, 1.2 million students from state universities and colleges and local universities and colleges benefited from the free tuition law.