Institutionalize free public higher education – IBON

Photo by GMA News
Photo by GMA News

Though the additional funds for State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) are welcome, research group IBON said, free tuition for higher education needs to be institutionalized as a right of all Filipinos rather than discretionary depending on the perceived availability of funds. If made into law, more funds will be mandatorily earmarked to ensure that all SUC students can avail of free tuition, said the group.

Under the recently approved 2017 national budget, an extra Php8.3 billion for tuition fees at SUCs was granted to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). This came from the reported realignment of the infrastructure funds for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

IBON said that since the added budget to SUCs was at the discretion of lawmakers and availability of funds, it is not enough to cover the tuition of all SUC enrollees at all levels and may not last beyond 2017. By institutionalizing free tuition in tertiary education, government would be compelled to ensure that enough funds meet the needs of all public higher education students.

Latest CHED data for the 2015-2016 academic year shows that some 1.7 million students are currently enrolled in SUCs. This includes 152,535 students at pre-baccalaureate level, 1.4 million at baccalaureate, 10,311 at post-baccalaureate, 85,969 at masters and 12,152 at doctorate level. Using CHED data on tuition fees per unit and assuming 18 units per semester and two semesters per year, IBON estimates that the average tuition per student per year is Php7,781 at pre-baccalaureate level, Php7,246 at baccalaureate,  Php11,269 at post-baccalaureate, Php13,340 at masters and Php16,913 at doctorate level. This means another Php4.4 billion or a total of Php12.7 billion may be needed to give free tuition to all 1.7 million SUC students, said the group.

IBON also noted that other considerable expenses such as registration and miscellaneous fees, books and other instructional materials, supplies, food and lodging, transportation, among others are not included. Factoring these in would increase the cost of tertiary education as much as five- to ten-fold.

As a next step to achieve free higher education for all Filipinos, full tuition subsidies for the 112 SUCs at all levels must be mandated by law, said the group. This is necessary considering how there are 4.1 million, mainly youth, enrolled in public and private higher education institutions nationwide. While some students’ families may easily afford more expensive private school education, the majority are likely to come from lower income families burdened by the high cost of education.

IBON said that a higher education system needs to be designed that addresses the needs of the larger number of Filipino families who are poor and, moreover, supports a comprehensive program of rural development and national industrialization. ###

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