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Tertiary education for all

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED), now headed by its new Officer in Charge (OIC) Prospero E. Vera, who replaced Patricia B. Licuanan who resigned some days ago, is ready to implement an unprecedented program in the country—the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (UAQTEA), or RA 10931.

For the first time, students and learners enrolling in state universities and colleges (SUCs), and local universities and colleges (LUCs) recognized by the commission, private higher-education institutions included in the registry, and even those enrolling in Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) technological institutions and local government units (LGU)-run technical-vocational education and training (TVET) centers will all benefit from the said program.

It is important to note at this point that RA 10931 will be implemented in the first semester of the coming academic year 2018-2019, and that it is entirely different from what is being implemented at the moment, which is the Free Tuition 2017 program of the government. The current program, in effect for one year only (academic year 2017-2018), offers free tuition for students in SUCs.

The new law, on the other hand, offers a host of benefits for students enrolling in the abovementioned institutions. Those enrolling in a college program will benefit whether they choose to go to a public institution (SUCs or LUCs), or study in a private school. Those who want to take up a technical or vocational program will benefit when they enroll in an LGU-run center or an institution being run by Tesda.

UAQTEA has four components: free higher education, free TVET, tertiary-education subsidy and the student-loan program. The success of the program will depend on the effective implementation of these components. The Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education, an attached agency of CHED, is mandated by law to administer the program. The program itself has been given P40 billion by the government on its first year of implementation.

There are too many Filipinos who miss the opportunity to have better lives because of poverty. Students stay out of school because it is too expensive for them to take up a college course or a technical-vocational program. With the new law, there is no more excuse because everyone can now afford to go to school, at least this coming school year. We hope that the government can continuously fund the program even beyond the upcoming academic year.

It was, indeed, a good move by the government to put more money into education this time. But as with most things, implementation is key. I do hope that the commission, under the leadership of the new OIC, and whoever will be taking the permanent chairmanship eventually, will be able to empower the groups or teams tasked to ensure the smooth implementation of this law. To help you, my dear readers, understand the law better, I intend to get into the details of the benefits and coverage of UAQTEA in the coming weeks.

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