THE country’s economic managers recommended fully funding the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) program as a better alternative to proposed legislations on free tuition in state universities and colleges.
In a joint position paper signed by Economic and Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the managers said UniFAST provides a comprehensive framework to address the educational needs and ensure efficient use of funds.
“We recognize that college education is important for Filipinos, based on the results of the focus group discussions and survey on AmBisyon Natin 2040,” Pernia said.
“Many employers also prefer college graduates. However, we need to carefully study our options for helping people achieve their aspirations for higher education, considering other needs,” he added.
The economic team said the proposed free-tuition policy will largely benefit non-poor students who predominate in SUCs. In 2014, only 12 percent of the students attending SUCs belong to the bottom 20 percent of the family income classification based on the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey.
According to them, tuition does not comprise the biggest share of college education cost.
Based on the grant structure of the government’s Student Grants-In-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation, tuition constitutes only one-third (P20,000) of the annual cost of P60,000 per student covered by the grant.
The bigger chunk of college education cost is for living expenses (at P35,000 for 10 months) and instructional materials (P5,000).
Thus, the managers said, poor families would still be unable to pay for the remaining two-thirds balance of college education cost and will prevent them from sending their children to college.”¨”¨Established in 2014 through Republic Act No. 10687, the UniFAST is designed to unify and harmonize all publicly-funded student financial assistance programs, such as scholarships, grants-in-aid and student loans for tertiary education.
The economic team reiterated that the law provides full financing to deserving students, which generally favors the poor.”¨But they also pointed out possible adverse implications of an across-the-board free tuition policy, including the exodus of students towards SUCs from private higher educational institutions (HEIs), which would eventually affect the overall quality of graduates.”¨
“Also, the budgetary support for free tuition will be difficult to sustain,” the Cabinet officials said in their joint position.”¨”¨