A chorus of jubilant voices from various sectors greeted President Duterte’s approval of the measure granting free tuition to students in state universities and colleges and technical-vocational institutions under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Now known as The Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Act (R.A. 10931), this new law was generally hailed as a potent instrument in the creation of a positive impact on the life of financially handicapped families who can barely meet the cost of college education.
As Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez says, “this is a landmark legislation that will enable the Filipino youth to access better life”. The lady lawmaker has a particular interest in this law as she comes from a province where many families are hard put to meet college expenses as they are still struggling to recover from the terrible devastation wrought by Super-typhoon Yolanda that hit Leyte in 2013.
Even more fittingly, Sen. Bam Aquino, co-author of the law and its sponsor in the Senate, calls it a revolutionary education reform. He expressed the hope that it will encourage millions of Filipino youths “to aim for the toga and reject the droga.”
Essentially the same label was placed in the law by Rep. Joey Salceda of Albay who said that “it will usher in the next wave of social revolution in building a more egalitarian society.” Salceda claims to have pioneered a similar program when he was governor of the province
There are, however, discordant voices who said the law on free tuition fees could trigger a shift from private educational institutions to state universities and colleges among students from well-off families who, they say, are better prepared to pass entrance and other qualifying requirements for college enrolment.
They argue that, in effect, students from rich families would crowd out those from the poorer sectors. They claim that as late as 2014, the bulk of students in public higher educational institutions came mostly from higher income families and that those from the bottom 20% of the socio-economic class constituted only 12% of the student population. In this sense, they say that R.A. 10931 is actually anti-poor.
Our view is that these arguments entirely miss the point. They overlook the fact that this law was enacted precisely to provide poor students with expanded opportunities to finish college by relieving them of the major financial problems that prevent them from attaining this objective.
And while it is true that there are other expenses like books, schools supplies and dorm fees that poor students have to face, Senator Aquino explains that this law also creates a mechanism for a student loan program that students can avail of. This loan facility would assist them in meeting other related expenses.
He said that the free tuition law actually complements and supplements an earlier law that provides scholarships to qualified students – the Unified Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education that was enacted in 2015. He said that UniFAST would facilitate the availment of the student loan program mandated under the free tuition law.
Critics also overlook the fact that the Implementing Rules and Regulations of this law have yet to be drafted by a body headed by Secretary Benjamin Diokno. And if they are truly concerned about fairness and social justice, perhaps members of this body can inject some bias in favor of poor students. This should ensure that this law would not turn out to be a needless subsidy for rich students.
Anti-poor nga ba ang batas na ito? Mukhang mali at lubhang negatibo ang ganitong pananaw kung kaya mahirap sang-ayunan ito.