CHED assures poor will be prioritized in free tuition plan

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  • Free tuition will be available in June 2017
  • Free tuition plan does not cover textbook fees, cost of living, and other miscellaneous expenses
  • ₱8 billion budget expected to cover 1.4 million students in SUCs
  • CHED is reviewing including maritime and criminology studies in ROTC

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) The Commission on Higher Education assured that poor students will be on the priority list for free tuition in state university colleges next school year, its chair Patricia Licuanan said on Tuesday.

"I think it's safe to say that [poor students will have priority]," Licuanan told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"We will have to find a way of implementing that... That will be part of the guidelines," Licuanan added.

CHED and the Department of Budget and Management are still ironing out the guidelines for how the free tuition plan will be implemented.

Licuanan noted that the instruction for prioritization came from President Rodrigo Duterte, when he approved the 2017 budget last year.

"We have what is called the conditional implementation statement by the President in the special provisions," Licuanan explained.

"When the budget was approved, he categorically said that this was a good thing, however we must make sure this is implemented properly... and the poorer students must be prioritized," she added.

The ₱8.3 billion plan is expected to cover 1.4 million students in 114 state universities across the country beginning next school year, in June 2017.

"I think we have to make certain things clear because there were some expectations," said Licuanan. "People were calling in puwede na ba [will it be available in] second semester (this year)? No."

Licuanan also clarified that the plan only guarantees free tuition, but does not cover other expenses such as textbook fees, allowances, and miscellaneous fees.

"Other fees, the cost of living and other types of expenses of education, it's not covered," she said. "However, there are other plans that (students) could apply for."

Licuanan also said that government assistance for students should not stop at free tuition.

"Paying for their tuition will help, but it's not enough," she said. "That is our hope: that eventually this government grant will cover more than tuition."

Since the ₱8.3 billion allocation is only for 2017, Congress and Senate will have to approve more measures to make the free tuition sustainable in the coming years.


Preparations for free tuition

Licuanan raised two points that CHED was anticipating with the free tuition plan: students migrating from private schools, and maintaining the quality of education.

"We want to also protect private education. They should not be wiped out because of this new, good intervention," said Licuanan.

"But also, if you have a big influx into the state system, quality will be affected as well... We're trying to control the migration."

One of the methods of assuring quality education is retaining the costs per student.

"In our guidelines, we have formulas... the cost per student in 2017, for instance, should not deviate significantly from 2016," Licuanan explained.

"It means that what they are spending per student should remain... stable. It should not go down too much, otherwise quality will suffer," she added.

She also noted that state university colleges would still adhere to their own admissions processes to "(control) the number of students that they have."

'More attractive' ROTC?

CHED is also responsible for facilitating the implementation of the school-based military training program, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).

Duterte expressed his intention to re-institutionalize mandatory ROTC to "help in the building of discipline... [and] a sense of patriotism," as expressed by spokesperson Ernesto Abella last year.

ROTC used to be mandatory until 2001, when University of Santo Tomas cadet Mark Chua was killed after an expose of corruption in the program.

The ROTC went under fire for a culture of violence and corruption, which critics to the program raised again this year.

Related: ROTC commanders, lawmakers step up for mandatory implementation

Although the revived mandatory program is targeted at Senior High students, ROTC is also an optional part of the collegiate National Service Training Program (NSTP), which takes place in the first two years of college.

Given criticism toward the program, CHED is looking to make ROTC more palatable at the collegiate level.

"Looking at the curriculum, they just have to truly make it more attractive, and not just marching in the hot sun. So that will have to be reformed," said Licuanan.

One of the proposals CHED is reviewing is the incorporation of other disciplines that may appeal to student interests.

"We're thinking of putting it into certain areas of study maybe maritime, criminology... So it would encourage students in these areas to opt for ROTC," Licuanan revealed.

"We are now working with our CHED technical panels in these disciplines... to study the possibility of putting [it] in ROTC."