CHED: Around ₱20B needed for free tuition in state universities, colleges in 2018

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Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Commissioner Prospero De Vera

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 10) — Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Commissioner Prospero De Vera said around ₱20 billion will be needed to fully subsidize tuition fees and other fees in state tertiary schools for 2018.

"The estimates that we have for the first year of implementation of the law is about ₱16.8 billion for the state universities and the 16 local-government-created universities, which have been evaluated by the Commission on Higher Education," De Vera said in an August 10 Palace briefing. "And add to that, between ₱3-4 billion for technical and vocational education."

LIST: Universities and colleges with free tuition starting 2018

De Vera added that part of the funding will come from scholarship fees and financial assistance allotted in the budgets of government agencies like CHED, the Department of Science and Technology, and the Department of Agriculture.

"We're looking at the utilization of money in the current scholarship programs and see how much of these can be put into the allocation for 2018," he said. "And then together with the House of Representatives and the Senate, we will look for other funding sources from the 2018 National Expenditure Program."

De Vera's statement comes after President Rodrigo Duterte said in an August 7 Palace briefing that he signed Republic Act 10931 or the "Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act" on August 3 even though he was not sure where funding for the program would come from.

Read: Duterte signs free tuition bill into law

"Ewan ko," Duterte said. "Tignan natin kung saan. Eh pagdating sa'kin, alam ko man na walang pera. Pirmahan natin ito."

[Translation: I don't know. Let's see where it will come from. When the bill came to me, I knew there was no money, but I signed it anyway.]

Duterte's economic managers earlier expressed their concerns regarding the source of funding of the free tuition for tertiary schools. At the same time, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno says that underspending in the national budget has been a major "flaw" in recent years.

Read: Budget Secretary: Gov't underspending a 'major flaw' since 2014

Meanwhile, House committee on appropriations chair Rep. Karl Nograles said in an August 7 statement that the money for the program could come from underutilized budgets of government agencies.

"So ito ang magiging basis namin para tingnan kung kinakailangan ba na i-cut natin ang budget for 2018 nila based dun sa kanilang performance and based on dun sa kanilang spending pattern [This will be our basis to see if we need to cut their budget for 2018 based on the performance and spending pattern]," he said.

"So 'yun ang magiging basis natin to find out how we will be able to first and foremost support yung free higher education na bago lamang pinirmahan ni President Duterte [This will our basis to find out how we will be able to first and foremost support the bill for higher education that President Duterte recently signed]," he added.

Staggered implementation

However, De Vera said Duterte is pushing for the staggered implementation of the law to lessen the impact on the country's national budget.

"So the earliest that you could put a student loan program realistically, probably will be in a year, a year and a half or maybe two years," he said. "That's why the decision of the President when he signed the law is to stagger the implementation of the different components of the law over the next three or four or even five years.

Senator Win Gatchalian, another co-author of the bill, said on August 4 that the program should be implemented in three phases.

Read: Lawmakers laud signing of free tuition bill

He said the first phase will only cover tuition fees, the second phase will cover free tuition plus miscellaneous fees, and the third phase will include student loans and other subsidies.

"So at least (with) three phases, mapopondohan 'to at hindi magiging mabigat 'to sa ating budget [the law can be funded and it won't be a heavy burden on our budget]," Gatchalian said.

Pay back the favor

De Vera also said CHED is mulling over the inclusion of a return service agreement in the law's implementing rules and regulations.

The agreement requires students who receive the subsidy to work in the Philippines for a set period of time.

"We're looking into that," he said. "The problem is the word "Return Service Agreement" does not appear in the law, so how to put that in, we have to look at it. But there is that intention of putting it in."

Such a policy is in place for students in state medical schools who accept CHED's cash grants, which started in academic year 2017-2018.

Read: CHED: Free tuition for medical students in state universities and colleges starting 2017