Philippines to abolish tuition fees at public universities for lower-income students

The Philippine government has passed a new budget which includes allocations to all state universities and colleges starting from the 2017 academic year to cover costs normally paid for by students’ tuition fees.

This move has effectively fulfilled President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise during his presidential campaign to make education free at public institutions.

However, in a message to Congress, Duterte has called for conditional implementation of the allocation, with higher priority being given to poor but academically qualified students.

“There is a need to safeguard the proper implementation of the provision of free tuition fee. It is important to underscore that we must give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students,” he said, as reported by PhilStar.

The Department of Education’s budget goes up from 433 billion pesos (US$8.7 billion) in 2016 to 544.1 billion pesos (US$11 billion) for 2017.

Commenting on the increased budget for the education sector, Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, said: “One of the long-standing concerns of poor families is bringing their children to college, because after finishing high school in public schools most of them have no means to pay for tuition in SUCs (state universities and colleges). The 2017 national budget addresses this concern.”

Legarda explained that only tuition fees would be covered by the budget, however, meaning that students will still have to bear the cost of living expenses and other charges, though students from low-income backgrounds are eligible to apply for financial grants and aid under various other programmes, reported University World News.

After hearing that the budget had been ratified earlier this month, the only youth party in the House of Representatives, Kabataan Partylist, released a statement in support of the decision, calling it “a game changer” and “a step in the right direction”.

“Filipino youth celebrates and embraces this development, which potentially makes the Philippines at par with some of the great nations of the world – including Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Germany – when it comes to providing for free tuition in state schools,” it said.

“This is a recognition of the long-standing clamour of the Philippine student movement for the government to veer away from letting state schools charge and profit from public higher education.”

Patricia Licuanan, chair of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), said in a statement: “In the short term, this will incrementally improve enrolment rates, and will help free up financial resources for other college expenses and needs of the students. From a wider perspective, this amount will eventually increase the available income of families.”

However, she added that the implementation will be “a bit of a challenge”, as it was still unclear how the allocation would be divided between the country’s 113 state universities and colleges, including the University of the Philippines, which has several autonomous campuses.

Under the 2017 budget, CHED also received an additional 5.8 billion pesos for the implementation of three ongoing national and local student financial assistance programmes; 4.6 billion pesos for the implementation of the recently legislated additional two years in high school, and 763 million pesos for advanced research projects including the Philippine-California Advanced Research Institutes Project (PCARI).

According to CHED, the PCARI Project seeks to increase the country’s research and innovation productivity, involving 15 Philippine higher education institutions and the University of California to “address vital societal-scale problems”. Philippines scholars participating in the project will get the chance to study full-time or part-time at one of the University of California’s top campuses.

Image via Reuters 

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