Senator Win Gatchalian on Sunday defended the Affordable Higher Education for All Act (SBN 1304) from criticism voiced by student groups and youth organizations upon Senate approval of the bill earlier this week.
“Certain groups are convinced that the Affordable Higher Education for All Act will serve as a hindrance to educational access at state universities and colleges. Unfortunately, their convictions are based on a deeply flawed reading of the bill,” said Gatchalian, one of the co-sponsors of the measure in the Senate.
In a series of statements, certain youth leaders had slammed the bill for allegedly laying the foundation for instituting a mandatory socialized tuition scheme in all SUCs, similar to the one currently employed by the University of the Philippines (UP) system for the assessment of tuition fees.
Gatchalian, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, explained that the default tuition assessment under the socialized tuition scheme (STS) is the full price of tuition. Thus, a student who does not file an application for a subsidy will automatically have to pay his or her tuition in full.
However, Gatchalian pointed out that Sec. 4 of the bill clearly provides that the decision to opt-out of the full tuition subsidy will be based solely on the prerogative of the student.
“Essentially, the Affordable Higher Education Act turns the situation on its head. Under this measure, no student will be obligated to pay tuition fees unless he or she expressly chooses to do so. This is a game-changing reform which will immediately benefit SUC students and their families who are struggling to pay for the high cost of college education,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian also brushed aside criticism that the bill does not make education completely free in SUCs due to the imposition of other school fees, explaining that even highly developed countries with free tuition schemes in public universities, most notably Germany, still charge students minimal fees that fund basic services enjoyed by students.
“These school fees will still be waived for the most underprivileged students,” Gatchalian added.
A long-time advocate of education reform, Gatchalian has lauded the Affordable Higher Education Act as a much-needed investment in the country’s struggling tertiary education system, projecting that initial implementation of the measure will result in a 27-percent increase in public spending on the SUC system.
“The Affordable Higher Education Act is a revolutionary reform that will bring our tertiary education system to greater heights. The key is to sustain this momentum, and to build on this victory to usher in a golden age of education reform in the Philippines,” said Gatchalian.