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Free Higher Education Act to address highly skilled workforce demand

Photo by Mark Cayabyab

The House Committee on Higher and Technical Education has approved House Bill No. 5905 or the “Free Higher Education Act”, which was authored by Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian.

In its first and final committee deliberations, the panel chaired by Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo, immediately approved the “Free Higher Education Act” after it was recommended by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez for its merit and goal to make college education free in several government-owned higher education institutions (HEIs).

Gatchalian’s bill seeks to fully subsidize the tuition fees of all state universities and colleges (SUCs) for any undergraduate and certificate degree.

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“The proposed measure will benefit an estimated 2 million students that will take up college in over 100 SUCs around the country,” said Gatchalian in his presentation at the House committee Monday.

After six months of research and careful study, Gatchalian expressed confidence that his proposed bill is completely feasible as he pointed out that making SUCs free will only require the government to spend around P16 billion, which already takes into account a five-percent growth in tuition fee and student population.

“This P16 billion only amounts to only 0.5 percent of the proposed 2016 National Budget, and roughly around five percent of the P300 billion increase in available funds from the 2015 budget to the 2016 budget,” said Gatchalian, also a member of the committee on Higher and Technical Education.

In his research, Gatchalian determined through the 2014 Annual Poverty Indicator Survey (APIS) that 61.95 percent of students do not go to college due to issues related to financial constraints, namely the need for employment, high cost of education, and lack of personal interest.

The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) congressman also explained that a household led by a college graduate earns an average family income that is more than twice that of a family headed by one who has only finished high school, based on the Family and Income Expenditure Survey 2012.



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“Taliwas ang nangyayari. Kung gusto mong mag-aral para matuto at kumita, kailangan mo munang kumita muna. Kaya ‘yung iba nagiging satisfied na lang sa pagiging high school graduate at hindi na dinadagdagan ang kanilang set of skills,” Gatchalian said.

Using the income survey as basis, Gatchalian pointed out that government would be able to easily get the payback of its investment on the free tuition of college students within 18 months.

“Mabilis lang mababawi ng government ang P16 billion na gagamitin sa panukalang batas na ito. Currently, the average cost of subsidy in SUCs is P6,673 per student every year. Multiply it by four it is P26,692. At ito ay mababayaran ng SUC graduates sa pamamagitan ng kanilang income tax roughly within a year and half,” the lawmaker explained.

Gatchalian maintained that the “Free Higher Education Act” is a cheap investment for the government that will reap huge returns in our pursuit of inclusive growth and averting the growing divide between the economic classes in the country.

“Aside from helping poor families climb up the income ladder with education, Free Higher Education Act will address the demand for highly skilled labor force in the country,” he said.

Gatchalian added: “Marami kasi ngayon nagrereklamo na wala daw trabaho. But that’s not true. The jobs are out there but there’s a job mismatch since we don’t have graduates who have the skills to fill those jobs. Sa mga growing industry, like IT and BPO, binabayaran ka pa nga para mag-apply at pumirma ka ng kontrata.”

Gatchalian said his bill would play a crucial role in averting the growing divide between the economic classes in the country.

He also pointed out that HB 5905 will remove the burden on students in applying in the current Student Financial Assistant Program (StuFap) of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in district offices. (Tim Alcantara)