Amidst the nationwide celebration of the first ‘National Higher Education Day,’ Senator Win Gatchalian raised again the need to improve the implementation of the ‘Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act’ (Republic Act 10931) or the Free Tuition Law which will ensure continued education for 1.3 million students.
For one, Gatchalian said the reimbursement of tuition and miscellaneous fees should be automated to prevent delays, which would spare both schools and students from taking on additional financial burden. A 2019 discussion paper from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) pointed out that when tuition and miscellaneous expenses are not reimbursed, schools would absorb the deficiency or students would have to shoulder the costs.
State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs) have to submit their billing requirements before they receive their reimbursements. Before the implementation of the Free Tuition Law, fees form part of schools’ income and are used for operations. In September 2020, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) reported that 12 SUCs and LUCs have not received reimbursement for tuition and miscellaneous fees because of compliance issues.
The senator added that the imposition of quarantine measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for automation to help streamline the processing of documents’ submission and distribution of funds. Last year, Gatchalian filed Senate Bill No. 1793 or the Full Digital Transformation Act of 2020, which seeks to provide full, integrated E-Government (eGov) services to the public by the end of 2022. For the lawmaker, this proposed measure would help CHED, as well as SUCs and LUCs promote zero-contact policy and facilitate the more efficient delivery of services.
Gatchalian’s proposal of a “One Filipino, One Bank Account” would also complement the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) efforts to streamline the distribution of subsidies, including stipends for Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES). This proposed measure seeks to mandate the opening of a bank account or virtual wallet, which will serve as a payment platform for the distribution of financial aid. There are 500,000 TES beneficiaries who receive additional funding for education-related costs.
Gatchalian, the original proponent of providing free tuition to tertiary students, filed the first version or House Bill No. 5905 on July 6, 2015 when he was then serving as congressman of Valenzuela City. He re-filed it (Senate Bill No. 198) when he became senator in 2016.
“Ang maayos na pagpapatupad ng Free Tuition Law ay nangangahulugang magpapatuloy ang edukasyon sa mahigit isang milyong mga mag-aaral sa kolehiyo. Sa pagbangon ng sektor ng edukasyon sa pinsala ng pandemya, kailangang palawigin natin ang papel ng teknolohiya upang matiyak ang mabilis at mabisang serbisyo sa ating mga mag-aaral, mga kolehiyo, at mga pamantasan,” said Gatchalian.