Mr. President, Please Sign the Tertiary Education Act

law grad homily

We are eagerly awaiting the President to sign the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act” (UAQTEA).

It is the State that has the responsibility to protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education on all levels for all (Art XIV, Sec. 1).  The President is the head of State.  He knows the yearning of the poor not just for basic education but also for higher education.  UAQTEA does not only provide for higher education, it provides for quality higher education.

The Bicameral agreed on its final version last May 29.  On July 5, it was sent to the President for his signature.

The UAQTEA went through considerable consultation of stakeholders and transformation.  It was originally a measure to increase access to tertiary education through free tuition in SUCs.  But on the insistence of educators, both public and private, and of the CHED, it became a measure that considers quality as important as access.  It was a measure that initially increased access only through free tuition in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs).  It is now a measure that includes Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs) and state-run post-secondary Technical-Vocational Institutions.  Importantly, it also now includes the promise of significant funding for students who opt to go to private Higher Education Institutions (private HEIs) through the CHED or TESDA.

It is a measure that recognizes the significant complementary roles that private HEIs and public HEIs play in the “complete, adequate and integrated system of quality education” “accessible to all” and “relevant to the needs of the people and society” that the Constitution mandates the State to provide.  (Art. XIV, Secs. 1 & 2; Sec 4[1]]).

For Philippine education, the UAQTEA is a genuine breakthrough.

It is a breakthrough because it genuinely increases the hopes, especially of the poor, to enjoy quality higher education.  While higher education earlier was considered a privilege only of those who could pay for it, the UATEA gives genuine substance to the constitutional mandate to make education on all levels accessible to all.

It puts serious money into enhancing access to quality higher education since it provides funding through the General Appropriations Act.

Its direction, in my view, is to make SUCs the quality higher institutions of choice.  In China, SUCs are the higher educational institutions of choice because of their quality.  But the UAQTEA helps those who cannot be accepted into SUCs attain quality private education through the Tertiary Education Subsidy that may be complemented through a Student Loan Program for Higher Education.  Other helps for Filipinos choosing higher education shall come through the funding provided by EAQTEA for the Unified Student Financial Assistance for Tertiary Education (UNIFAST).

The President should sign this bill because universal access to quality tertiary education is truly necessary for the development of our country.

Build! Build! Build! may be necessary to update and expand our physical infrastructure.  But if we are serious about our Philippine future we must first build, build build our human infrastructure.  Wisely, we must not scrimp on this, as we know from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.  Wisely we must educate our people to build the society envisioned in Ambisyon Nation 2040.  That is not a society where a minority wealthy and educated lords it over a majority poor and ignorant, as is the Philippines of today.  Ambisyon Natin 2040 is a society where all people are happy because they are knowlegable and smart, where infrastructure works for them all, and not just a for ruling elite.

Build! Build! Build! without attending to the social contradictions in our society is a massive, ostentatious, extravagant investment in allowing the elite of today to build its future on the backs of laborers who will build that infrastructure.  This is not in the spirit of the President elected by 15 million voters.

So let is not be said that our economy cannot afford the UAQTEA because it needs to build infrastructure.  Our economy cannot afford the infrastructure if all this does is allow the wealthy to prosper more at the expense of workers who build the infrastructure.

Our country has survived and prospered on the backs of our poor who till today enrich our economy through their labor in foreign countries. But Ambisyon Natin 2040 wants to bring them home so that families can enjoy being with one another on weekends (and not in Dubai or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia) using public transportation that works.  To have a society where we create wealth and distribute it equitably at home, our people must be well educated.

For me, as much as higher education is about building the competencies of professionals, it is more urgently about ensuring the competencies of human beings.  People must be educated well not only to be good engineers, chemists, lawyers, teachers and doctors.  They must be educated well to be good human beings.  They must know the difference between religion and ideology, between the worship of a God of compassion and love, and the worship of an idol of violence and death.  They must know the difference between freedom and arbitrariness, desire and compulsion, love and lust, right and wrong.  In being prepared to build the society foreseen in Ambisyon Natin 2040 they must be empowered to critically weigh the relative claims of industry and of the environment, of investors and laborers, of urban and rural dwellers.  They must be educated well enough to be able to resolve social conflicts without resorting to killing one another, and to express deep passion and emotion without resorting to poetry of the gutter.

For the realization of Ambisyon Natin 2040 every Filipino/a should be able to access higher education.  And every HEI, public and private, should be enlisted to provide the human infrastructure that this vision requires.

For a Philippine society where we will build our future not on the cadavers of our people but put people on top of their infrastructure, the President should sign the UAQTEA.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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