(UPDATED) The proposed 2019 budget for aid to government scholars at the college level has been slashed by more than half from 2018, leaving some programs granting educational aid with zero allocation.
Among these programs are the Subsidy for Tuition Fee of Medical Students in 8 state universities and colleges (SUCs) and the PAMANA program, intended for rebel returnees and their family.
“That means the commitment of the President to provide scholarships to the children of rebel returnees, we have no money to give,” Commission on Higher Education officer-in-charge, Commissioner Prospero de Vera III, told the House Committee on Appropriations during the budget hearing.
“If they are enrolled in SUCs, hindi masyadong tatamaan, kasi libre na ang tuition saka miscellaneous. But they will not get any additional stipend. But for those enrolled in private universities, because they will not get any continuing, they will not have money to offset the tuition that they have,” De Vera added.
The Department of Budget and Management increased the proposed budget for free tertiary education in SUCs by close to 10 percent from P40 billion this year to P43.98 billion next year.
But for some lawmakers, free tuition and miscellaneous are not enough to keep students in school.
“Big bulk of the reason why they don’t stay in college, is not just the tuition, but in fact, the cost of going to school,” Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said.
The DBM has approved a funding of P1.71 billion for the Student Financial Assistance Program next year, a 63.84% reduction from the 2018 budget of P4.73 billion.
Bulk of that funding, amounting P1.19B, will go to the Tulong Dunong program, which gives financial aid to qualified students for tuition and other fees, educational expenses, and cost of living allowance.
“We don’t have any funds for the continuing scholars under the Tulong Dunong program. I know that CHED has committed to Congress that we will ensure that they graduate. We cannot keep that commitment anymore,” De Vera told the committee.
“Very alarming ang cuts,” House Committee on Appropriations chairperson, Rep. Karlo Nograles said, as he asked the DBM to explain the reduction in CHED’s funds for scholarship grants.
“Per records we have, there is really low utilization for some of these funds. For Tulong Dunong for 2017, 39% lang,” DBM Director Tessie Gregorio replied.
“Kasi iba yung fiscal year sa academic year. Kaya mababa ang utilization, obviously, kasi ma-u-utilize pa yan,” Nograles said.
CHED had proposed a budget of P83.02 billion for 2019, but under the cash-based budget system, the DBM approved only P50.44 billion. This figure is 39.24% less than the Commission’s proposal, and a 0.18% reduction from its 2018 budget.
Under the cash-based regime of the DBM's Budget Reform Program, agencies will be required to deliver goods and services within the fiscal year, instead of just making promises to pay.
De Vera said this new system will “severely hamper” the implementation of the free tertiary education noting that there are differences in the academic year of universities and colleges.
He explained that reimbursements for the second semester may fall on the next fiscal year.
“We can reimburse only for actual live students. There’s some system of certification and verification that will come in,” De Vera said.
While not consulted prior to the implementation of the cash-based budget system, De Vera noted that CHEd is already in talks with the DBM to iron out the issue.
IMPACT ON TUITION
During the budget hearing, Quimbo also expressed alarm over higher taxes' possible impact on tuition for-profit schools under the second package of the tax reform law.
These schools are currently taxed 10% of their earnings, but they will be “eased out” to a 15% tax rate in 2021, if they do not meet the standards, once the proposed tax measure is passed into law.
“It will have a tremendous impact and obviously, they will not shoulder it. They’re gonna pass it on to the students. The increase in tuition fee will potentially be alarming,” Quimbo said.
CHED will continue to meet with private schools to discuss the matter.
“I have met with COCOPEA (Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines) several times already on this. Their position is that this will affect the operations of other universities that are owned by companies or families,” De Vera said.