Salceda: Free Tuition law directly benefits middle income families too

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Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (UAQTEA), popularly known as the Free Tuition law, is more than just providing free tuition in state universities and collehes (SUCs) and universities and colleges (LUDs) for students from poor families.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, original and principal author of the measure in the Lower House, said the law also directly benefits middle income families whose children may not qualify for free tuition but who may avail of financial assistance through concessional loans when they enroll in private colleges. The loans are payable when they get employed and their salary level reaches the minimum annual gross income  or “compulsory repayment threshold” (CRT). The Social Security System (SSS) and Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) will collect their repayments as a percentage of their income, on top of their other regular monthly dues.

Salceda has vowed to work mightily for the implementation of the UAQTEA towards its true direction, particularly on the operationalization of its income-contingent loan component. He said Section 8 of the law underlines the fact that “while social returns from higher education is estimated at 12%, private returns are higher at 42%, thus the role of the government is to bridge this gap by providing student access to concessional loan programs.”

The UAQTEA package has been modeled after the Australian higher education contribution scheme (HECS) which Salceda successfully pilot tested in Albay where he was provincial governor for nine years until 2016. President Duterte signed the law in 2016. Now being implemented partially, it is considered as one of the landmark legacies of his administration.

Records show that only 9.6 million out of 107 million Filipinos have college degrees. They constitute 21% of Filipinos aged 22 and above. The lawmaker lamented that the full implementation of HECS under RA 10931 is being hindered by the “stubborn resistance from agencies like the SSS and the GSIS, and other government financial institutions (GFIs), whose engagement is critical to the success of the law.”  He noted that in Australia, the HECS repayment rate is high at 87%.

Salceda said a Presidential Executive Order may be needed to mandate various government agencies to play their designed roles when the state kickstarts the full operationalization of the UAQTEA this school year 2019-2020, targeting at least 30% of the non-4Ps youth or those who did not qualify for free college subsidies.

“As the principal author, sponsor, and advocate of UAQTEA, it is my resolve to see that it is implemented in detail, and ensure that the intended beneficiaries are enrolled and partner schools are paid rightfully and on time, so this law can fully serve its purpose in nation-building and national development,” he stressed.

There are 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) and 87 compliant local universities and colleges (LUCs) in the country. He said delayed payments to partner schools “seriously undermine their financial capability to pursue their various programs in infrastructure, innovations, research and development.”

Such fiscal instability, Salceda pointed out, likewise “presents temptations for schools to configure and collect student fees in gray areas, and defeat the overarching intent of the law for free tuition and other school fees.” RA 10931 also provides other mechanisms designed to hike participation rate in tertiary education from all socio-economic classes and provide all Filipinos equal opportunities to quality education.

Free education, Salceda stressed, is a “right of every citizen and the moral duty of the state.” He said UniFAST was established to reconcile, improve. expand, and put under one body all government-funded modalities of the Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) for tertiary education, and special purpose education assistance, in both public and private institutions, including  scholarships, grants-in-aid, student loans and other specialized forms of StuFAPs formulated by the UniFAST Board, under the UAQTEA.

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