To our esteemed Senators and Congressmen of the 17th Congress of the Philippines:
In the name of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), the unified voice of Private Higher Education in the Philippines, I would like to thank the Senate and the House of Representatives for the hope they afford the Filipino people for greatly improved access to quality higher education in the Philippines through the bills they have separately passed. These both promote universal access to quality higher education. While the separate bills have yet to be reconciled in the bicameral committee before passage into law, we already wish to manifest our deep appreciation for the recognition both bills manifest, first, of the contribution of the private sector to the Philippine educational system, and second, of the complementarity between public and private higher educational institutions in this system, a complementarity that is mandated by no less than by the Philippine Constitution itself. In this context, we are happy to inform our legislators of the ongoing deliberations between our COCOPEA and the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) towards the greater achievement of this complementarity.
We are appreciative of both the House and the Senate versions of the bill – and look forward to its final passage into law.
But as the bills now go to the bicameral committee for final adjustments and reconciliation, may COCOPEA be allowed some comments? Where there is difference between the versions, kindly allow us to share our preference and why.
Title: The full titles of both the Senate and the House Versions indicate a movement towards universal access to tertiary education through free tuition in SUCs, TVIs and corresponding funding mechanisms. We appreciate the explicit mentions of private HEIs in the House version, and would hope that this be maintained in the final law.
Short Titles: The Senate version proposes the “Free Higher Education Act for All Act.” The House version proposes “The universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.” Because the House version stresses quality education (a key desideratum in all out COCOPEA-PASUC deliberations), we prefer the House version. Improved access to but poor quality higher education is a sham and greatly harms the educational system.
Objectives: Both versions are satisfactory in the declaration of universal access to quality higher education as an inalienable right of all, etc.
Definitions: The Senate version of the definition of Higher Education Institution (HEI) as “an institution of higher learning, primarily offering bachelor and advanced degree programs” (Art. 3c). The House version narrows this definition to private HEIs and therefore defines it as “an educational institution that offers bachelors degree or graduate courses as may be authorized and recognized by CHED” (Art. 3c). The House version unwittingly excludes the SUCs from this definition. The Constitution however says, “Academic Freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.” (Art. XIV. Sec. 5.2). In this light, for both the SB and the House version, academic freedom is essentially constitutive of the HEI. It may therefore be more appropriate to define the Higher Educational Institution as “an institution endowed with academic freedom that offers education higher than basic education: bachelors degrees or graduate courses.” This is what is essential to the HEIs.
“Basic Education” may be defined as Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) that is mandatory in the Philippines.
The Senate version provides a full tuition subsidy in SUCs and an opt-out provision for students able to pay for their tuition (Sec. 4); it does not explicitly cover fees. The House version covers tuition and other school fees. Furthermore it explicitly prohibits the SUCs and public TVI from collecting tuition and fees from qualified students (Sec 6). The House version is therefore more beneficial for the student. However, clarification in the IRRs is necessary to reconcile the prohibition of collecting fees of Sec 6 with the possibility of collecting certain fees in the Proviso of Sec 4.
Ability of the SUCs to Expand
The Senate version clearly requires any expansion in student population of SUCs to be contingent on CHED’s conditions and approval (Sec 8b). This is a requirement designed to militate against overpopulation of SUCs due to free tuition. It was an oft-repeated fear of SUC administrators in PASUC that while access improves to SUCs, corresponding fund subsidies to develop, maintain or improve quality in SUCs are not provided. This is one of the main reasons why the SUCs through PASUC opposed earlier versions of SB 1034. The House versions requires CHED to consider quality standards prior to endorsing any SUC expansion.
While both versions seek to protect quality by limiting expansion, the Senate version seems more straightforward.
In both bills adequate funding is provided for free higher education in the State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and public Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). In the House version, Congress appropriates funds for this upon recommendation of CHED; in the Senate version, there is a Tuition Subsidy Fund (TSF) administered by CHED (Sec 6).
For private HEIs, in the House version, it is through the Unified Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UNIFAST) that funding will be provided students opting to go to private HEIs through various packages according to need. In the House version, however, there is provision for student loans (Sec. 8).
While free education in all SUCs is provided for by both bills, this is not so for all private HEIs. Free education or educational assistance is provided students opting for private HEIs depending on the funds available.
For this reason, in the final version it would be good to provide not only for educational subsidies in private HEIs, but also for educational loans as provided by the House (Sec. 8). Well administered, these student loan funds would enable more students to access higher education through private HEIs.
It is greatly appreciated that in both versions funding is to come through annual provisions of the General Appropriations Act – which recur annually, but normally increase with time and actual need.
But the stronger mandate to funding all provisions of the act makes the version of the Senate preferable. “The amount necessary to effectively carry out the provisions of this act shall be included in the annual General Appropriation Act” (Sec. 13)
UNIFAST Details and Coverage for the Private Sector:
The Senate version is general, requiring the “strengthening” of all Student Funding Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) through the UNIFAST (Sec. 12-13).
The House version is more explicit on its coverage: these include additional subsidies for education-related expenses in the Tertiary Education subsidy (TES) for poorer students for public and private HEIs, plus student loans for private HEIs and LUCs.
The House version is more precise on the repayment scheme and coverage (Sec. 8)
Very significantly, the House version includes expansion of the UNIFAST Board to include the President of the PASUC and the “President” [sic] “of the COCOPEA.”
COCOPEA prefers the House version, but requests that “President” be replaced by “Chairman.” The representation of the two major organizations of public and private HEIs respectively on the UNIFAST Board will keep its deliberations grounded in the requirements of actual HEI practice. The private-sector representation on the UNIFAST Board will also underscore the necessary complementarity between public and private higher education.
For these reasons, the House version is preferred here.
Gratitude and Hope
We reiterate our thanks for both versions, even as we request that our comments be considered for the final version of this bill.
In the imminent passage of this law, we hope for generations of youth more prepared to face the challenges of the world because of the higher education it will provide them in both public and private schools. At the same time we hope for increased actual complementarity between public and private HEIs in shaping these future generations through a well-functioning system of Philippine education.
Sincerely in Our Lord,
(Sgd.) Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.