Sponsorship speech on the UniFAST Bill

UniFAST Bill
Committee Report No. 110

Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Sponsorship Speech
March 4, 2015

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues,

Our Constitution, in Article XIV, Section 1 states that, “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” However, it is a reality that many Filipinos are unable to reach, let alone complete Tertiary Education because of financial constraints.

The sad reality:

The burden of the cost of Tertiary Education has resulted in low enrollment and completion rates among the poor and near poor.[1] Unfortunately, the distribution of benefits and student financial assistance in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) are not pro-poor.[2] The combination of these two factors make quality tertiary education inaccessible to the majority of Filipino students.

In fact, according to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), its current StuFAP system served about 60,000 students in 2011, or only about two percent (2%) of 2.7 million students,[3] while there are hundreds of thousands of eligible students in need of financial assistance.[4] In NCR alone, there is a big demand for financial assistance. However, out of 3,532 applicants of CHED StuFAPs, only 309 (8.75%) received full merit scholarships, while 422 (11.95%) received half merit scholarships, and 382 (10.82%) received grants-in-aid.[5]

Today, I stand before you to sponsor Committee Report No. 110, the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education, or the UniFAST Bill. This proposed measure seeks to increase the enrollment and completion rate in Tertiary Education across all socio-economic classes, especially the poor, by allocating and efficiently utilizing government resources under the UniFAST. This bill shall harmonize, reform, strengthen, expand, rationalize, and re-focus all the existing modalities of Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) for Tertiary Education in both public and private institutions, whether nationally or locally funded.

Creating the UniFAST Board

Under the proposed measure, the various existing modalities of StuFAP shall be unified and harmonized, to improve efficiency and promote equitable and rationalized access to quality tertiary education.

Towards this end, the bill creates a UniFAST Board, headed by CHED, which shall craft, approve, and review policies and strategies for providing StuFAPs for tertiary education. The Board shall also coordinate with all the implementing agencies of StuFAPs, and shall lay down guidelines to ensure efficient generation and delivery of funding of these programs, as well as the faithful and effective implementation of policies to this end.

Specifically, the UniFAST Board may adopt a Qualifying Examination System, if necessary, to aid in scoring and ranking applicants for scholarships, grants-in-aid, and student loans. The Board shall also study the feasibility and sustainability of a National Student Loan Program.

Likewise, the bill also mandates the Secretariat of the UniFAST Board to “maintain and update a repository of data and information on all StuFAPs for tertiary education administered by any government agency, branch or instrumentality.” The Secretariat shall create and maintain a comprehensive database system on the government’s StuFAPs accessible to the public, pursuant to the policy of transparency and good governance.

Types of Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs)

Under this bill, StuFAPs may be in the form of scholarships, grants-in-aid, student loans, socialized tuition fees, and other modalities that the UniFAST Board, SUCs, and public Technical-Vocational Institutes (“TVIs”) may promulgate and develop.

Scholarships are merit-based and require academic excellence or extraordinary talent, regardless of economic status. A unified, improved, and rationalized government-funded scholarship program shall be instituted under this bill to encourage academic excellence among academically or technically capable students, and enlarge the pool of world-class Filipino researchers, artists, innovators, and leaders. Scholarships shall cover at least the average cost of tertiary education of the top 40 public and private colleges and universities listed in the Registry of Programs and Institutions.

Grants-in-aid are intended to improve equity and facilitate democratic access to education; thus they do not require academic excellence, but a minimum level of competence to complete Tertiary Education. Grants shall likewise cover at least the average cost of Tertiary Education in the top 40 public and private colleges and universities listed in the Registry of Programs and Institutions.

Student loans are extended to students facing liquidity problems, regardless of economic status. However, the pilot initiative of the government experienced significant problems such as difficulty in tracking and monitoring student-borrowers after graduation, thus resulting in poor repayment collection. Further, beneficiaries are unable to pay due to high rates of unemployment or underemployment. Thus, the bill mandates the UniFAST Board to study the feasibility and sustainability of a National Student Loan Program, which shall provide for short-term and long-term financial assistance for tertiary education. This includes the development of efficient delivery, collection, and repayment mechanisms for student loans.

Socialized Tuition Fee is a scheme that will be established by the Board to serve as a guide for SUCs and TVIs in implementing their own financial assistance programs. The Socialized Tuition Fee Scheme shall establish affordability brackets based on information about the applicant’s personal circumstances, family income, family characteristics of the applicants, and the socio-economic characteristics of their households.

Mr. President, the transformative potential of UniFAST gears Tertiary Education reform towards greater student focus, greater equity and efficiency, and more access to quality Tertiary Education.[6] This bill, which aims to reduce social and economic inequity, seeks to uphold our constitutional mandate to promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels. This measure will make Tertiary Education more accessible to our youth, and an investment in their education is an investment in the future of our nation. I thus earnestly seek for the swift passage of this bill. Thank you.

[1] Review of Student Financial Assistance Programs. 20 July 2012. Presentation by Philippine Institute for Development Studies.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] NSO APIS 2011.
[5] Review of Student Financial Assistance Programs. 20 July 2012. Presentation by Philippine Institute for Development Studies.
[6] Ibid.

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