By Alexandria San Juan
The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has welcomed the announcement of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) that the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (UAQTE) Act will not be “adversely affected” by its COVID-19 economy measures.
“Nagpapasalamat kami kay Budget Secretary [Wendel] Avisado dahil ito ay hiniling ng komisyon noong isang linggo. Sumulat kami at humiling kami na baka pwedeng i-exempt yung funding sa free higher education dahil talagang masama nag magiging tama nito sa mga estudyante at sa mga state universities and colleges (SUCs) (We thank Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, as this was asked by the Commission last week. We asked the Department if it is possible to exempt the funding of free higher education as this will have a huge blow to the students and to SUCs),” CHED Chairman J. Prospero De Vera III said in an interview on May 8, Friday.
The DBM earlier issued the National Budget Circular No. 580, which orders the adoption of economic measures in the government in light of the national health emergency due to COVID-19 through discontinuance of programs, activities, and projects to generate funds to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact on the economy.
Under the circular, the DBM will no longer release 35 percent of programmed appropriations of agencies under the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) effective April 1.
While it covers all departments and operating units of the national government, including SUCs, the DBM clarified that the Republic Act No. 10931 or the UAQTE Law will not be affected by the implementation of the budget circular.
In its statement, the DBM bared that while the Circular aims to partially generate the required amounts to implement measures to address the pandemic, it also provides that “programs, activities, and projects that may be deferred are those items that are not likely to be implemented within the current fiscal year.”
Citing recent records, the DBM said it found out that the obligation budget utilization rate (BUR) of CHED for the enactment of the free higher education program is “relatively low.”
“In Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the BUR was recorded at 49 percent by yearend out of the P40-billion allotments released to CHED. Meanwhile, the BUR for FY 2019 is only 32 percent as of yearend, out of the P28.027-billion in allotments released to CHED,” the DBM earlier explained.
“The low BUR is due to the fact that the academic year of higher education institutions is asynchronous with the government’s fiscal year. This means that the funding requirement for the second semester of an academic year, although included in the appropriated budget for the fiscal year, will not be released within the same fiscal year since the second semester in most HEIs starts in a different calendar or fiscal year,” it added.
The DBM also said that only P11.98 billion of the P72.35 billion available funding for the UAQTE in FY 2020 was reprogrammed for COVID-19 interventions based on historical data on UAQTE fund utilization.
This includes the P1.41 billion from the FY 2019 unreleased appropriations and P10.57 billion sourced from the FY 2020 appropriations, which are intended for the second semester of Academic Year (AY) 2020-2021 subsidy to SUCs and LUCs.
“The requirements for the Second Semester of AY 2020-2021, which will start in January 2021, may be provided in the FY 2021 GAA, following the cash-based budgeting system. The DBM assures everyone that P60.37 billion is still available to cover the full implementation of the UAQTE Law in FY 2020,” the DBM pointed out.
With this, De Vera said that the Commission will be able to continue implementing its Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES), which benefits poor but deserving students who are enrolled in SUCs and LUCs, or private universities, and whose names appear in the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program list of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
“Marami ang mga benepisyaryo na estudyante, ‘yung ibang pondo ng free higher education ay mapupunta sa mga SUCs at LUCs upang i-reimburse ang mga tuition fees at miscellaneous fees na hindi na binayaran ng kanilang mga esudyante (This will benefit more students while the rest of the funds for free higher education will be allocated to SUCs and LUCs for the reimbursement of tuition and miscellaneous fees that were not paid by the students),” De Vera added.
Meanwhile, the Higher Education chief said that the TES for private universities are now being distributed in other regions, adding that the initial P3.6 billion of the P9 billion allocation for AY 2019-2020 have been released.