LAWMAKERS yesterday grilled the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) on its failure to provide more scholarship grants to poor students, despite the huge budget for the program.
At the budget hearing, solons questioned the CHED over its unspent budget for the scholarship program amounting to P2.8 billion.
For 2017, additional P5.5 billion was proposed for this purpose, enough to provide more financial assistance to the students, especially the poor, who want to continue studying in college.
Since the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was abolished because it was illegal and unconstitutional, according to Supreme Court, the supposed allocation of pork barrel for every lawmaker was given to some government agencies, like the CHED, for the implementation of the program in education.
However, lawmakers said they are receiving complaints from their constituents that acquiring scholarship grants from CHED is difficult and sometimes limited, which forces them to stop studying.
According to CHED chairperson Patricia Licuanan, there are several factors that contribute to the delayed release of the budget, and one is the lack of manpower to process applications for such grants.
“We need to beef up regional staff to handle the program, because there is a big number of graduates that pass through us,” Licuanan said.
“We have not been releasing our funds as efficiently as we should. I will admit that is a bit of a challenge… We feel we certainly have to beef up our regional offices to handle the large amount of grants that pass through us,” she added.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said he was disappointed with CHED’s failure to address this problem that keeps students out of school.
“Taun-taon na lang nadidinig namin ang problem na iyan, hanggang ngayon hindi pa din na-address. Hindi ba talaga kayang mag-hire ng additional staff?” Alejano asked Licuanan.
The CHED official said that they are considering hiring at least three personnel for each regional office nationwide that will focus on processing the scholarship grants.
But Alejano said the number is still not enough to deal with the needs of the thousands of applicants.
In the old practice, students who wanted to get free education could go to their district congressmen or congresswoman to ask for financial assistance.
Aside from staffing problems, Licuanan admitted that there has been a delay in the release of scholarship grants because the academic calendars of some higher education institutions are not in sync with the fiscal year.
“In the past, our school year starts in June so real activity can only start in the third quarter. And that’s built in. We have to find a way around that. Now, with the adjustment in the school year some start their academic calendar in August. We are fearful that [the problems] will get even more pronounced,” she said.
While admitting these problems in CHED’s absorptive capacity, Licuanan said the agency is doing its best to facilitate the speedy release of scholarship funds by spending everything in one year.
She promised to dispose of all the budget, including the unspent amount by end of next year by giving more grants to deserving and needy applicants under the PAMANA Student Grant Program, Iskolar ng Bayan, and Tulong-Dunong Program.
The CHED is proposing a total of P13.3 billion for 2017 or an increase of 39 percent from this year’s allocation of P9.66 billion.
The CHED also provides scholarship grant for dependents or children of sugarcane industry workers and other small farmers.