The campus of a state university in the Philippines. Image Credit: UP

Manila: President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law a legislation that grants free tuition in more than 100 state universities and colleges in the Philippines, a senior official said, adding the move will also benefit local tertiary schools, including institutions accredited by Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

Groups of college students held rallies nationwide to celebrate Duterte’s signing of the bill into law, the education department said.

“Now I can finish my college education. It means hard work. I have to be competitive and pass the entrance tests of state universities and colleges,” said Angela Rebato, a student in a depressed area in suburban Quezon City.

“Tuition in tertiary education in state universities and colleges is a very strong pillar or cornerstone of the President’s social development policy,” Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Friday, adding that Duterte signed the bill late on Thursday night.


“Many people have been waiting for the president’s action for the bill, entitled Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education, which Congress passed last May," said Guevarra.

"It was sent to the Office of the President nearly 30 days ago. During that period there had been a lot of discussions and study about the bill because of its heavy budgetary implication,” explained Guevarra.

“But President Duterte weighed everything and came to the conclusion that the long-term benefits that will be derived from a well-developed tertiary education on the part of the citizenry will outweigh any short-term budgetary challenges,” said Guevarra.

“We estimate that it will cost us something like P100 billion (Dh7.3 billion),” said Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.

Noting how this additional cost will be funded, Guevarra said: “Under that bill, Congress will have to make the necessary appropriations to fund this particular project of the government. That is something for Congress to think about — it will possibly entail re-allocation of resources.”

It is the first time that an administration fought for the legislation of subsidised tertiary education in the Philippines.

State schools in the Philippines also offer free tuition in elementary and secondary education.

Funding issue

Some some of Duterte's own economic managers have said the government would not be able to afford the cost of free-tuition, estimated at 100 billion pesos ($2 billion) a year, a Filipino senator, said that the actually cost, at 30 billion pesos, is much less than the advisers' upper end of the estimate.

Senator Franklin Drilon has said the measure would only require 20-25 billion pesos a year, much less than the economic managers' estimate.

Infrastructure spending

The Duterte administration has planned a whopping $180 billion infrastructure spending until the end of the president's term in 2022.

To fund that, the government has asked lawmakers to pass new revenue measures.

Duterte's economic program focuses on infrastructure spending and fiscal efficiency to lift growth to as much as 8 percent before his six-year term ends in 2022.

Free education for doctors

To stem the tide of mass migration of Filipino medical professionals, the 2017 national budget stood at ₱3.35T, has started including a provision for tuition-free education for aspiring Filipino doctors. 

Incoming and currently enrolled students in public medical schools can study for free through the Cash Grants to Medical Students Enrolled (CGMS) in state universities and colleges (SUCs) beginning academic year 2017-2018.

Commissioner Prospero De Vera said the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) finalised the implementing rules and regulations of the ₱317.1-million student financial assistance fund in the 2017 budget.

The initiative is a response to the continuing lack of doctors in the country caused by the high cost of medical education, overseas migration and brain drain.

The fund will be divided among eight SUCs:

University of Northern Philippines
Mariano Marcos State University
Cagayan State University
Bicol University
West Visayas State University
University of the Philippines-Leyte
Mindanao State University
University of the Philippines-Manila

To qualify for the assistance fund, a student must meet the following requirements.

1. Pass the admission requirements of the SUC
2. Enroll in an authorized Doctor of Medicine program of the SUC
3. Maintain a general weighted average of at least a passing grade
4. Carry a regular academic load and complete the degree within the period allowed in the university

Officials said student-grantees will also have to render one year of service in the country for every year of cash grant received as part of their public service responsibility.

This is to make sure that students stay and serve in the country after graduation in exchange for the public subsidy given for their education.

In April 2017, CHED and DBM released a joint memorandum circular that allocated P8 billion to subsidize the tuition of all undergraduate students in the more than 100 SUCs in the country.

Asian ranking of Philippine universities

In June 2016, eight Philippine universities figured in an Asian university rankings released by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).

The University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) made it to Asia’s top 100. UP is still the top university in the country as it ranked 70th in the 2016 QS University Rankings for Asia. Following UP is AdMU, which jumped to 99th place from 144th in 2015.

De La Salle University‘s ranking also went up from 181st in 2015 to this year’s 143rd spot. Among the country’s “Big Four” schools, University of Santo Tomas (UST) ranked 157th place (down from its 2015 spot at 143rd).

With the QS ranking expanding its list to include 350 schools in the region, three Philippine universities debuted on the list.

Siliman University in Dumaguete, Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, University of San Carlos in Cebu, Ateneo de Davao University were also included on the list.

Out of the top eight, only the University of the Philippines, which recruits nationwide through an extremely competitive tests, is state-owned.

Nearly every province in the Philippines, however, has at least one state-funded college or university.

More than 10 million Filipinos, about 10 per cent of country's population, have migrated overseas, ploughing back nearly $27 billion in 2016 in remittances and propping up the island-nation's economy.