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Finding the funds for free college education

THERE were seven countries in the world providing free college education – Brazil, Germany, Finland, France, Norway, Slovenia, and Sweden. With the approval of the Free Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, RA 10931, last Thursday, the Philippines now joins these seven.

Congress approved the bill last May. President Duterte signed it into law Thursday night, after much discussion and debate among the administration’s economic managers who now have the difficult task of finding the funds needed to implement the law.

Before RA 10931, there was free education in the Philippines up to high school – secondary education – like so many other countries, including the United States. Over the years, however, the widening disparity between the rich and the poor in the country was attributed in large part, to the disparity in educational opportunities.

Thus the signing of RA 10931 into law was hailed by a wide range of officials who have long sought government action on what they believe to be the country’s biggest problem – widespread poverty. The new administration has moved decisively on the problems of peace and order, national security, crime and drugs, and international relations. The coming massive infrastructure program was expected to begin to launch an employment program that would spread economic benefits among the people. The free college education law is a longer-range program but it will have a greater impact on the economic development of the country and its people.

The administration now faces the problem of finding the funds to carry out the new law on free college education.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, head of the House Committee on Appropriations, estimates the needed funding at P7 to P16 billion. In the Senate, Sen. Francis Escudero said P14 billion would be earmarked for State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and P1 billion for Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs).

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) estimates that R16 billion will be needed for the mandatory provisions of the law – free tuition and miscellaneous fees. The administration’s economic managers estimate the total need at P100 billion, but Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevara says this estimate is on the high side and it is based on an assumption that all aspects of the law would be implemented immediately at the same time.

Now that the law has been signed, Guevara said, there should be no further dispute among those who were originally concerned about its tremendous expense. “All we need to do now is to unite and coordinate all our efforts to find the solution to the most important problem confronting the program, the budgetary allocation,” he said.

That great burden now falls on the shoulders of the members of Congress who are now considering the proposed National Budget for 2018. We are confident that they will find a way to achieve this all-important goal.