Free education, a moral obligation of the state

by Johnny C. Nunez

Despite their relative deprivation, contemporary Filipino youth from poor and disadvantaged families are still a lot luckier than their counterparts decades ago.

Until recently, poor young people can only fantasize going to college and earning baccalaureate degrees, due to its high costs. The deprivation was even worse decades back in the 1060’s when working student literally had to struggle to survive.

Today, earning a college degree is no longer an elusive dream for poor but ambitious young people. Starting this school year, it is now a reality, well within their reach. Aside from free tuition in state colleges and universities, its needy but deserving beneficiaries can even enjoy additional perks.

The secret formula for this bounty is Republic Act 10931, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (UAQTEA) of 2018 that is being implemented starting this school year. The program has an initial P41-billion outlay. The DBM has suggested an additional P10 billion for its initial funding.

Only recently, officials of the country’s 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) and 78 local universities and colleges (LUCs), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) signed in Malacanang the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) that paves the way for the UAQTEA implementation.

The question is: Who conceived and crafted this free education idea? The hand points to Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, principal author of UAQTEA in Congress, patterned after Albay’s Universal Access to College Education program which he pioneered when he was provincial governor for nine years until 2016. His program helped 88,888 students complete their studies and served as the “inclusive tool and key to Albay’s poverty reduction from 41% in 2007 to 17.1% in 2015.”

Among the beneficial ramifications we may expect from UAQTEA is the expansion of our middle class and further firming up of Philippine society.

For this school year (2018-19), some 1.3 million students are expected to enroll under UAQTEA, 300,000 of whom are from family beneficiates of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) who will also get P3,500 monthly living allowance subsidies, and a one-time P5,000 for book allowance.

Education is decidedly a great equalizer. It deserves strong all-out state support. As Salceda stresses: “Free quality education is a “right of every citizen and the moral duty of the state.”