By Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz

THE Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) on Monday formally launched the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, seven months after its signing into law in August 2017.

The landmark legislation grants free tuition fees for qualified Filipino undergraduates enrolled in state universities and colleges (SUCs), local universities and colleges (LUCs) as well as learners registered under technical-vocational institutions.

Miscellaneous fees, including library fees, computer fees, school ID fees, athletic fees, admission fees, development fees, guidance fees, handbook fees, entrance fees, registration fees, medical/dental fees, and cultural fees are subsidized by the government under the law.

Students who are enrolled in private universities may avail themselves of tertiary education subsidy (TES) and those whose parents are beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer and included in the Listahanan of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will be given priority.

CHEd Officer-in-Charge (OIC) J. Prospero E. De Vera III said the commission is working with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Social Security System (SSS) to come up with clearer parameters on “workable” student loans.

Mr. De Vera also said he is in talks with the House of Representatives and the Senate to work on how the miscellaneous fees paid by students during the second semester after the effectivity of the law in August 2017 can be refunded.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto, one of the proponents of the legislation, said that as the education is paid for by taxpayers, it is imperative to use the funds, amounting to P40 billion, to provide “quality” education.

“Ang pinakamahalaga dito ay ’yung side ng quality (The most important thing here is on the side of the quality). We should not be using taxpayers’ money for lousy education,” Mr. Recto said.

Mr. De Vera, for his part, also pointed out: “The law explicitly provides that the beneficiaries should be students of good standing, meaning, they passed the admission and retention requirements of the universities. So this is not a license to accept everyone to universities and colleges.”

“If you are kicked out, for example, in your state university or LUC, then you stop receiving government subsidy [because you] did not comply with the retention requirements of the universities,” he added.

Ineligible to benefit from the free higher education law are students who have obtained a bachelor’s degree; failed the admission and retention requirements; failed to complete their degree within a year after the period prescribed in their program; and voluntarily opted out of the provision.