The Senate approved today on third and final reading a landmark bill that would help accelerate universal access to tertiary education by providing tuition subsidies and financial assistance to students in state universities and colleges (SUCs) and private higher learning and vocational institutions.
Senate Bill No. 1304 or the “Free Higher Education for All Act” was approved with 18 affirmative votes, no negative vote and no abstention. The bill was sponsored and authored by Senator Bam Aquino IV, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture.
Apart from Aquino, the bill was co-authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, along with Senators Sonny Angara, Leila de Lima, Win Gatchalian, JV Ejercito, Dick Gordon, Loren Legarda, Kiko Pangilinan, Cynthia Villar, Joel Villanueva and Migz Zubiri.
Recto, Angara, Ejercito, Legarda, Villanueva, Gatchalian, and Zubiri also served as the bill’s co-sponsors during its deliberation at the Senate floor.
According to Aquino, the bill primarily seeks to make “higher education accessible to financially disadvantaged but deserving students,” through tuition subsidies and financial assistance to SUCs.
“In line with the mandate of our Constitution, the State must uphold the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels,” he said in his sponsorship speech.
Recto expanded the bill to cover students in “public and private higher education institutions (HEIs) and technical-vocational (TVIs).”
Under the bill, all Filipino citizens currently enrolled at SUCs and other covered institutions, as well as those who will enroll in the future in courses in pursuance of a bachelor’s degree, certificate degree, or any comparable undergraduate degree in any SUC can qualify for the tuition subsidy “provided that they meet the admission requirements of the SUC.”
In line with this, the bill would establish a SUC Tuition Subsidy Fund, a fund for the implementation of the full tuition subsidy for eligible students, which will be administered by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
“This bill is for the Filipino youth who are struggling to finish their college education, and as well as their parents who are working hard to pay for the expenses of their schooling,” Aquino said.
However, people who had attained a bachelor’s degree or any equivalent degree, as well as people who had been discharged from any higher education institution, or those who “failed to complete their degree or non-degree within a year after the prescribed period in their program” would be ineligible for the proposed tuition subsidies.
Aquino said the bill could complement other existing policies and laws on scholarship programs such as the Iskolar ng Bayan Act, streamlining the Student Financial Assistance Program (StuFAP) found in the United Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UNIFAST) in the UNIFAST Law, and other scholarships offered by the Commission on Higher Education, Department of Science and Technology, Department of National Defense, among other agencies.
Fair price for youths’ dream
Aquino said it was high time for the country to “invest boldly” in education, and that the country has an opportunity to unlock a brighter future for more Filipinos.
He noted that there were 645,566 students in the country’s SUCs, and that it would likely cost about P 16 billion annually to make tuition fees free across these institutions, given that the annual Weighted Average Tuition in SUCs is P9,407 per year.
“It’s a fair price to embolden and empower more Filipinos to achieve their dreams – for themselves, for their families, and for their country,” he stressed.
“If we pass SBN 1304, we’re investing in the future of your promising Filipinos,” he concluded. (Jardine Chua)