Free Tuition Act: A Mischievous Friend

College of Science students march for free education. Agham Youth-UP Diliman

President Rodrigo Duterte signed on Thursday the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Bill into law. We recognize this progressive move as a big step towards winning our right to free education. But we remain highly critical of the provisions of the Act and convinced that vigilance and mass campaigns would still be required to ensure that “free tuition and other school fees” will indeed be provided by the government.

The Act recognizes quality education as an “inalienable right of all Filipinos” and covers all kinds of fees aside from tuition including “library fees, computer fees, laboratory fees, school ID fees, athletic fees, admission fees, development fees, guidance fees, handbook fees, entrance fees, registration fees, medical and dental fees, cultural and other similar or related fees.”

While a laudable development, the Act seems to insist a false dichotomy between the right to quality education and the right to free education. It requires public tertiary schools and post-secondary, technical-vocational institutions to devise a mechanism for students to “voluntarily opt out of the tuition and other school fees subsidy” and hence, of the right to free education. It does not object the commercialization of education, recognizing the “complementary roles” of public and private tertiary institutions.

It bears the contentious provisions of prioritizing the “poor” and “academically able” that can be used to legitimize tuition fee increase and generate profit through the abovementioned mechanism, which is similar to the dreaded Socialized Tuition (ST) System. This means, most probably, that at least in UP units there would not be any real change, and the rest of the tertiary schools will merely follow the same profiteering scheme.

The Act is a measure forward to making education accessible but its provisions of prioritization and privatization remain contentious. In addition, the Implementing Rules and Regulations still depend upon the decisions of the President’s economic managers, who, as we know, are reserved with pushing free education through.

We students must remain vigilant and proactive as the onus is on us once again to fight for what is rightfully ours.

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