Bam Aquino allays fears of free SUC education being 'anti-poor' | Inquirer Business

Bam Aquino allays fears of free SUC education being ‘anti-poor’

By: - Business Features Editor / @philbizwatcher
/ 08:00 AM February 09, 2017

Sen. Bam Aquino, proponent of the higher education bill that seeks to mandate tuition-free college education in state universities and colleges (SUCs), said majority of Filipino students who are not necessarily from the “poorest of the poor” still face financial difficulties in paying for a higher education.

Issuing a point-by-point rebuttal to a position paper from the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) which warned that mandating tuition-free college education in SUCs would be “anti-poor,” Aquino said while FEF was correct in saying that only 12 percent of the poorest of the poor were in SUCs, a large percentage of these people could not go to college due to financial and other limitations.


FEF had said the proposal to increase funding for free tuition to SUCs would benefit higher-income students and provide unfair competition to private institutions which are more efficient in providing higher education. The group added that providing P8.3 billion to SUCs for free tuition would be “anti-poor” because this considered only tuition in the cost of higher education.

The economists argued that students from poor families only comprised a small proportion of SUCs’ student population because they could hardly pay for the full cost of attending college which not only consisted of tuition but board and lodging expenses as well. They are also deemed less prepared academically to pass the entrance exams and pass the academic requirements of four-year college courses.


Aquino cited the following estimates from the Annual Poverty Indicator Survey (APIS) 2014 to argue for free SUC education:
◦ 49 percent of students in SUCs come from the bottom 50 percent of the population, from income levels determined by state-owned think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) that need full support – tuition plus other educational expenses and living allowance – to finish college;
◦ Up to 71 percent of students in SUCs come from families that do not have disposable income, with monthly family income of around P29,000 or less and these are the families struggling to send their children to school;
◦ Only up to 28 percent of students in SUCs come from families that can comfortably send one child to school, with monthly family income of more than P29,000.
◦ Only up to 17 percent of students in SUCs come from families with monthly family income higher than P40,000.
◦ Only up to 7 percent of students in SUCs come from families with monthly family income of more than P78,000.

Still based on APIS data, Aquino noted some 40.7 percent of students aged 16 to 17 will not continue their studies because of financial concerns or high cost of education. This is the reason why only one out of four students in college graduate, he said.

Citing another report from the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) which provided data from 58 SUCs, Aquino noted that 77 percent of students enrolled in SUCs have family income lower than P10,000 per year.

Aquino also allayed the FEF’s concern that increasing the budget for free tuition will intensify the exodus of higher income students from private educational institutions toward SUCs.

“The bill requires SUCs to declare and publish their capacity limit based on their infrastructure limitations, number of professors, and other indicators to be set by CHED (Commission on Higher Education). The total tuition subsidy per SUC will be based on this capacity limit, thus ensuring that SUCs don’t absorb more students than they can properly serve. This limits the possibility of migration from private schools,” Aquino said.

Aquino added that there were other factors beyond tuition that students consider in choosing their school, including school quality/credibility and degree program being offered.

On FEF’s concern on unfair competition, Aquino said the proposed measure was consistent with the letter and spirit of the Philippine Competition Act that was passed into law in 2014. “There is a public good component in the provision of higher education that must be supported by the state in the same way it subsidizes health services in public hospitals,” he said.


On the P8.3 billion allocation in the 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA), Aquino said this was different from the legislation that the Committee on Education, Culture and Arts is working on. The budgetary insertion of the Senate in the GAA was based on the projected income of SUCs and the Senate just matched this amount to make tuition free in SUCs, he explained.

Alongside the provision of free tuition in SUCs, Aquino said the proposed bill would also strengthen Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) through Unified Student Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) to provide more comprehensive financial support (beyond tuition) to students who need it.

FEF favors the implementation of UniFAST instead of mandating tuition-free SEC education.

Aquino said the bill on higher education supported the strengthening of UNIFAST as a complementary initiative to the provision of free tuition in SUCs.

“The two proposals are not mutually exclusive. Currently, Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) are already in place under UNIFAST. The UNIFAST is mandated to streamline and efficiently manage existing StuFAPs to target poor but deserving students. The latest version of the Senate bill has a provision that strengthens UNIFAST and provides an additional budget to achieve their goals,” Aquino said.

“By strengthening UNIFAST through the Free Higher Education bill, UNIFAST will be able to cover for the rest of the cost of students in order to finish college. These StuFAPs may be availed in either public or private higher education institutions,” he said.

For 2017, Aquino noted that some P5.75 billion was budgeted for StuFAPs in CHED alone.

“The concerns of the FEF are very much appreciated. We welcome them in a dialogue with the Committee on Education, Culture and Arts. We enjoin them to review the latest version of the bill where all their concerns were considered and already addressed,” Aquino said.

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TAGS: Bam Aquino, Commission on Higher Education, FEF, Foundation for Economic Freedom, General Appropriations Act
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